A Social Marketing toolbox to create change

Treeshake’s Senior Community Manager, Jaidan Rumboll, recently completed her Honours degree in Media Theory and Practice, and analysed Treeshake’s strategy and approach to social marketing in relation to existing academic theories in the field. Here’s what she has to say:

Behavioural insights for impact

Treeshake’s work centres around teaching the art of social marketing for impact, as well as conceptually developing and managing purpose oriented campaigns that inspire involvement and mobilise action. Last year, Treeshake began to incorporate behavioural insights (BI) into their syllabus and campaign strategies as a way to effectively enhance impact.

BI is one discipline in a family of three, the others being behavioural sciences and behavioural economics (Lunn, 2014; OECD, 2016). Behavioural Sciences (BS) study behaviours through a scientific lens, while Behavioural Economics (BE) unpack the behavioural intricacies of economic decision-making. BI is an effective marketing tool because “it puts human behaviour centre stage rather than attitudes, beliefs and opinions” Gordon (2011). BI is based on the understanding that people make fundamentally flawed choices that are not made deliberatively and consciously by weighing up and evaluating all the possible variables and permutations.

The power of storytelling - and storymaking

One of Treeshake’s core tenets as they practice social marketing and BI is storymaking: using the power of stories to influence and connect. Storymaking departs from storytelling in that it is not only about crafting a compelling narrative, but about doing something that others feel compelled to share. This focus on proactive storymaking is particularly impactful in that it “is a more participative process that can yield exponential results in a time of digital communications” (Treeshake, 2018).

While Treeshake’s focus on storymaking is unique in its pairing with BI and social media, storytelling has long been understood as a powerful marketing tool.

Scholars Herskovitz and Crystal defined storytelling:

“as a clear aid to memory, as a means of making sense of the world, as a way to make and strengthen emotional connections, and as a way of recognizing and identifying with brands of any type.”

The science behind storytelling

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In an exploration into the science behind the effectiveness of storytelling, Ann Christiano and Annie Neimand note that “people engage and consume information that affirms their identities and aligns with their deeply held values and worldview, and avoid or reject information that challenges or threatens them”. This means that, “if we want people to engage and take action, we have to connect to what they care about and how they see themselves.” Using stories to tap into an audience’s core set of beliefs and values attracts people who are more likely to actively engage with related content.

Storytelling is also a common marketing tool. In his book, Tell Me a Story: A New Look at Real and Artificial Memory (1991), Roger Schank suggests that people make sense of the world using stories, in that they “understand the world in terms of stories that they have already understood. New events or problems are understood by reference to old, previously understood stories and explained to others by the use of stories.” Brands throughout the world have made use of storytelling techniques, largely because narrative reports and drama enactments are more likely to encourage vicarious participation. This vicarious participation has become heightened in recent years, as social media encourages and relies on end-user engagement.

Storymaking and storytelling are incorporated into Treeshake’s ethos and, in addition to providing related insights, Treeshake also facilitates the impactful dissemination of these stories through strategically-approached social media channels.

Transmedia storytelling and Prosumers

We have moved beyond the age of consumers and into the age of Prosumers. Charmain du Plessis, an academic in the field of Communication Science, defines Prosumers as those who both consume and produce media, and who participate in and engage with transmedia storytelling. Transmedia storytelling refers to media that is available across various devices and channels, and where there’s an interactive element (as in social media). Mina Guli’s #RunningDry campaign, one of Treeshake’s recent projects, relied heavily on the participatory nature of transmedia engagement, and did so through the process of transmedia storytelling. Because Guli’s story was being told across a multitude of social media platforms, as well as throughout more traditional forms of media, the campaign encouraged and “enable[d] an active contribution in an immersive story world” (Treeshake, 2018).

But it wasn’t just the transmedia nature of #RunningDry that was striking - it was also the necessity of connecting the campaign to a deeper cause. Ann Christiano and Annie Neimand, said that, “when messages are framed in a way that connects to their deeply held beliefs, people are more open to changing their stance or taking action.” In this light, it was clear that Guli’s story needed to be communicated in a way that appealed to people’s emotions and value systems, in order to maintain their attention over a long period of time. Being able to tell a story as unbelievable as a woman attempting to run 100 marathons in 100 days drew attention to the global water crisis, making water famous. By the end of the campaign, #RunningDry had obtained 1.6 billion organic media impressions.

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Harnessing the power of influencers

Treeshake successfully conceptualises and develops story-driven campaigns, and activates them via nuanced social media strategies. One example of this is their ability to identify and foster networks of potentially influential online participants: influencers. Treeshake’s Influencer Marketing Strategy goes beyond the paid brand deals that have become synonymous with the term ‘influencer’.

Instead of spending disproportionate amounts of money on celebrity-level influencers (or ‘Scalers’), Treeshake focuses on building an intricate network of influencers and participants whose engagement impact upon the campaign on different levels. For instance, they identify ‘Pioneers’ as a key influencer, in that they are deeply interested and invested in one’s cause, and are integrated into an existing network of fellow pioneers. They also look to ‘Authorities’ as a category of influencer who, regardless of online presence, offer an established voice within a movement or cause, acting as a ‘gatekeeper’ and providing one credibility via their endorsement. Utilising the various types of influencers at the right time is part of Social Campaign Strategy.

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Social Campaign Strategy

One of Treeshake’s specialties is Social Campaign Strategy: providing guidance on developing a people-centric social media campaign, as opposed to the typical content-driven or tool-driven campaigns that many brands get stuck on. The combination of storymaking, storytelling and a nuanced social media strategy paves the way for a particularly impactful social campaign.

Because of Treeshake’s focus on Campaigns for Change, many of the tools they utilise come from a social marketing framework, in addition to more social media-specific strategies. Social marketing is defined by Matthew Wood as “marketing tools and techniques used to promote social good and to help address social problems,” with a focus on shifting damaging behaviours. With the rise of social media, brands and social marketers alike are put under pressure to ensure the stories they create are engaging, memorable, and strategically consistent with their mission and objectives.

Because of Treeshake’s commitment to the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals, much of the work they take on requires a degree of social marketing, in conjunction with an understanding of how BI has been used to understand consumers. The goal? Meaningful campaigns that drive real world change.


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