Government policies and programs have had relatively limited success in fostering widespread adoption of energy efficient products and solutions in Australia’s residential sector. Part of the problem has been the reliance on behaviour change models that assume consumers to be rational individualistic actors, who can be influenced by more and/or improved information, education and market prices. However, a vast interdisciplinary literature has provided a critique of this model, instead drawing attention to material, structural as well as social and cultural factors that shape consumption.
This report draws on the media research to address the cultural and communicative dimensions of consumption as everyday practice – focusing on what people routinely do as consumers and media users. It contributes to empirical studies of the role of media as popular sources of communication, inspiration and learning. The report explores the general patterns of social media conversations and public engagement broadly related to sustainable/energy efficient home renovations in Australia. The research material in the form of social media data was collected from two key platforms: Twitter and Facebook (public Facebook pages) in 2016 and updated in 2017.
This exploratory social media research confirms:
A strong Twitter and Facebook page activity by accounts related to established media outlets such as Domain.com.au or popular reality or lifestyle shows such as Better Homes and Gardens. They utilise social networking sites to assist in promoting themselves, their messages and attracting larger audiences;
Different actors prioritise different social media platforms for communication and public engagement. This finding corresponds to a well-established media studies argument about different platforms having different characteristics, thus encouraging different types of user interaction and engagement. There is also notable amount of circulating posts across different social media platforms and internet to reach larger audiences;
Based on the number of comments, leading Facebook pages in terms of engagement in the sample are Better Homes and Gardens FB page and Domain.com.au FB page. The majority of posts on their respective pages contain links (followed by photos and videos) and attract a high number of comments;
The Twitter analysis identifies @The Block and @ShaynnaBlaze accounts as the most engaged in the sample based on the largest number of replies to tweets. The analysis reveals also a high level of cross-promotion by using @mentions and hashtags to accounts and hashtag streams associated with the reality show and the celebrity including their host broadcasters and associates;
Accounts in the environmental, not-for-profit category (e.g. @beyondzeronews and @renew_economy) demonstrate an active deployment of retweets and links to spread messages related to green living as their chief purpose but they have not been recognised ‘highly engaged’ based on the measure of engagement applied here. More generally, however, the study reveals Australian environmental not-for-profits such as BeyondZeroEmissions, RenewEconomy or The Climate Council are quite active (Twitter), as are international high-profile environmental orgs such as Greenpeace and Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project (Facebook pages);
While the research confirms a comparatively low level of engagement by government organisations’ accounts, there are also notable exceptions. For example, the most ‘liked’ single message in the sample was posted on the City of Melbourne Facebook page with over 50k likes to the message on The 2016 C40 Cities Award and local projects to combat climate change;
There are a few practical recommendations for communication about energy efficiency in the residential contexts, especially for formal communicators such as government organisations. These recommendations are geared towards increasing the visibility of ‘green’ content/messages as well as the support of social networking for the public conversation about green living:
- Explore the potential to connect to related active and trusted social networks and online communities through having your messages posted, retweeted and/or mentioned there. Some popular accounts with established and engaged online communities might exist within the communicator’s existing web of partners. For example, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (part of the NSW government’s Office of Environment and Heritage) appears quite engaged via its Facebook page (based on the number of comments). While not focused on the residential energy efficiency per se, it may be a useful platform for sharing some posts to its networks;
- Tie information, content and/or media campaigns to public or community events – for example, environmental awards (hosted by local councils such as Melbourne’s Yarra Sustainability Awards or national such as the United Nations Association of Australia’s Climate Action Awards); established events such as festivals (Sustainable Living Festival) or Sustainable House Day;
- ‘Localise’ green information/messages to make them as relevant as possible to people’s needs in local settings;
- Experiment with creative ways of communicating financial information about green products, associated labour costs and/or cost benefit. Simple yet effective examples include incorporating price into stories and images (e.g. Houzz Interior Design Ideas app’s still images or TV Grand Designs Live Shows moving images showing off price tags for products);
- Embed information about sustainable/energy efficient homes within broader conversations about good living as part of everyday life.
- It is important to emphasise that these practical takeaways be considered within social and communication structures – recognising the plurality of media and communication sources, and the fact that people make consumption decisions based on their private circumstances and social and financial capital.