The Hot Topic - an Investigation Into the Role That New Zealand Organisations' Facebook Pages Play in Communicating Climate Change

Han, Troy
Craig, Geoff
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis investigates the role in which New Zealand organisations Facebook pages address the issue of climate change.

The text will initially provide background to the evolution of climate change communication, highlight the responsibility of mass mediated media, and dive into the key notions behind the traditional public sphere and the digital public sphere. Unpacking the development and role of the digital public sphere will also assist the investigation into the role of social media as a Nature 2.0.

Ten different Facebook pages that fell into the categories of business, activist, news and political parties will be investigated to answer how have organisations used social media to communicate climate change and environmental issues. The thesis will then consider if New Zealand based Facebook pages/posts have been successful at stimulating the online community in climate change engagement.

Two research methods were used to unpack the 270+ posts from three periods over September 2017- January 2018. A coding system categorised the data in four categories: how the content addressed the audience, the language used, the reason for the post and the type of content. Content analysis was used to measure the amount of times each of the posts fit into their respective categories, followed by a thematic analysis to demonstrate themes and trends that arose in the data. Identification of the engagement ratio provided insights into how well these posts were at stimulating the online community.

Results from this investigation not only provided insights into the different ways in which different types of organisations address climate change but also how different organisations within those categories have different methods of addressing the same issue. There were key trends and themes that developed through these different pages. Businesses communicated climate change through a traditional business model tactic, the use of call to actions to drive profits, and through a brand awareness strategy where the brand’s “green” philosophy was the focus of communications. Activists took a more inclusive approach to addressing climate change, where a large focus was on sharing the stories of other experiences with combating climate change or struggles faced due to climate change. Political pages focused on the public’s vote and strived to convert or retain their audience. Their strategies involved highlighting their goals and missions if they were to take office which aligned with their beliefs. And finally, news organisations, who were a major influencer in the traditional public sphere, have recognised the move into the digital public sphere and have started to use platforms like Facebook to ensure their cut through. Though their climate change communications still followed traditional techniques of news communication, new organisations have opened the dialogue, changing the power status and opening up the conversation to many.

With the increased demand for environmentalism, different organisations, who might not have previously addressed climate change, are now communicating this issue to the New Zealand public through their Facebook pages. Therefore, understanding the role social media plays in the digital public sphere is instrumental to identifying the ways in which climate change is being communicated to the public of New Zealand.

Social media , Climate change , Facebook , Sustainability
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