On the eve of hearings that would address the regulation of coal ash, a toxic waste product from the coal-powered generation of electricity, Sierra Club embarked on a campaign to encourage the public to submit comments in support of increased regulation for toxic coal ash. They faced a challenge as mammoth as the issue itself – how to educate the public on the obscure topic of toxic coal ash sites, and empower them to work for policy change. Up against a quickly advancing deadline, The Sierra Club approached EchoDitto for help with the campaign.
With less than a month until the public comment period began, Sierra Club and EchoDitto brainstormed a way to connect awareness with action. We designed a campaign that would alert individuals to the urgency of the issue via their Facebook accounts and allow them to quickly take action by submitting an official comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This strategy of leveraging people’s online social networks complimented Sierra Club’s on-the-ground organizing.
The Facebook app that EchoDitto built tracked how far from a toxic coal ash site a Facebook user and his/her friends lived, and then allowed the user to post a message with this information to their Facebook wall. Messages like “28 of my friends live within 50 miles of a toxic coal ash site. Are you one of them? Click below to find out” encouraged users to visit the app, which would then give them the opportunity to contact the EPA directly to ask for stricter regulations on coal ash sites. The app leveraged social media and the power of networks to raise awareness and the ability to make an immediate impact.
In the first few weeks that the campaign was live, over 13,000 users used the app. The tremendous success of the app is an indication of how social media tools and outreach can work together effectively with offline grassroots organizing efforts. Further, as people say, all politics is local. Through highlighting the personal connection people had to the issue, we believe that more people were motivated to learn more about the issue and take a political action than otherwise would have through a less personal or less targeted approach.