Cleantech Comms Vet: How Clean Energy Can Stop Being Boring

Posted By mikec on August 20th, 2012

Texts from Hillary co-creator and Tigercomm veteran Stacy Lambe recently became an editor at the popular “social news” website BuzzFeed. He’s now in Manhattan, generating items for the site’s 30 million visitors a month. (Technorati ranks it second only to Huffington Post).

Stacy’s gone from pitching to being pitched, DC to Manhattan, and from focusing on one sector to many. Essentially, he’s your ideal Scaling Green Communicating Energy guest lecturer.

One of our central questions for him was: How can clean economy companies get on to high-traffic sites? Stacy was polite about it, but he had a message for communicators in industries run by engineers and former finance people: clean economy companies and issues tend to be boring.

I think clean energy just has to find something to take it from the very niche world it’s in…  and find a way that is much more broad and shareable.

How to fix that? Be (really) short, punchy, visual and shareable (lists and pictures of kitties help a lot, too).

But Stacy made a larger point: The format of our content has to be part of the attraction for the millions of BuzzFeed readers. How “shareable” and fun it is to people who don’t live and breathe the latest wind turbine engineering development matters a lot if you want to break out on the Internet:

[Buzz] is really boiling down to very visual, but very punchy and approachable either information or word choice itself…

Greenpeace’s Shell website just kind of blew up in the past couple days. They had [these] kind of user-created ads that were very shareable content, perfect for BuzzFeed…and for an audience member who doesn’t have a take on the issue. They also allow us to put in some information or draw attention to a cause that doesn’t necessarily get talked about.

How to develop that ability? Trial and error, riffing off what other people are doing:

You have to see what works, but don’t be afraid to recreate or try something that’s already in existence. There’s going to be shared concepts out there, so take something that you know evokes a reaction, evokes a feeling, and then [try] to capture that.

This is good, essential stuff. Stacy was giving cleantech a path out of the “niche” (read: boring) category, a challenge identified by other lecturers (e.g., Climate Progress’ Stephen Lacey last November). For cleantech B2B companies, it’s easy to view outlets such as BuzzFeed as lying well outside annual corporate communication plans. The connection to customers and investors is too diffuse. But for B2C companies and collective cleantech brand defense against dirty-energy-funded attacks, the BuzzFeeds of the worlds are where the action is taking place.

Cleantech is not in BuzzFeed’s world, at least not very often right now, but we don’t have to stay that way. Americans like what we’re doing, and we can engage them a lot more if we meet them on their terms.

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