A seriously flawed report by the venerable investigative TV show, 60 Minutes, led to an impassioned defence of the cleantech industry that broke most of the mainstream rules of blogging, but made a stronger, more convincing case than a “proper” blog could probably have managed.
It was one of those moments when the rules were made to be broken, showing that long-form blogging has a place when the content is strong and the author has a compelling message to deliver.
60 Minutes Misses the Mark
Social networks devoted to clean technology (cleantech) lit up early last week, after a 60 Minutes special that was widely seen as an unwarranted smear of an industry that holds solutions to some of the world’s most serious problems, from water pollution to climate change.
“Clean technology is booming by every key indicator — but you would never know that from Sunday’s absurd 60 Minutes piece touting an imaginary ‘Cleantech Crash,’” wrote Joe Romm, founding editor of the Climate Progress blog. “The only thing in cleantech that is crashing is the cost of key components.”
60 Minutes’ “muddled, highly selective narrative is striking many in the know as misleading and, in places, downright wrong,” noted Salon.com Assistant Editor Lindsay Abrams. “Another thing glaringly missing from the report…it didn’t once mention climate change. It doesn’t mention pollution or carbon footprints, either.”
The Cleantech Group Weighs In
The story circulated quite widely through the week. Then on January 12, a week after the original broadcast, the San Francisco-based Cleantech Group carried off a nice bit of newsjacking by publishing an in-depth response from CEO Sheeraz Haji.
The post ran 2,300 words.
It had a headline (60 Minutes Reply: Cleantech Rocks) that would have been pretty opaque to anyone who missed the original piece.
It had 34 footnotes.
And there was none of this stuff about publishing a short, 75- or 100-word synopsis when Cleantech Group used its email list to publicize the post. Goodness, no! Instead, the e-blast carried the entire 2,300 words. Including the footnotes.
According to most of the social media theory I’ve ever seen, the post should have bombed.
But then, a funny thing happened.
In the 48 hours after it first appeared, the post was republished on the widely read GreenBiz.com and the daily AltEnergyStocks investment wire. Verbatim and in full. By breaking all the rules, Haji got wide visibility with an in-depth, thoughtful message, targeting a cluster of audiences that could make or break the clean technology revolution.
Content Trumps Form
For once, this was a moment when the compelling content of a timely, fact-laden blog post was more important than how it was presented.
“Our aim wasn’t so much the number of Twitter favourites or retweets or the number of inbound responses we would receive,” explained Cleantech Group Marketing Specialist Millen Paschich.
“It was more focused on setting the record straight and being honest about what the 60 Minutes piece made us think and feel, and what our clients thought and felt about it.” Cleantech Group took a week to publish, rather than rushing out a shorter post, because “we wanted it to be thoroughly researched, data driven, well written.”
For readers outside the cleantech sector, the 2,300 words would definitely fall under the heading of too much information. But Haji’s arguments matter to the rest of us, too, so here they are in brief:
- Cleantech is essential, at a time when developing economies like China face critical levels of air and water pollution and nearly four billion people will live in “emerging market cities” by 2030.
- Cleantech is massive, with solar electricity costs falling 99% since 1977, but the U.S. building sector still spending US$420 billion per year on energy, much of which it could conserve.
- Cleantech is vibrant, with successful start-ups like Tesla Motors, SunEdison, and Solar City more than offsetting the failed cleantech companies that received the lion’s share of the coverage on 60 Minutes.
“Yes, companies have failed, but all emerging markets are volatile,” Haji argued. “Let’s remember that 75% of all startups fail. Over time, more than 600 U.S. automobile companies have failed.”
- Cleantech is desired. “When companies (or people) develop awesome products, people want to buy them,” he wrote. “Homeowners want solar on their roofs. Drivers want Tesla cars.”
For all those reasons, the 60 Minutes report (I’m taking care here not to call it a documentary, which would imply a fairly close allegiance to the facts) blew it in style.
But the social media story here is that, in theory, Haji’s thoughtful analysis should have sunk without a trace. His post, and its success, showed that rigid social media rules can sometimes be broken when a post contains the right content, directed to the right audience.
“When your readers find you,” wrote blogger Matthew L. Brennan in a relatively short-form argument for long-form blogging, “they want knowledge in a form that they can swallow. It’s up to you to find out what specifically they’re looking for.
“If you can provide it, you’re golden. It doesn’t matter if your blog posts are 200 words or 2,000 at that point.”