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 – Science

Science communication on YouTube: Case study on the Earth Overshoot Day

Cooperations with influencers have now also arrived in science communication - but have not been given much scientific attention so far. Lena Kaul, Philipp Schrögel and I want to contribute to closing this research gap with our case study „Environmental Science Communication for a Young Audience: A Case Study on the #EarthOvershootDay Campaign on YouTube“ . To do this, we took a closer look at YouTube videos from WWF’s #EarthOvershootDay campaign.

Specifically, we examined three of the nine videos that were published as part of the campaign between 2018 and 2019. Lena Kaul also conducted interviews with the producers and one of the YouTubers involved. In addition, Philipp Schrögel and I subjected the comments on the three videos to a quantitative content analysis.

Central results

  1. Authenticity, comprehensibility & storytelling are very important in science communication with influencers.
  2. The viewers' comments on the implementation of these three aspects in the videos are predominantly positive.
  3. However, a deeper engagement with the content of the videos can rarely be found in the comments.
  4. Two of the three videos examined remained below the respective channel average in terms of views.

In short, cooperation with influencers can be useful, but it is not an „all-purpose weapon“.

Abstract

Addressing global sustainability challenges such as climate change in democratic societies requires thorough political and societal debates. Science and environmental communication is needed to inform these debates. However, not all parts of society are equally reached by traditional science communication. In particular young people, especially without academic background, are often left out. The cooperation of science communicators with influencers on the video platform YouTube can be a way to convey scientific information and raise awareness for environmental issues with new young audiences.

This case study looks at three videos from the campaign #EarthOvershootDay on YouTube by the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) Germany and the educational initiative MESH Collective. The focus of the analysis lies on the established success factors of communication through influencers—specifically authenticity, comprehensibility and storytelling—and how they play out in detail in the three exemplary videos. Besides the analysis of the videos, the study is corroborated by interviews with the producers and a comment analysis in order to include the perspective of the viewers.

Our analysis confirms previous findings on science communication with influencers and illustrates the practical implementation of these findings. It shows that authenticity is a central aspect which is not disturbed through the presentation of scientific content. The storytelling approaches are tailored to the respective influencer and their style. The language and structure of the videos are simple and comprehensible, scientific arguments focus on selected aspects and are tied to examples from everyday life. The comments by the users support these findings with the majority of comments addressing the three aspects of our analysis being positive. However, evidence for an in-depth engagement with the scientific contents could not be found in the comments. The stated goal of the campaign to reach educationally disadvantaged young people was only reached to a limited degree according to the assessment of the producers. Additionally, the views of two of the three videos remained below the average for the respective channel. Taken together this indicates that cooperation with influencers might not be an “all-purpose tool” guaranteeing success for science communication.

Videos

We examined the following three videos from the campaign:

Video title NiksDa – Kein Thema (prod. Dalton) | #EarthOvershootDay NACHHALTIGKEIT & KLEIDUNG – Tipps für Einsteiger #EarthOvershootDay Plastic in Paradise – mein Urlaub im Müll #EarthOvershootDay
YouTube channel NiksDa Typisch Sissi dillan white.
Number of subscribers 127 000 251 000 365 000
Average views per video 90 650 38 659 156 785
Date 18.01.2019 07.11.2018 13.09.2018
Length 05m 18s 09m 02s 07m 11s
Views 125 293 15 322 29 821
Likes / Dislikes (ratio) 12330 / 375 (32,88) 785 / 20 (39,25) 3982 / 16 (248,88)
Number of comments 1057 87 221
Video URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fwz4T63IHmA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwhe6qtTP9k https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja1JSLQGDr8

NiksDa - Kein Thema

TypischSissi - NACHHALTIGKEIT & KLEIDUNG – Tipps für Einsteiger

dillan white. - Plastic in Paradise - mein Urlaub im Müll

Full text (PDF)

Kaul, L., Schrögel, P., & Humm, C. (2020). Environmental Science Communication for a Young Audience: A Case Study on the #EarthOvershootDay Campaign on YouTube. Frontiers in Communication, 5, 1–17. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcomm.2020.601177