Social media has been, and is still becoming, an increasingly important and common part of modern society in terms of communication. The term social media has been defined as “the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue.” Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein add in their definition that social media that “allow[s] the creation and exchange of user-generated content.” As the use of different types of social media grows, many businesses and organizations have utilized its power of accessibility and option of having practically instant information deliverance. Especially with the increase in use of technologies such as smart phones and laptops, never has it been so easy to connect and exchange thoughts, ideas, and opinions across the globe. Environmentalism is one issue that has taken social media by storm. This paper focuses on how a non-profit organization called Earth Day Network utilized various forms of social media such as its interactive website, twitter, facebook, and youtube, the message of “going green” has been globally dispersed: informing people and gaining support.
The process of how environmentalism has been spread among society through the social media platform is seen through Earth Day Network’s campaigned entitled“ A Billion Acts of Green.” The Earth Day Network is a non-profit organization that leads the world in Earth Day events and actions. This environmental service campaign is the largest of its kind, honoring Earth Day through establishing commitments by people, organizations, businesses, and even governments. The main goal of A Billion Acts of Green lies within it’s own name: to have one billion simple actions done by individuals and larger organizations initiatives that will contribute to reducing carbon emissions, supporting sustainability, and overall protecting the environment. With already millions of actions registered, the campaign continues to spread and inspire people all across the globe. It encourages all users and followers to contribute to the race of having a billion acts of green registered prior to the Earth Summit in Rio in 2012.
The Earth Day Network globally coordinates Earth Day every year. Since it’s creation in 1970, Earth Day is a day that was created in order to motivate and encourage appreciation and awareness for Earth’s natural environment. With strong scientific data demonstrating human influence on environmental degradation, educating the masses to be aware of their own potential to reduce their impact. This campaign focuses and emphasizes on individualism as well as collectiveness in the sense that every act adds up and matters: every act, no matter how big or small, counts. Since 1990, Earth Day and its concept have been celebrated internationally in more than 175 countries through organized events in about 141 nations. The United Nations even appointed April 22 as International Mother Earth Day as recently as 2009. To date, it is a day in which people are reminded to alter human activity with regards to the environment and to provoke policy changes that would further implement the importance of sustainability.
Today, through networking and use of media, Earth Day is considered one of the largest civic observance and boasts that over one billion people participate in activities related to Earth Day. This can be attributed to the use of media from the beginning. When the first Earth Day was celebrated with an estimated one million people that in New York City back in 1970, the nation’s major media sources such as NBC, ABC, CBS, Newsweek, Time and the New York Times covered the event. Such attention brought environmental issues to the international stage. Its campaign is deemed as successful despite those who deny climate change, rich corporations, and the general mass of the disinterested public. The media portrayed how much strongly citizens felt about this issue and that through that shared passion, were able to come together and make a statement. Leaders of society had recognized their constituent’s cry and thus borne was environmental legislation such as the Clean Air Act. This type of grassroots activism is what is vital to any movement or cause. An idea is only as active as the people who have thought it and acted upon it. Today, this same concept of grassroots activism has moved to the relatively new public sphere known as the Internet. The various forms of social media can be seen as open forums that give people, no matter their background, to connect with common interests, share ideas, and debate; just as long as they can access it. For the environmental movement to have gained such popularity in a relatively short amount of time can be credited to the Earth Day Network’s use of the World Wide Web and social media.
Social media presents itself as the exemplary medium to continue its rapidly growing popularity. The main medium in which the Earth Day Network employs is a website that is the source for information, encouragement, suggestions, photos, blog entries, and opportunities for members to express, debate, and discuss different environmental issues and concerns. The page even has an interactive quiz called ‘Ecological Footprint Quiz” that gives the user an idea of how they personally impact the environment. Such a program helps give individuals a better idea of how their contributing to environmental degradation through ways they may not have expected, such as the consequences of not buying food locally. It raises awareness and promotes the idea of that by committing to making a slight change in one’s own lifestyle, those small acts add up. The impact of this tool can be far-reaching. In my personal experience, after taking the quiz, my results yielded that if everyone lived in the same manner in which I did (which I thought was relatively conservative) four planets would be needed to provide a sufficient amount of resources. I am constantly more aware of how much I am consuming in terms of resources.
Through Internet applications such as Twitter, the Earth Day Network has been able to educate its followers. Twitter is free, to join and use, and allows any person, organization, or business to express facts, thoughts, and even location. Those that “follow” them can see by anyone or these published entries. This means a user chooses to receive whatever stream of entries another user publishes. Since joining Twitter, Earth Day Network has been steadily gaining followers. The most notable increase in followers is just shortly after May. Currently, Earth Day Network has 12,192 followers, has 1,094 tweets, and I’m sure these numbers are not standing still but only increasing.
Each entry by the Earth Day Network, also called a ‘tweet,’ has a concise topic or subject expressed in less than 140 characters. Most of the time, there is a link that a follower can click on, taking them to an informative article about what the tweet mentioned. There is also an option for followers of the Earth Day Network to reply to a particular tweet or to mention them using the @ symbol so that the Earth Day Network will see the tweet, even if they are not following the user that mentioned them. In order to have a certain tweet viewed by those who may wish to, the hash tag (#) symbol is used. This denotes a general topic that the tweet falls under and allows that particular tweet to be public among with other tweets that share the same topic. These tweets can be viewed as headlines for environmental topics and are usually created with the intent to capture the audience’s attention. Especially with the character limit, the main idea is presented right away in an interesting way. A person who may not be so interested in environmental information may want to read an article linked in a tweet that states, “Lower your energy bill with these simple steps” because of the money saving incentive. In learning how to lower their energy bill, they would unintentionally learn facts pertaining to the environment in the explanation of how washing clothes in cold water would impact one’s energy bill. The variety of their tweets can reach out to many different kinds of users. This particular tweet was tweeted by a director for Global Strategy and Advocacy and retweeted by Earth Day Network:
Such a tweet reflects how seriously people take social media and that they recognize it’s potential to reach people. This tweet linked to an article that discussed how young people in Washington, D.C. gathered together in late October to express to corporate America their frustration about the lack of action being taken to help the environment. This tweet is wonderfully crafted as many users of Twitter fall into the young adult category. It shows that people of authority in the environmental realm is responding to the youth and recognizing and highlighting their potential. It can be seen as encouragement as well as a type of virtual applause. Users who are particularly interested in this subject will then read the article, retweet it to their own audience, and even talk about it in passing or as a main subject. The diffusion of information in this sense is as easy two touch screen taps from a cell phone or a click on the computer. A domino and ripple effect takes place, reaching those who may have not crossed with such a topic with information otherwise.
Scrolling through past tweets, there is proof of more solid support that has been gained through this use of social media. Proof of monetary support was shown by the following tweet:
The twitter ran by an energy sector called Siemens, a company that is a lead supplier in a variety of products in energy technology. Here is an example of how social media is being utilized to offer incentives and benefit two different parties at once. In order for Siemens to gain more followers to receive their stream of tweets, they have offered an incentive to the Earth Day Network. Siemens recognized the potential of publicity and attention the Earth Day Network twitter would get and in order to get their own name out there, they encouraged the Earth Day Network to promote Siemens. In exchange, Siemens offered to donate $1,000 in support of their cause, which was a success.
With Twitter’s smart phone application, users are basically able to tweet from anywhere, any time, and as often as they would like through their phone. There is also a feature that allows pictures to be attached to tweets. One follower of the Earth Day Network tweeted at them with a picture of a cab driver displaying “A Billion Acts of Green” button. This proves how user-friendly, widespread, as well as effective the green message is. Such a tweet echoes the accessibility and informality that twitter entails. This allows a more open, comfortable forum for those who have the slightest interest in environmentalism with those who have made it a focal point in their own lives.
Another social media outlet that the Earth Day Network is utilizing to get the word out is through the social networking service website Facebook. Chief executive and president of Earth Day Network Kathleen Rogers legitimize their use for Facebook saying “Facebook defines togetherness and has the unique ability to take a positive message and propel it across cultural, national, and religious divides. That’s what Earth Day is all about too.” Currently, the Earth Day Network’s page has over 86,412 fans and
counting. What this means is that same number of people have ‘Billion Acts of Green’ displayed on their profile as an interest. Other Facebook users can view their interests, giving the campaign more visibility within the network. Those who have it listed in their profiles are encouraged to invite other users to use the application. Although it may seem like a very small act, this technique can be viewed as a ripple effect. As soon as I had ‘Liked’ the organization’s page, I had an acquaintance from South Africa ‘Like’ that I had displayed on my page. Generally, people will not ‘Like’ something they know nothing about. If my South African friend knew about ‘A Billion Acts of Green,’ it can translate into him being glad I was getting involved too. Otherwise, his ‘Like’ can reflect that the title or link captured his curiosity, made him click on the site, and whether or not he intended to learn something, he did. This is a reflection of how easy social media makes what I’d call “accidental learning” happen. By harnessing the power of connections via Facebook, Earth Day Network and Facebook collaborated to create an application that will record the number actions done by Facebook users in order to help achieve the one billion-act count target.
Jonathon Heiliger, vice president of Technical operations at Facebook, explained, “Facebook’s partnership with Earth Day Network to create and promote the Billion Acts of Green app is an exciting to harness the Facebook platform’s power and reach on behalf of the environment.” The main website also emphasizes the idea of being able to “connect with fellow environmental activists in your hometown and around the globe.” This is an attractive feature to those who thirst knowledge and creativity in terms of environmentalism. There is a multitude of photos from other countries of people being active and committing “acts of green.” Links to YouTube videos featuring famous people promoting the campaign are accessible from the main page. A few of the videos that have been created and put on YouTube have several thousand views. It can also be a source for inspiration, hope, and motivation to continue to mobilize toward a healthier environment. By analyzing the use of social media by the Earth Day Network, it is evident that it has been an effective medium in spreading the environmental message. Due to the nature of social media being easily accessible and open, the Earth Day Network has been able to capture and inform a wide range in audience. This system offers a type of transparency to major issues. It can also be seen as an opportunity for those who may feel isolated and helpless to feel connected and strong. The ripple effect made possible by various types of social media cannot be accurately measured and recorded; word of mouth can go a long way.