Last month, permacrisis was named by Collins as the word of the year. There’s been a string of events which we have all had to react to as a sector. From the pandemic, to the war in Ukraine, the climate emergency and the cost of living crisis, we have had to react or adapt our comms to so many large scale events.
But the #AttackOnNature response to a Government policy announcement one Friday afternoon in September, broke new ground! This was an explosion of anger shared by hundreds of organisations and thousands of people.
At this year’s Digital Conference, I spoke to three people who led the response for their organisation. They talked about what it was like behind the scenes and how they adapted the way they worked in order to respond. They shared lessons we can all learn from, as we continue to communicate about crisis after crisis.
Liz Truss’ mini-budget announced that laws protecting wildlife and green places would be amended or scrapped, and planning regulations would be eased in Investment Zones, all to accelerate growth. Conservation groups very quickly responded to the news. RSPB wrote a 13-thread tweet at 6.40pm which immediately started to trend, eventually hitting 70k likes. It was out of hours, but they were angry and this couldn’t wait. They saw it as an attack on nature and needed to mobilise a response.
Other organisations also tweeted with the same anger. From large charities like Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and National Trust, to smaller national charities like the Bat Conservation Trust, BugLife, the National Parks, plus coalitions of organisations and local groups and influencers, there was one view.
Over the weeks that followed, #AttackOnNature became a unifying force. This campaign was unusual as it wasn’t led by one organisation. Everyone mobilised their memberships, explained the complexities of what was being proposed and kept up momentum.
The power of shared anger
The sector’s response was widespread in those first three weeks. This had a huge impact on the reach of the activity and boosted the confidence of those involved.
Both RSPB and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust said that they had debated how to frame their response. Previously they would have used words like disappointed or saddened. But on this scale, they were feeling angry and needed to communicate this. The anger made people take notice as it wasn’t the usual tone of the sector. The anger was infectious.
Tony said that it reassured the RSPB as it can feel very exposing to be angry about something. Rosie said it was: “an enormous relief to see such a bold and strong response from the established organisations. It made me feel hopeful. The attack on nature was all encompassing and awful but there was no way that any government could stand up to the enormous pressure from all sides.”
This shared anger helped the campaign to grow, to be stronger and bolder. This outcome shows that charities play a powerful role in helping people to express how they feel and join in with a campaign for change.
Crisis comms mode
All three organisations worked flat-out to keep up with the shifting news, supporter response and peer activity. They each had to cancel planned activity and react quickly to pass on information to their networks. They were using multi-channels, on and offline activity – to share information. There was a lot to process and communicate.
RSPB very quickly formed a small project team which held daily stand-up meetings, owned the strategy and liaised with other departments. They simplified their sign-off processes to involve fewer people, to help speed things up. This helped them to be reactive but did put extra pressure on those people. They were effectively operating as a newsroom, monitoring developments and producing new comms to explain and mobilise supporters.
On the other end of the scale, as a voluntary organisation with no members of staff, the Community Planning Alliance also worked hard to process news and communicate the implications to their members who were angry and worried.
Burnout was a threat to them all. They each said they had to take a step back, especially after working constant evenings and weekends. Tony said the tiredness could have led them to sharing incorrect or inappropriate information which could have been very damaging. Campaigning needed to stay on the right side of charity law. Teams all made sure they had time out and rested.
This is a timely reminder that campaigning for change is intense. Communicators need to give themselves a break too.
Responding at speed
The speed and scale of the campaign took everyone by surprise. The overwhelming response by supporters meant that charities needed to create actions quickly to capitalise on this.
RSPB shared a 14-tweet thread plan of action including a letter to send to MPs at 7pm on the Monday! To date, 112k letters have been sent.
Bumblebee Conservation Trust produced their own letter with a bumblebee twist within a few days. Other charities created their own letters including the Wildlife Trusts who also created digital postcards.
The speed at which organisations turned things round was very impressive. By doing so, they kept the pace of the campaign going.
The #AttackOnNature response wasn’t planned. The sector collaborated with an organic collective response. They spoke with one voice, maybe for the first time on this scale. I saw lots of messages from supporters celebrating that the charities had come together to do this.
Rosie and Barnaby both said the steer from the larger organisations helped them to craft their responses in order to mobilise their supporters. They used the momentum driven by organisations with bigger teams and more resources. They promoted their actions and explainers rather than always creating their own.
This is a useful lesson for large and small organisations. We don’t all have to do everything. And our supporters probably also follow and support our peers. They like to see us working together.
Sharing complicated information
There was lots of technical detail involved in this campaign. The Government proposals affected hundreds of pieces of legislation. As the initial anger subsided, it was clear that people wanted to understand the detail. Each of the organisations shared explainer content.
RSPB used multi-channels to share updates but focusing on producing long explainer threads. As a result, their RSPB_England account gained 20k new followers.
Community Planning Alliance shared blog posts and infographics and used Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to share news with their network.
Bumblebee Conservation Trust shared threads without any images which did really well and motivated their Instagram followers who previously responded to nice pictures of bees, to get angry too! They have also been putting updates in their e-news and membership magazine.
Each used the strengths of various channels to connect with supporters and give them timely and useful information.
- Be bold and agile
Tony said: “We are in a nature and climate emergency. Time is running out. This showed that people love nature. Be bold and be agile! Say what you feel.”
- Use your channels to connect people
Rosie said: “Our supporters are hugely concerned about the impact of the planning system on biodiversity and nature. This brought home how strongly thousands and thousands of people feel. We will continue to use our channels to connect with them.”
- Work as a team
Barnaby said: “Doing the basics right was key to making things happen for us. We piggybacked where we could. Our top team were behind us all the way.”
To catch up on the full discussion about the #AttackOnNature campaign, and to get inspired by lots more comms learnings, catch up with the Digital Conference on demand.
We have also collated all the #CharityDigital Twitter action for you below.
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