Why Polar Bears and Protests Don’t Work in Climate Communications

By path2positive

You probably didn't realize that you clicked on this blog largely because of the image, but it's true, you did.

Imagery has come to define our era of online interactions. Social media and blogs almost always have an accompanying visual to help ground abstractions in something tangible, as is evident by the estimated 70-80% increase in engagement for social media posts that have an image. But are you using the right image? 

For decades, climate outreach has relied on visuals of forested areas, animals (polar bears in particular), and even protest pictures of dedicated environmentalists marching through the streets. According to a new report from Climate Outreach, a communications strategy firm designed to assist in online communications, the use of polar bears and protesters are ineffective, at least, when compared to images of people impacted by climate change. 

Image posts that include people, whether on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media outlet, have a greater chance of engagement from your audience. Moreover, when those people speak to a core value held by your base. 

Climate Outreach lists seven principles to maintaining an effective climate communications strategy through images:

  1. Show ‘real people’ not staged photo-ops
  2. Tell new stories
  3. Show climate causes at scale
  4. Climate impacts are emotionally powerful
  5. Show local (but serious) climate impacts
  6. Be very careful with protest imagery
  7. Understand your audience

Read the report to find out why your climate strategy needs these seven aspects to be successful.


Climate Visuals – 7 Key Principles for Visual Climate Change Communication

Climate Outreach

Every day, thousands of images of climate change are shared around the world.  But while research on the verbal and written communication of climate change has proliferated, our understanding of how people interpret visual images of climate change is limited to a much smaller number of academic studies, which do not provide much in the way of practical guidance for communicators. As a result, the iconography of climate change has remained relatively static.

Four in-depth discussion groups (in London and Berlin) were carried out to provide a detailed picture of how people respond to different images of climate change, and then followed up with an extensive 3 country survey (UK, Germany, US) of 3000 people. Pulling together the key findings from this research, we identified seven principles for more effective visual communication about climate change. 

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