Measuring climate change campaigns: What’s the relation between online and offline behaviour?

Monday, September 12th, 2011 | Global Cool

At Global Cool we have rigorously measured our climate change campaigns and published the results in detail here.

We also measure our online campaigning activity in great detail, which provides a gold mine of data about how many people we can reach, where and how we can reach them and  - perhaps most interestingly for us as an organisation trying to persuade people to change their behaviour – how deeply they do or don’t engage with our ideas.

laptopBut, whilst all this online data is great in terms of helping us understand how best to communicate with our target audience, it doesn’t really tell us very much about how our audience behaves in ‘the real world’ once they have interacted with us online. (N.B. Our digital activity has focused on engaging and educating the public with specific actions, rather than building tools that might, for example, measure an individual’s carbon footprint, which we think would exclude the very audience we’re trying to reach.)

To some extent, the surveys and focus groups we do can tell us whether our campaigning is actually changing people’s behaviour, and we have seen some positive results, for example the number of people who said they would wear woolly jumpers at home rose from 12% to 18% following our Turn Up The Style, Turn Down The Heat campaign. Nevertheless, it is still useful to see other evidence that online engagement is an effective way of persuading people to change their behaviour.

Therefore we were pleased to liaise with Michele Mazza from Imperial College recently, who has done some excellent work into the relation between online and offline behaviour. Essentially what we wanted to know from Michele was: If someone likes us on Facebook, or retweets us on Twitter, or signs up for our newsletter, does this mean they will then go on to adopt the behaviours that we are promoting? Michele reported back as follows:

Assessing whether individuals online engagement with organisations influences offline behaviour has proven a very interesting but particularly challenging aspect to evaluate.

While in the case of private sector this issue is less problematic, since the sale of a product can be seen as a ‘primer’ to measure the effectiveness of an online campaign, for public and NGO’s organisation the task is trickier.

However recent studies by Cugelman (Cugelman et al. (2009), (2010)) involving meta-analytical techniques used to assess the impact of online interventions in influencing individual’s offline behaviours, depict a positive picture.

Cugelman first distinguishes between Macro-behaviours, described as primary behaviours targeted by an online intervention; and micro-behaviours describes as routine behaviours that people perform online, intended to lead to the macro-behaviour. For example, a micro-behaviour would describe when a person registered for a weight-loss intervention, while the macro-behaviour would be dieting.

He demonstrates how Microsuasion, i.e. small persuasive tactics used to encourage the performance of minor online tasks, such as signing up for a newsletter or clicking on a hyperlink (Fogg, 2003), are very effective in driving micro-behaviour change. More importantly he also founds correlation between micro and macro-behaviour change, since ” online behaviour outcomes can be seen as a process that includes a small number of online activities leading to significant impacts later on” Cugelman (2010).

This is particularly true when the number of online features in an intervention, i.e. the number of micro-behaviour to perform, is high. (Vandelanotte, et al., 2007). Add to this in another study (Cugelman et al., 2009) Cugelman suggests how the web site credibility, in terms of expertise, trustworthiness and visual appeal is also a key component in effectiveness of online behavioural change interventions.

Finally he also shows how online interventions can match and sometimes outperform interventions distributed over traditional media.

Of course these studies do not fully solve the problem of being able to isolate the effects of Global Cool online activity from the myriad of other influences on people’s ‘green’ behaviour. But they demonstrate how online micro-suasion can lead to micro-behaviour change and how many micro-behaviour changes can lead to macro-behaviour ones.

So they can be seen as a further justification of your approach, and are good selling points!

Many thanks to Michele for this useful research, which would seem to reinforce our approach to online climate change campaigning. We’d be interested to hear from other organisations on their views about the relationship between online and offline behaviour in the comments…

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We run Global Cool, the only online magazine in the UK truly inspiring the mainstream to live greener

We create content about music, fashion, celebrity and lifestyle trends. We use this content to inspire people normally turned off by climate change to lead greener lives. We reached more than 200,000 people in 2011 and we don't preach to the converted. In fact, 93% of our audience say we are the only green organisation they engage with.

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