Greenpeace embark on a six-week Twitter experiment


By Sophia Cheng

How does Twitter work in your organisation? 

Would you consider unleashing the organisation’s Twitter account to your employees?

Sounds scary doesn’t it? But it’s not an entirely new concept.

Since December 2011, Sweden has opened its official Twitter account to an ordinary citizen each week in “an attempt to give a more diverse insight into a nation,” reported the BBC. In what the country described as the "the world's most democratic Twitter experiment," this ongoing project has seen farmers, film critics and ministers all take a turn tweeting to more than 27,000 followers.

Here in the UK, campaigning organisation Greenpeace have been experimenting on Twitter too. The international organisation, renowned for their media-grabbing campaigns, have embarked on a six-week trial opening up their UK Twitter account to all their departments.

Using a micro-program that pushes out tweets using a particular hashtag by a list of approved accounts, @GreenpeaceUK have given free rein to any employee wishing to post to Twitter. Unmoderated. Greenpeace have also released the code as open source so anyone can clone it or improve it for their work.


James Sadri, the Digital Campaigner behind the VW Darkside campaign, announced the experiment on Greenpeace’s blog last week:

James Sadri“Yes, the Greenpeace UK webteam is giving up control so you get unfiltered, unchecked content from all four, idiosyncratic corners of this wonderful organisation. Which means any number of people can now instantly push out their thoughts to our 36,000+ Twitter followers. What could possibly go wrong?” writes Sadri.

We caught up with Sadri to find out a little more about the reasons behind the experiment and how it’s going so far.

SC: What were your reasons behind opening up your Twitter account?

JS: There were a few reasons for opening up our Twitter account; one of them was that those in the organisation who tweet already often felt that our output didn’t always reflect the issues they were interested in. Or perhaps we weren’t getting content out in a timely manner. Fundamentally, no matter how big your web team is, it is an information bottleneck. We wanted to see if we could address that.

The second reason was really to push the social philosophy of the medium. If Twitter really is such a great social media tool then we need to connect people to the source as closely as we can. Currently people in the web team are translating campaign, action and fundraising content and it requires us to digest the information before pushing it out there. Now, that’s an incredibly valuable skill but at the moment we are experimenting with getting people to push the content out themselves.

SC: How did you recruit your ‘tweeters’? Who gets to tweet?

JS: The web team set themselves a target of at least one person per team, which includes all the different campaigns teams, from forests to climate, oceans to energy. But also other teams like IT, actions and logistics (who plan the more confrontational side of our work), fundraising and the art department. Most departments had someone who uses Twitter and it was important that they understood the medium.

SC: Have you issued guidelines to your new recruits? Is there anything off limits?

JS: Our guidelines were:

  • Tweet only 2-3 times a day as a maximum.
  • Don’t feel like you have to tweet if you don’t have particularly interesting to report.
  • Consider all the people who know nothing about your issues, try and make what you’re saying inclusive.
  • Remember that anything you say can be quoted by the media as Greenpeace’s official line, be careful.
  • Use humour.
  • Be human.
  • You don’t always have to tweet policy, you can also tweet interesting things you’re up to and use pictures.
  • Think about what you would like to see on Twitter.
  • Consider the timing of your tweet – check the main feed before tweeting.
  • One technical point, if it hasn’t appeared then don’t send it again.
  • And finally, if you delete a tweet from your personal account it won’t get deleted from @GreenpeaceUK.
  • N.B. we don’t delete tweets.

We have a lot of internal discussions about whether we should have constraints on what people can do on social media. And we, in the web team at least, are against it. The strength of social media is in people being honest and human, even if that means they have strong political views. Our media team may disagree with that, they know that journalists and other people follow our campaigners, so they feel we should maintain a neutral position. It’s an on going debate between the social media, human and honest side versus the traditional media-managed-image side.

SC: How well was the idea received initially?

JS: I think it was well-received; some people were a bit nervous about accidentally tweeting personal messages on a Friday night and some of the media people were worried about some hot-headed campaigners tweeting mad politics. But here people are always keen to try out new stuff.

SC: From a technical standpoint, how does all this work? What's the cost?

JS: You create a list on any Twitter account and the micro program will watch that list every 20 seconds for new tweets. If a tweet comes out with a particular hashtag you’ve previously specified, it will take the content from that tweet, strip out the hashtag and retweet it from the parent account.

There was no cost associated with this initiative. I approached the developer behind the VW Darkside campaign about this idea and how it might work. He built the program for free.

SC: How will you be analysing the feedback? At the end of the 6 weeks, what will count as a success?

JS: Part of it will be quantitative, which ones will get retweeted and which get the most interactions. We’ll be feeding that back half way through the trial and at the end. The rest will be qualitative feedback, for example some campaigners have been tweeting very technical stuff using all sorts of acronyms. So there’ll be an ongoing informal process as well as a number crunching analysis at the end.

In terms of measuring success, I think it’s important to emphasise it’s not just about improving our Twitter output, it’s also a huge internal improvement in people’s understand of using Twitter. And raising the profile of social media within the organisation is an internal objective for us.

We’ll know if it’s a success on the quantitative side of things if interactions and RTs have gone up but we’re not so obsessed with the figures. If we think people care more about what we do on social media within the organisation and they’re more involved then that will be a success as well.

SC: Will the results feedback into your digital strategy? If so, how?

JS: It definitely will do. We’ll have to figure out if we continue with the new system or not. Someone has pointed me to Group Tweets, which looks very similar in functionality with better features including a moderator and scheduling function. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter what the tool is, it’s about the way of communicating.

SC: How’s it going so far?

JS: It’s going well, some people need a little more coaxing and there’s a capacity issue as the web team is already very busy. We’re throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks, which is always good fun.

SC: Greenpeace is well known for its innovative approach to social media (VW Dark Side/ KFC No Good), how do you see the role of social media evolving for your organisation?

Greenpeace UK HQ

JS: I think social media will play an increasingly important role for all organisations but for campaigning organisations particularly, it’s a key area of growth. We still have to fully harness it; you need to bridge something I like to call the vertical and horizontal mobilisation structures. The vertical– or one-to-many - structures of organisations like Avaaz and collect centralised data whereas the horizontal structures of movements like the Arab Spring and Occupy release people to do things around the digital thread.

At Greenpeace, what I’m trying to do is find the balance between those two things. We need to have the vertical elements of organisations, to be able to fund and resource our campaigns but at the same time to harness social media you need to release control and open up horizontal mobilisation. That’s where social media gets really interesting. Driving behaviour changes and encouraging participation beyond sharing petitions is very difficult to do but that is how I would like see social media being used effectively.

SC: Organisations often struggle to develop effective social programmes because senior management have not bought into the idea, or simply “do not get it”. How has Greenpeace overcome this issue?

JS: We’ve been lucky to have good management of the web team who have fought our corner and championed our cause. A lot of it is building on success; I think to convince senior management you need to be able to prove to them it’s valuable.

It’s difficult when a lot of people feel they need a campaign film that will be shared on social media thinking that will revolutionise everything. Thousands can be sunk into making the film and when only a few thousand people see it, it can be very hard to see how that is successful. Whereas a campaign that can creatively drive people into it, sign up and participate, is one where senior management begin to understand it can help us in our policy or fundraising work. It’s results driven attitude change rather than just enlightened managers. Being an advocacy organisation we have more room to manoeuvre. It’s an exciting place to be.


Keep an eye on @GreenpeaceUK during their 6 week experiment.

Thank you to @charitycomms for pointing me in the right direction. We will be showcasing a range of non-profits, big and small, who demonstrate creative uses of social media in two weeks time.

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