This guest post is submitted by Kirinne Slaughter at the Saint Louis Zoo, and is the first in a 3-part series on their Innovative Solutions Grants+ project.
Building on the Better Bag Challenge
For more than a decade, the Zoo ALIVE (Active Leaders In Volunteer Education) Teen Volunteers at the Saint Louis Zoo have been educating zoo visitors, zoo campers and the St. Louis community about animals, their habitats and conservation. Now, for the first time, thanks to the support from The Ocean Project’s Innovative Solutions Grant+, these teen volunteers will aim not only to inform, but also to inspire others-onsite and online-to take action on one of the biggest issues facing the environment today: plastic pollution, particularly from single-use plastic bags.
To begin, the teens looked to the results of the “Better Bag Challenge.” This challenge was inspiration for what our teens wanted to create, and what was learned provided a strong base for our campaign. The main lessons from the Better Bag Challenge that our teens will apply going forward are:
- Use a Simple Message: Choose reusable bags to avoid single-use plastic bags.
- Be Solution-Oriented: Position visitors as part of the solution. In order to instill in our guests the confidence that they can make a difference, the campaign will be framed so that guests feel they can make a difference and be part of the plastic pollution solution.
- Make a Direct Connection to Sea Life: The most effective messaging connected the action directly to the benefits for an animal. While others referenced sea turtles, our inland zoo is home to California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals, which we think will serve as the perfect ambassadors.
- Walk the Talk: Another approach to effective messaging connected the action to what the zoo itself is doing, so our campaign will aim to reduce the use of plastic bags in our gift shops. Teen volunteers will be open about this effort, and share its progress with zoo guests.
- Ask for a Pledge: Our on-grounds visitors also will be given a reusable bag upon completion of a pledge, but instead of asking visitors also to take a follow up survey, which can have relatively low response rates, we thought we’d try a twist!
Going Online with #ByetoBags
Our twist? The teens plan to test if they can use social media to amplify the effects of the “Better Bag Challenge.” The teens will measure the extent to which people share their commitment through social media, as well as how many others join in making the pledge back on our own web site. The teens will do so in two main ways:
- On-Grounds Amplification: How successfully can we amplify the reach and impact of our on-grounds pledge participants using social media? After taking our pledge to use reusable bags, and receiving a reusable bag, zoo visitors will receive an email asking them to use #byetobags on selected social media channels as a way to share the message with their friends and family, encouraging them to join in and take the pledge too. This idea is in keeping with what has been found in research by The Ocean Project: not only do most people want to be green, but they also want to be seen as “green.” We then will measure success by monitoring how the use of #byetobags spreads and how many people sign up at our online pledge page. As an additional measure to our on-grounds tactic, we will be monitoring plastic bag use at our Saint Louis Zoo gift shops, expecting it to go down!
- Direct Social Media Push: The teens also were wondering if they could skip the on-grounds offer of a bag and still have success by going directly to social media. By having a pledge page that is online and promoted through social media sites, and that once again asks people to use reusable bags and to share their commitment with friends and family by posting with #byetobags, we plan to assess how many people they reach and how many of those signed the pledge.
Our teens are eager to launch their campaign and take it to social media. The key next step for the teens will be deciding on the specific social media tools and tactics that they want to test (e.g. share #byetobags post on Facebook vs. share #byetobags video on Instagram) and then talking with the zoo marketing team about how those efforts can best be tracked. Our teens are already planning to share the methods and success of this campaign in presentations at their area high schools. And, we’re just getting started!
Keep a look out for our update!