Word of Mouth - Climate Change

I-level's social media unit Jam explores the online buzz around climate change. It's a huge topic but just how much noise is there, and who is driving it? It's also a complex topic, so what are the key issues being discussed in the blogosphere?

As we see from the chart below, there has been a fairly consistent level of buzz around climate change over the last few months, with a steady pattern of peaks during the week and troughs over the weekend.

A couple of notable spikes are the result of key political events, which drive the conversation online. In mid-March, for example, Tony Blair announced one of his many re-incarnations, since leaving Downing Street, as leader of a new international team to help secure a global deal on climate change.

More recently, at the beginning of July, Gordon Brown's climate change bill prompted threats of a backbench revolt for not going far enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Last month, when looking into the buzz around recession, we saw that a small number of large, established media sources, such as the BBC, Guardian and FT, had the majority of influence around the subject.

The chart below shows that climate change is a much less clear cut issue. A larger number of sources have significant influence, and influence comes from a variety of different types of sources.

News sources, such as the BBC and Guardian still have their say, but there are also user-generated sites (Wikipedia), portals (Yahoo!), academia (The Tyndall Centre), political organisations (United Nations) as well as environmental news blogs, such as Gristmill with a share of voice.

*The sources are ranked by aggregated influence

The confusing mix of stakeholders may serve to emphasise that green isn't a black and white issue. This view is substantiated by the recent Ipsos MORI study (Tipping Point or Turning Point) that showed that even though only a small minority of people rejected the existence of climate change a large percentage had mixed views on the extent of the threat.

Also, a third of people surveyed felt that they themselves had no influence to combat climate change, whereas two thirds thought that big organisations, such as the Government, were responsible for limiting it. Breaking down the buzz about climate change into its key topics supports this theory.

Wider issues that relate to business and Government have been dominating the conversation over the last few months, whereas more personal issues (recycling, ethical) are taking a back seat.

The supermarket industry seemed to be the perfect meeting point of these two issues - big business and personal impact - so we broke the buzz down amongst the main players.

Unsurprisingly, Tesco holds the lion's share of buzz, with 48% share over the last three months, followed by Marks and Spencer (28%), Sainsbury's (16%) and Asda (8%).

The buzz behind Asda and M&S seems to be relatively positive, commenting on the various green initiatives the companies have in place. These include M&S's "Plan A", Asda's call to end the postcode "lottery" over recycling and both companies' high profile decisions regarding plastic bags (M&S started charging; Asda have bag-free checkouts).

Tesco, however, is a much more divisive company. On the one hand it is seen as one of the leading "green" companies in the UK, through its partnerships with The Climate Group and the "We're in this together" movement. Also, it seems to be addressing the dual problem cited above - helping the customers to live a greener live whilst "walking the walk" as a business, reducing its carbon emissions in store. On the other hand, Tesco are also seen as being symptomatic of the problem. Its sheer size makes it a target for protest groups such as "Tescopoly", a community set up to campaign against Tesco's impact on the environment.

We saw last month that the debate around the economy was focused on the individual ("how does it affect me?"). This pattern seems to continue in the debate around climate change, with consumers looking to big business and the Government to lead the way rather than taking action themselves. The question is, as the credit crunch bites, will these consumers care so much about the price of the plastic bags, or the price of the food in their basket?

*Influence is the weight attached to each ‘voice' within a discussion. Not everyone is equally influential; those who are influential on ‘climate change' may not have similar influence on ‘software development'. Think of influence as the aggregated impact over time.

www.i-level.com / www.onalytica.com

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