Rescuing Antarctica with Facebook wall posts

Arturo Pelayo doesn’t want to change the world. He just wants to protect it.

The educator and web strategist just departed his home in Chicago to join a group of 83 students and business people on a 15-day expedition known as the International Antarctic Expedition. The purpose of the trip is to study the erosion of the global ice shelf and help us understand why the problems of Antarctica are our problems.

His challenge is significant. How he’s rising to the challenge is an inspiration to marketers.

The annual International Antarctic Expedition has occurred since 2002. The voyage is run by the 2041 organization, so named because in 2041, it’s possible that the Antarctic Treaty will be amended to permit commercial drilling on the continent — and the 2041 organization wants to prevent that from happening.

The expedition is one of the ways that 2041 draws attention to the plight of Antarctica. Participants in this year’s trip include a curious mix environmentalists, sponsors such as Coca-Cola, and companies seeking to find alternative forms of energy.

As Arturo notes, “It’s going to be an interesting combination having executives from energy companies mingling with students.”

Everyone onboard the ship, the Sea Spirit, is there to learn and share with the world beyond the ice shelf. And why should anyone care about what they’re doing?

“You should care no matter where you live in the world,” Arturo says. “About 70 percent of our drinking water is frozen in the Antarctic ice shelf. If that ice melts due to climate change and human-made intrusions like mining, the ocean currents will be affected, and people living in places ranging from Miami to New York will need to get used to disruptions to their living areas caused by increased sea levels.”

The team hopes to build awareness in many ways. Arturo will do his part by:

  • Issuing blog updates with the help of corporate sponsor Nokia, which has provided equipment to help him record the journey. His posts appear on keepitblue.org and¬†expedition.2041.com.
  • Tweeting about the journey from @IAE11 and using #IAE11.
  • Recording a podcast series to be released later in 2011. All media assets from the trip will also be shared in the public domain via creative commons.

How he even got onboard the Sea Spirit is a story of the power of personal networking and the judicious use of social media. About one year ago, Arturo learned about 2041 through the news feed of one of his Facebook friends. His application to join the 2011 journey was accepted — all he had to do was raise the $20,000 participation fee.

“I took a deep breath,” he remembers. “How was I going to raise $20,000? I am in my 20s. Most of my friends are students or are unemployed.”

Arturo’s approach was, in his own words, “very naive — but it worked.” He visited the Facebook pages of companies that he thought might be interested in sponsoring him and posted sponsorship requests on their public walls.

“To my surprise, about half replied within 24 hours showing interest,” he says. As a result, he achieved funding form the likes of Pogo Plug and Nokia.

He adds, “I learned from this experience how closely corporations are monitoring their brands and how direct the social channel is. It was so much easier to make a public appeal on Facebook than to navigate corporate websites and call PR people.”

But he needed to do more than work the corporate Facebook pages. Other tactics:

  • Submitting a funding proposal on Kickstarter.com, a platform for creatives to secure support for projects ranging from film to environmental concerns. He uploaded a video appeal for help, which helped raise $1,645 — hardly a home run, but progress.
  • Good old-fashioned personal networking.

Eventually he reached his goal — with the help of an anonymous doner whose identity remains ¬†unknown even to Arturo.

“This experience showed me how important it is to make a public appeal for help,” he notes. “You never know who is out there quietly listening. The next person who makes an impact on your life could be a quiet social media watcher — someone who did not even click a “like” on your Facebook post or Re-tweet your Twitter stream, but noticed what you were saying.”

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