5. Using social media

Social media is defined as forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos) [source].

With the increasing popularity of social media, platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are becoming useful tools for public engagement as well as dissemination of information.

Several websites also allow curation and automated posting including Buffer and Hootsuite. Services such as MailChimp and Revue allow for posting newsletters and sharing content with social media followers. Finally, services such as IFFTT allow for content curation and monitoring trends.

#Let’s check out a few of these websites.

Social media can also be useful in a variety of ways, and can aid researchers and civil society groups in a myriad of ways. A few possible applications are discussed below.

5.1 Social Media to push for policy action

Social media can also be used to directly interact with bureaucrats and policymakers, and share ideas and opinions. Globally, citizens and citizen groups are utilizing social media platforms for public campaigns, in some cases with great success. Perhaps the most famous example comes from China where @BeijingAir account run on behalf of the US Embassy tweeted hourly real-time air quality information in Beijing. The information was shared widely on Chinese social media platforms, and led to public conversations on the state of air quality in Beijing. After much public backlash, the government was shamed into taking action, and since then, there has been a great deal of improvement in air quality in Beijing.

#Let’s check a couple of examples:

How the US Embassy Tweeted to Clear Beijing’s Air

  • Slide deck from Dr. Christa Hasenkopf, OpenAQ with examples of social media action wrt air quality in China

Air of revolution: how activists and social media scrutinise city pollution


5.2 Social media data and research

Social media data is also being used to assess public perception and sentiment, and with the growth of text analytics, can serve as a novel source of data. In China, Wang et al. (2017) used data from Sina Weibo (Chinese equivalent of Twitter) and meteorological (i.e., weather) data to predict AQ conditions, and were able to successfully predict AQ levels (link to paper), and in another study, Wang et al. (2015) identified that social media messages can be useful in determining public perceptions as well as self-reported health effects (link to paper).

In California, researchers have analyses social media data from the 2015 wildfire season and identified opportunities for predicting social media data, as well as improving recovery efforts (link).

In India, data from Google Trends was used to check how public queries on “Delhi Air Quality” compared against actual air pollution concentrations over several years (see image below).

Google trends
Source: Dr. Sarath Guttikunda, UrbanEmissions.info

5.3 Social media for storytelling and engagement 

Social media is also great for networking, and engaging with a wide range of stakeholders. It is also a good place to learn about new opportunities and find opportunities to collaborate.

5.4 Examples

Clean Air Network Nepal has organized at least three phases of the Maskmandu campaign (search for #Maskmandu on Twitter and Facebook) with the objective of increasing awareness on air pollution, and bringing people together to demand clean air. (check this and this)

#LetMeBreathe (@LetMeBreatheIn) is a platform that provides space to document and tell stories of living and surviving air pollution in India. It started out as a hashtag used by Delhiites while uploading their videologs documenting their days of high pollution but over time has quickly developed into a pan India movement.

“One October, when Delhi was enveloped by a particularly bad smog, we noticed that a lot of people were worried. But no one knew what to do, and there was no central place where people could tell their story. These stories were fragmented, so we created the hashtag and social media handles #LetMeBreathe. Since then, it has gathered momentum as is becoming a social movement. We realized when we covered pollution stories that everyone can be a mobile journalist. Now we focus on enabling people to tell stories on their own by training them on WhatsApp, with a platform to showcase them.”


#Let’s watch a couple of videos from the series

Every Breath You Take, an article by Sonia Awale in Nepali Times, was part of a larger campaign by the media organization on air pollution. This article included a short video and several images from the Kathmandu Valley to highlight the issue of air pollution in Nepal.


5.5 Where do you begin?

For interactions with audiences on social media, use the following tips to increase engagement:

  1. Make it personal – why should the reader care? Why is it relevant for them?
  2. Organize online events- Twitter Q&A, photo competition, hashtag alerts etc.
  3. Use hashtags to allow them to follow your posts over long periods of time
  4. Try to use similar fonts/color schemes over time


#Let’s check out an example of how open data and social media can come together to make data access easier, and contribute to increasing awareness and engagement. 

Additional Resources 

BreatheLife has an excellent set of resources for a variety of stakeholders. Access them here.

350.org has an excellent repository of training materials on media. Check it out here.

The Weight of Numbers: Air Pollution and PM2.5 (August 2018) [Media project] 

Dhuwa is a short telefilm produced under the SusKat project in collaboration with MaHa Sanchar.

This article in Onward Nepal focused on the history of electric vehicles in Nepal, and used visual information as well as text to talk about the issue.

Examples of best social media campaigns on the issue of environment – What can you learn?