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Thursday
Nov102011

Would Friends Let Friends Burn Nonrenewable Energy?

The advent of the social revolution, marked by the rise of social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+, makes us increasingly aware that human behavior is tremendously influenced by the opinions of our friends, colleagues and family.

For although we've appreciated since the mid-90s, that word-of-mouth is a powerful influencer, it really wasn't until we could actually witness directly the reaction to our own tweets and status messages that we palpably felt the power of of our closest circles to socially influence us and compel us to take action.

And while some worry that social networks combined with mobile access propel social unrest, it's also true that social connectedness whether via online, wireless or  via simple word-of-mouth, can lead to extremely  positive behavioral change -- whether its personal health, social causes, discouraging terrorism or adopting sustainable technologies.

Nothing so brought this home to me than my recent discovery of a wonderful infographic created by One Block Off the Grid, a group-buying website for green home improvements. In my book, this graphic  is a key study for all green marketers.

Source:- One Block Off the Grid 

Power in Numbers Neighbors

Beyond the studies summarized in the infographic, there are others which indicate that what our friends and neighbors think can have tremendous impact in effecting positive behavioral change.  A 2009 article in Yale's Environment 360 , Can Peer Pressure Promote Greener Choices, described two studies I'll summarize briefly here.

One of the best known is a late 80's campaign taking place in Hood River, Oregon, in which local civic groups collaborated to enroll entire neighborhoods in a weatherization campaign, where green, energy-efficient improvements were made available at  extremely low cost to home-owners.  Although the campaign had a goal of only some 20-30% household participation among the 3500 homes in the project, the end results came closer to 90%. That's right: No type. 90%.

Equally remarkable was that this principally word-of-mouth campaign, neighbors talking to neighbors, was so successful that the project only used approximately 75% of the marketing budget to get this spectacular result.

Similarly, community involvement campaigns in Arizona , have successfully boosted adoption of both household recycling behavior and water conservation.  For instance, even in a community which didn't practice water conservation, researchers found that you could persuade people to reduce water use simply by telling them that their neighbors approve of the idea.  In commenting on his results to Yale, Arizona State psychologist Robert B. Cialdini, remarked,
"People don't just want to conserve energy, they want to be acknowledged for conserving energy".
What's the main message of these studies?  Increasingly, we are learning that compelling people to take action, modifying their behavior, is accelerated not through logical facts like price discounts and data points, but rather even more effectively through influencing their friends and neighbors. As Mark Earls, author of the book Herd said, "most behavior is not shaped by people making decisions independently, based on good or bad information or having their emotions played with. It is shaped by the behavior of other people around us."

 

The infographic holds some powerful lessons that environmental marketers can use in their marketing messaging - both offline and online- namely, go positive and  encourage collaborative behavior.  And even though much of the data depicted is based on offline behavioral studies, we  see the power of near-circles of influence in people's behavior on social networks daily. How can a green marketer take advantage of that online?

 

In my next post, I'll explore nine social lessons from these behavioral studies that  renewable energy marketers, whether inside large suppliers or the smallest of solar contractors, can exploit to create a more persuasive message. To those who have held off on building a social media strategy, who give it low priority, or who simply use social media as another broadcasting platform,  I hope to give you something to reevaluate that decision: You just may be missing one of the most powerful opportunities to encourage adoption of your products and services.