Last month, EcoOutfitters asked 1BOG to participate in one of their Solar Chats on Twitter. Now, most Twitter gatherings involve a lot of hubbub, a troll or two, and not a whole lot of substance. Fortunately, though, the EcoOutfitters team has refined these events into well-oiled machines that are not only fun and informative, but attract a fairly massive audience. At about halfway through our chat, we peaked as the top trend on Twitter. Pretty remarkable.
All that aside, it got me thinking about the various ways we use social channels to tell stories and convey information. We’ve become so accustomed to social broadcasting that we can easily convey strong storylines, messages, and ideas in as little as 140 characters. Find an inspiring article about something you care about? Blast it out on Twitter. Somebody fracking in your town and you don’t like it? Share it on Facebook. Big news you want to shout from the mountaintops? Post it on your blog and enable sharing options, then watch it gain audience. These are all linear ways of storytelling, and they’re great – even par for the course at this point. But there is a whole other breed of social media that might be even more valuable than current incumbents, and that is the visual.
One of the most refreshing points in the Solar Chat was the discussion about how visual elements have become so surprisingly valuable beyond just friend-to-friend. A picture is worth a thousand words, and everybody’s got a camera in their pocket these days that empowers them to capture whatever inspires them, whether it’s a delicious sandwich or oil sludge drifting down a residential street. And you can take it beyond photos on the fly. For example, we here at 1BOG like to explore the possibilities of visual vs. linear storytelling with our infographics, many of which continue to circulate months after we initially posted them.
There are studies that show how long it takes a book, article, or any other piece of writing to keep or lose its audience, and the amount of time is usually measured in mere seconds. If you don’t like the opening sentence of an article, chances are you’ve already disengaged. The beauty of visual storytelling is that it provides multiple points of entry and allows people the room to find one that suits them. When someone is greeted with an image – be it graphic, hand drawn, or a photograph – they can let their eyes wander, form opinions, look for details, absorb, and share the message. They are not required to embrace or agree with someone’s words, but rather they are simply required to react to what they see.
So far this has been a good thing for solar. People regularly send us photos of their solar experience, whether it’s the panels on their roof or their meter dropping into the negatives. More importantly though, they blog about it or post it on their Facebook pages so their friends and family can applaud and encourage them. But the single most valuable thing when it comes to all this sharing is that tiny shift in someone’s mind when they realize that solar is not only possible, but something to brag about. And that happens more frequently when they see a picture of solar on their friend’s roof than when they read about it in an article.
Linear storytelling via articles and blog posts is essential in dispelling mythic boundaries and educating people about going solar. But we can’t underestimate the value of non-linear mediums – infographics, photos, even word clouds – as ways of inspiring incremental or wholehearted shifts in popular thought. Social channels are perfectly created to empower that, and we need to use it to full advantage.
Ashley is the Director of Communications at 1BOG and oversees media relations, social channels, blog content, and about half a dozen other fun things. She’s into telling stories about the importance of renewable energy and engaging in conversations that lead us all to a healthier planet. You can reach her at ashley (at) 1bog (dot) org, or follow her on Twitter at @aseashore.