Lessons Learned from Tweets

Though my personal Twitter account languishes from disuse, this semester I have started tweeting actively under the FES handle. In Doha, I’ve gotten to put this skill to serious work. Through the International Organizations and Conferences class, David Emmerman, Bunyod Holmatov and I partnered with homo ecos, a Latvian NGO whose primary focus is generating environmental awareness and social movements in Latvia. Our role was to help in climate policy research and capacity building for the larger Latvian NGO community. To do this, we produced a policy paper about key issues for Latvia at COP18 (Short primer: http://homoecos.lv/uploads/files/COP18_Short_Primer(1).pdf). The paper was intended for NGOs and ministries and distributed to the Latvian delegation. We also agreed to facilitate a social media campaign for the general public. homo ecos and Latvian graduate students built the momentum on the ground in Latvia. On our side of the ocean, we built a new social media account  @LatviaCOP18Chat (follow us for live coverage of COP18) and developed a social media plan with help from the FES Media team. In one week, we went from 0 to 80 followers with even more responses, retweets and attention from unexpected places, especially this one:


The reach of our relatively small enterprise surprised me, and has led me to wonder how effective social media can be in climate change communications and raising awareness. Today, there was a side event/brain-storming session hosted by Responding to Climate Change (RTCC), an online news organization and official observer, which discussed the effectiveness of social media in distributing information and facilitating change. The audience listed a number of successful social media campaigns in the past (Twitter storms of negotiators in Durban), but what really makes a successful campaign?

While Twitter has served as a great way to create transparency and clarity by providing short, concise descriptions of very complicated process, as of now it hasn’t made the next step of creating change in the negotiations. How can it get there? There a number of wonderful activist actions happening at COP18, but there simply isn’t enough awareness about them. Earlier today, I was observing an art project spurred by a Twitter campaign. Several negotiators were nearby and disclosed to me they never heard about the project, and could not figure out what it was because of a lack of signage or explanation. Less than a minute later,  they walked away. The next wave of social media has to make walking away impossible. These ideas and campaigns cannot stay trapped within their own social networks if they are to survive and thrive.

We are fortunate to have forged a connection with the Latvian delegation, but the network of relationships which enabled us to do so between the Latvian NGOs, Yale and the Latvian government took years to develop. The time for social media is now, but to new tweeters and bloggers trying to get in on the action, remember that building meaningful relationships and clout takes time and patience. Because in the end, you don’t want anyone to walk away.