Friday, 21 June 2013

Can Digital Save the Oceans?

Last week I took part in a panel discussion at London Imperial College titled, ‘iCampaigning – Can Digital Save the Seas?’ The event was part of a thought provoking networking and discussion series, exploring the way digital innovations shape the world we live, work and create in.
The event can be viewed (as you would expect) online, so if you would like to find out more take a look.

At Sea-Changers we have always tried to make use of digital (anything you might find on the web) in a range of ways in order to raise our profile as a new charity. We work across several social media platforms, have a regularly updated website, we write  and host  blogs. We have recently started to produce videos and audio podcasts and we use digital platforms to undertake surveys with sea-users.  For us it has been a useful way to raise our profile, raise awareness of what we do and get some of our key messages heard. It has also provided us with:

  • The chance to listen and learn from others about what is going on in the marine environment and use this information to shape our approach.
  • The chance to network and connect with people around the UK, and the world who can work with us to assist us in achieving our goals.

For us, digital media has been a real benefit and helped us to grow as a new charity in a way that simply would not even have been possible, 10 years ago. Despite this, I have always had some misgivings about digital actually being a tool to change behaviour or to engage.  My questions have been:

  • Does digital really influence new audiences or merely allow us to preach to the already converted?
  • Is anyone really listening and acting upon campaign messages?
  • If digital campaigners lack a coherent and coordinated message will we simply confuse those listening or will we all fail to be heard over the ‘noise’?
  • How do we emphasise the seriousness and need to act now to save the seas without making people feel helpless or that it is too late?

The discussion last week touched upon these issues and more. The panel was chaired by Dr Helen Scales, BBC Presenter, author and marine biologist. Other panellists were Tom Hooper, Head of Marine Policy from the RSPB and Ian Brighouse, founder of manonabeach and I do urge you to view the fascinatingthinking and ideas expressed. I have reflected on the event a great deal over the last few days and wanted to share a couple of key reflections.

Firstly, before the event took place I spent some time using digital to engage in a conversation about the question ‘Can digital save the seas?’ My method was simply to post the question on social media sites and ask for views. Overwhelmingly the responses to the question were; ‘Yes it can but...’ There was no rocket science - simply common sense. I was told digital needs to be strategic; it needs to demonstrate two way communication and it needs to be responsive.  It needs to appeal to different communication styles, it needs to be engaging and positive; it needs to offer solutions and ideas. I was sent some great of examples of where following this approach had led to success.  The key message here was that it can work, but only if you have a strategic approach and consider the audience. In other words, in order to be effective when using digital media, campaigners need to use their heads.

The second very powerful message that I have been left with concerns the need for digital media to really capture the love for, and the value many of us place on, the marine environment. Ian Brighouse is the founder of a unique and innovative video project called manonabeach which explores the emotional power of the beach for beachgoers. Ian (manonabeach) approaches people on a beach and asks one question ‘what does the beach mean to you?’ You can view some of the remarkable and moving responses he has captured on the website.  The interviewee is allowed to reflect and consider what the beach environment means to their lives, their wellbeing, their work, play, family, mental and emotional health and so on. They are not directed in the question asked. They simply answer as they want to. What is undeniable in the videos that Ian has captured over the past few years is that, whilst he is passive in his approach to the interviewee, they are often bursting with passion, the beach is something that is fundamental to their lives or that gives them something very powerful. This leads me to my second conclusion which is that in order for campaigners to truly engage people in behaviour that can save the seas, we also need to engage with individuals’ emotions.  In other words, in order to be effective when using digital media, campaigners need to appeal to people’s hearts.

So how will this event impact on the work and approach of Sea-Changers?
Clearly we must ensure that strategically we get our messages right and we target them intelligently. But alongside that we must listen to manonabeachs’ simple question ‘what does the beach mean to you? and constantly  learn from the emotion this simple question promotes. It is the passion people feel that will move people from staring at a computer screen, to taking actions that can help to save our seas.

If you want to join in our digital conversations you can visit us at

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that Helen. Well thought out and clearly presented conclusions. Thanks also for the manonabeach examples. Inspirational to say the least.

    Best of luck with implementing what was learned