What do you use social media for? Keeping up to date with news and politics, speaking with family and friends, or getting lost down weird YouTube rabbit holes? What about saving the planet from its inevitable doom? Today, more and more people are using social media as a platform for protest, as a service that can be channelled to enact change and allows its users to speak out against humanity’s wrongdoings.
As extremely powerful tools, social media and online marketing are forces not to be reckoned with – and the people who utilise it to enact change, or halt it, are admittedly even more intimidating.
Take MrBeast, for example; a YouTuber with over 38 million subscribers who, in celebration of his channel hitting 20 million subs, set out to plant 20 million trees. In October, he created a donation page on which he attempted to raise enough money for said trees, by 1st Jan 2020. With the help of a few famous faces; Elon Musk, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, as well as more than a handful of fellow YouTubers and celebrities across sport and entertainment, the goal was met.
MrBeast’s original announcement video is currently sitting at 44 million views, with the whole #TeamTrees movement acting as a testament to the power of social media buzz and effective online marketing, as well as the power of people. The trees themselves are set to be planted over the course of the next few years.
Speaking of the power of the people, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg stirred up a much-needed storm in 2019. Her speech at the UN Climate Summit in September amassed millions of views in a matter of hours and, in turn, sparked climate protest rallies in cities across the world. In a matter of months, Thunberg went from standing alone outside government buildings in Sweden, to having millions of people rally behind her, from London to Lisbon. This was all thanks to the following she amassed due to people finding inspiration in the videos shared of her online.
From MrBeast, to Greta, Extinction Rebellion, and Change.org petitions, the online world of ‘protest marketing’ is evidently a sturdy foundation in which mass movements find enough food to flourish. But how and why? Is it enough to simply share, like and comment - and are we being suffocated and over-saturated with content?
While it is an amazing thing that these protest movements, both on and offline, have spread and duplicated over the past few years, does this inevitably create more problems than it resolves? Dan Nixon – a writer for the online research platform Perspectiva, discusses the issue with this online over-saturation, by explaining that;
“Due to the sheer volume of information we have available, we’ve witnessed our attention becoming increasingly scarce. Our various news feeds, messages, and social media notifications are in a constant battle for our attention – they are the competing forces in the so-called ‘attention economy.’”
Put simply, everything we interact with is in a constant battle for our attention against, well, everything else. In regard to the issue of climate change, the fate of our planet is battling for attention against social media ‘influencers’, TV, movies, and memes; with every post, picture, and piece of content further fuelling this unhealthy ‘attention economy’.
This is a huge problem for the world of marketing in general and, of course, the planet. Well, in every instance - the planet is always in trouble, therefore, it’s always going to be a problem. Everything is a problem for the planet. However, when simply talking about digital marketing, conversion rates are key. Take our company, ICS, for example; our business relies on click-throughs and action being taken by the consumer, rather than just ‘incentive’. Numbers don’t mean anything unless they equate to results.
Social media and online marketing have many persuasive tricks up their sleeves, and are extremely powerful tools, but they are influential – not forceful. We can attempt to persuade people who are engaging in our content to follow-through with consumer actions - and the numbers decrease even further when trying to convince people to take that extra step.
Therefore, while it may feel like the climate crisis is garnering more and more attention, is any action actually being taken? It doesn’t take much to skim through an article, like, share, or retweet; but how many people, in the mass of thousands of useless voices, are actually doing anything practical? We may comment ‘how awful’ underneath a video of a turtle with a straw stuck up its nose, but still produce plastic as if it isn’t really happening.
As is the way of the world of digital advertising; with every click needed to complete an action, you lose interest. Even if that click means donating to a charity that’s going to clean up the oceans or save a species from extinction - because there will always be something competing for your time. That could be - but is not limited to; Kylie Jenner leaning against a Lamborghini, a dog with a flower on its head, a baby falling off a chair, or, the big one, your own narcissism. The idea of the latter being that, in your opinion, there is always ‘something better you could be doing’, and the metaphorical weighing scales will always tip over the edge of ‘this is wasting my time’.
However, there’s the argument that even the small actions can make a big difference. That every share adds to the real gravity of the situation, and every voice that succeeds in calling out across the sea of social media does, in fact, do something.
We are, as people, intertextual sponges. We absorb everything we see, read, and watch, and our brains decide which parts to keep. There’s a reason why people dedicate the majority of their marketing materials to online platforms – because that’s where we spend most of our time. Even if we scroll past the odd article or advert we think never mattered, a couple of hours later you’ll find yourself singing the old McDonald’s theme tune and remembering you just saw an advert for their new wrap of the day.
In short - the little things matter, as does what we choose to read and not read, share and not share. The true marketing trick lies in successfully encouraging people to switch from a passive to an active consumer. A passive observer, to an active action-taker.
So, if we’re being blindly optimistic – social media can save the planet. Sort of.