Social media for sustainability

Well, it’s been a busy October for us MAYA peeps. Not least because Anna headed out from the London office to New York to give a presentation on how Social Media may just be the answer we need to create a sustainable planet.  So, we thought rather than have you guys miss out, we’d quickly go over the basics and pop her talk below…

As a society we face perpetual change. In the last 20 years the world has become a more connected place. International connectivity has stimulated trade and is likely to have played a significant role in global economic collapse. Ecological systems are rapidly changing and degrading, with extinction rates up to 1000 times their pre-human levels. Changes are impacting upon a global biodiversity that is already under pressure from expanding urbanization and increasing population growth.

The Internet, and social media especially, offers a significant chance to make this world a better, fairer, and more sustainable place. Already, the Internet has brought people together, enabling the rapid, widespread emergence of ever-novel ideas and the empowerment of communities to bring about change and raise awareness of injustice. Its potential lies in bringing about change toward more sustainable behaviours through social learning. Social media facilitates new approaches to governance whereby stakeholders across sectors and jurisdictions can become engaged in consensus building and implementation processes, and be a part of the conversations and decisions that affect them. Of course, not everyone has the ability to be part of social media at the moment, but evidence shows that situation is changing, with 7.9 new users logging on to the internet each second!

Social media is about facilitating greater participation and enabling the spread of sustainability concepts through peer learning. People pay attention to what their trusted sources and friends have to say. Information moves rapidly between and across social networking sites through technology features and key individuals active on multiple platforms. In social media products, messages and behaviours spread like viruses. Similar to medical epidemics, a handful of special people play an important role in starting idea epidemics.

These are the Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople. Mavens are idea specialists. They are human data banks who are obsessive about details and about sharing them with others; connectors are people specialists. They know a lot of people from every possible sub-culture and niche. They have an extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances out of everyone. They act as social glue by spreading ideas around; and salespeople have the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing.

We live in the era of transparency. So, events that were easy to downplay in the past, are now posted on social networks, discussed and shared widely. Crimes against the environment and humanity are hard to ignore, even if you tried. And, the environmental community is increasingly embracing social media to share stories as well as to reach the indifferent.

We now need organisations and professionals working in academia and governance to embrace social media and take on the roles of maven, connector or salesperson. Creating a profile, sharing information and cultivating meaningful interactions within a community does take time—time that will extend above and beyond an average workday. But the viral impact of updating extended networks of family and friends on what you care about and work on during the day cannot be underestimated.