You (almost) never know who’s paying attention

Posted by sustainable on April 5, 2012 

I was struck by Mark Reed’s blog about knowledge management and it made me think along these lines:

When Francis Bacon said that knowledge was power he was right, but he lived in a world where information was much harder to find than nowadays.  There were no daily newspapers, few books, no radio, no TV, no mobile phones and no internet.  Bacon may have been thirsting for knowledge but many of us these days are trying to avoid being bombarded with facts and opinions.  People complain about the number of emails and texts they receive and about the horrors of being social in social media.

Think then, how difficult it is to influence a decision maker – let’s say a Government Minister – whom everyone wants to influence. Think how much effort he or she makes to avoid being told what to do! And getting through those defences was the type of task I faced in a former job as the Conservation Director of the RSPB – Europe’s largest (and best!) nature conservation charity.

If only, I thought, I could sit down and have a 10 minute chat every day with the Secretary of State or the relevant Minister I bet I could persuade them to do what we wanted – or at least to consider our views seriously alongside all the other views with which they were presented.  Sometimes you get that 10-minute, or 30-minute chat with the Minister but it’s often a pretty formal affair and usually in a group of people who are sounding off on their subjects too.

The closest I got to those daily, longed for, conversations was starting to write a daily blog about conservation issues and the RSPB’s work.  These weren’t written just for Government Ministers but I always had them in mind and the timing of some blogs was deliberately timed to try to influence decisions.

When I left the RSPB I published a selection of my blogs as a book Blogging for Nature and I asked Hilary Benn, the former Secretary of State at Defra whether he’d be prepared to write a Foreword for it – and slightly to my surprise, but also to my delight, he said ‘yes’.  In his Foreword he wrote ‘If I was ever in any doubt about what people at The Lodge (the RSPB’s headquarters) thought I should do next, all I had to do was bring up Mark’s blog – if my advisors hadn’t already put his latest entry into my red box that night!’.

What can we learn from this in terms of communications lessons?

  1. Ignore social media at your peril – just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.  It doesn’t mean it is relevant to your needs either – but don’t discount it out of hand.
  2. Social media allow you to communicate with many people at once – and some of those may be just the people with whom you would love to communicate more regularly face to face.
  3. If your social media communications are obviously popular (your blogs get comments, your Twitter account has lots of followers) then everyone who reads your words knows that lots of others are reading them too so they have more clout. So put effort into building your audience.
  4. You rarely know who is paying attention to you – most influence is unknown to you and you only get rare glimpses to show you that your words hit home – so keep going and don’t despair (you may be winning when you don’t know it).

Good luck!

Dr Mark Avery is a freelance writer on environmental matters.  He writes a daily blog Standing up for  His book, Blogging for Nature is available and contains tips on how to blog successfully as well as 143 blogs written on wildlife and environmental matters between 2009 and 2011.