How to communicate your sustainability story

How to communicate your sustainability story

You can use social media and storytelling synergistically to target an audience and build brand awareness. By itself, social media is proven to help build relationships with your stakeholders, become a "thought leader" in your sector and identify new business leads, while also helping you better use market and customer research.

Recent research has shown that storytelling can enhance your communication by presenting content in a more engaging, human and inspiring way. If you use five goals to focus your efforts, you can strengthen the power and the reach of your sustainability story. 

Goal 1: Raising awareness

Social media and the power of branding are excellent tools for raising awareness.

Identify what stakeholders/ decision makers you want to engage with. This may be your internal workforce, your customer's, the media publications within industry/ sector, your supply chain, the community your impact takes place within or perhaps public authorities you plan to collaborate with. By segmenting your audience in this cross sectorial way you can begin to think about raising awareness in a smarter, more targeted way.

Focus on building PR relationships. Engaging with the media and turning them into media partners will help you multiply your reach, so that your content doesn't just reach your own audience but your partners’ audience, too.

Branding is a complex topic, but the general rule of thumb is to ensure your brand speaks the same language as your audience. If you're communicating to individuals on the community level you may want to brand yourself in a more emotionally charged way that comes across as fun and quirky. If your story is targeting potential funders, you should communicate in a more corporate and slick style with an emphasis on graphs and statistics.

Goal 2: Engaging your audience

Keep your communication style specific to the audience. Several studies have identified that individuals are more likely to accept information if delivered by messengers with whom they share a cultural affinity. For example, the former chief economist of the World Bank, Nicholas Stern, lent much credibility to the green growth message among the business community by volunteering to lead the analysis for the U.K. government of the economics of climate change.

Collaborate with celebrities or exciting talent within your sector. Not only the message, but also the messenger is important. Credible and trusted messengers are very much needed to make the case for deviating from business as usual. You may not be able to afford Angelina Jolie, William Hague or Leonardo DiCaprio to be the face of your campaign. But there should be plenty of highly sought-after, industry-specific experts worth teaming up with.

Identify a protagonist within your story. Psychological research shows that we interpret our experiences, and seek to understand the world, by creating stories of protagonists acting with intention to achieve a goal. These stories are called "meta-narratives," "paradigms" or sometimes "frames" because they provide frameworks through which we create meaning and make judgments.

Bring it down to earth. Demonstrate the complex benefits of your sustainability project in terms that can be understood and experienced in your target audience's daily lives — for example, how energy efficiency can reduce household costs or how reducing air pollution can improve health. The most effective communication strategies demonstrate these benefits at the individual level.

Identify and use the hot "keywords" in your sector. This significantly will improve your SEO and engagement with each segment you are targeting, as well as build trust with your audience.

Be transparent. Being full transparent and honest also will help you create trust with your customers.

Goal 3: Educating your audience

Creating impact is about winning people's minds as well as their hearts. Your communication strategy also will require an underlying basis in fact that is robust to challenges from vested interests. Messages should therefore be balanced, with plenty of facts and figures to back up your claims, while also clearly stating both the winners and the losers in the transition to a greener economy.

Goal 4: Inspiring your audience

Be persistent and consistent. Creating one or two pieces of content isn't enough. Your sustainability battle will be long and hard, so you will have to expect this to be a long-term campaign in which consistency in how you communicate is of utmost importance. Essentially this is shaped by your brand identity and strategy.

Focus on the benefits. In the coming years the sustainability sector must prove that its triple bottom line model can deliver "smarter" development results than the traditional economic model. This will involve an emphasis that clearly demonstrates the benefits of your project. Benefits can include reducing the likelihood and impact of climate change, improvements in attracting investment in innovation, creating green jobs and industries, conserving natural capital and advancing sustainable rural livelihoods.

The basic premise of sustainable development is that future generations should not be any worse off than the current generation, and that there must be a balance between economic, environmental and social sustainability.

Goal 5: Encouraging your audience to take action

Don't just leave your call to action until the end of the article. Find creative ways to weave your call to action into your story. Once the editorial is done, include a few ways people could get involved.

Empower your audience. Focus less on making people feel bad that they're not doing enough and instead empower them to feel as if they too can get involved. It's no longer about your organization as the hero, but rather about giving the reader the opportunity to become the hero.

This post was originally published on the site 2Degrees Network and is reprinted with permission. Photo of inspiring book by LilKar via Shutterstock.