When the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) needs to generate attention for environmental issues - ranging from bees to global warming - one of the people they turn to is Apollo Gonzales, the Netroots campaign manager. While he still believes traditional media (newspaper and television) is "king" in spreading information, in an interview for the Huffington Post, he shed some light into the NRDC's social media strategy.
Eric Kuhn: First, what are some of the biggest issues that the NRDC is trying to spread the word about right now?
Apollo Gonzales: Well, every issue we're working on is big to those in the affiliated program, whether it is our work on bees and colony collapse disorder, or the global warming and the Energy bill. We've got lots of campaigns in various stages of development, in addition to the two I just mentioned we're working to stop Mountain Top Removal, to spread the word about the value of Green jobs, protecting wildlife like Wolves and Polar Bears, exposing the truth about coal and other dirty fuels like Tar Sands, Oil Shale and Liquid coal. The list is endless.
One of the issues you are focusing on is the plight of bears and wolves from Yellowstone. How does the communications department try to market an issue like this to people on line?
We take a very holistic approach to communicating our issues. The traditional silos of media (print, television, web, etc.) just work better when they are informing one another. So while we've got action alerts going to peoples in boxes our press team is making and taking calls and our web team is featuring the issue on the website. That is just the start though, we're also getting our staff (who work on the issue) to blog about it on Switchboard, and we're sending the action and the blog to our Facebook fans, all the while sending messages to our Twitter followers. Often, the case is that a bump in attention in one place leads to a bump in attention to the other spaces.
How does the NRDC utilize Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to try and make your causes "viral"?
Initially, these spaces are a great distribution channel. Our content can be delivered right to the places people live online. That is the easy part to all of this, but these spaces are about engagement not just distribution. So we really try to listen to what people are saying about the issues and our content. We thank them for sharing our links, we point them to places where they can learn more, we promote their thoughts and contributions to the conversation within the channel. From a technical standpoint we are always looking at making our content as portable as possible so folks can share and redistribute our content in a way they choose.
What is the most effective way to spread the word about an issue? Is it social networks, your blogs or something else?
Television and newspapers are still king. They reach a massive audience more efficiently and effectively than any other medium. So to the extent that we can get a plug or a platform via those channels, we'll take it every time. Often we don't have that opportunity so we rely on the things you mention - social networks, blogs, Twitter, email, and our website. Every campaign is different, but putting energy in the blogosphere does really well for us. Whether we blog at Switchboard, or some outside blogger picks up our issue, with a little massaging we can give a blog post legs. A blog post is easy to link to, can be visually impressive (video, photo), comes with a built in audience of some size, and almost always has a sharing function built in. The blog post is the foundation that we build the social media strategy upon.