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Changing the Conversation: Ethanol Enters Web 2.0
by Chuck Beck & Kristin Brekke

Facebook. MySpace. LinkedIn. YouTube. Flickr. Twitter.

This alphabet soup names a new generation of communication tools, all part of a movement known as “Web 2.0” – the next generation of the online experience that transforms the Internet from a one-way communication tool to a two-way street of interaction between people.

The American Coalition for Ethanol is utilizing these new tools to help present the facts about ethanol to the public, and to get people talking about ethanol in a positive way.

“This is truly powerful stuff,” says Greg Veerman, Principal and Creative Director at Astronaut, an agency in Sioux Falls, South Dakota specializing in the green marketplace. “Web 2.0 has combined the richest media experience imaginable with the ability to communicate one-on-one, which gives the power to the people.”

At its outset, the Web was another avenue for posting information. A University’s class schedules, a company’s products. But today, the communication has become two-way, bringing people together in true conversation.

“Ethanol has a great story to tell, and these new communication tools offer us new avenues to get our message out to a large audience,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of ACE. “And in addition to getting the facts out there, we are hoping to spark conversations about ethanol and biofuels so that people can be informed and ultimately influence their peers.”

Veerman says that Web 2.0 can help bring some balance to the ethanol discussion. “If we can get people to take a second look at the issue, then that’s exactly what the Web is about – it’s about the democratization of ideas.”


ACE’s blog: “Ethanol. Right. Now.”

ACE launched a weblog before its August ethanol conference in Omaha and has since expanded the site to cover the ethanol industry’s current events. The site is updated several times per week with brief news items and commentary from ACE staff and leadership.

Chuck Zimmerman of ZimmComm New Media, an expert on blogging, podcasting, and managing RSS feeds for the agricultural industry, notes that blogs have changed the way many people get their information. Chuck and wife Cindy’s company blogs have between 40,000 and 45,000 readers per month.

“I think it’s made it a lot easier,” Zimmerman said. “You are able to get information or news right away. You are also allowing the consumer to choose where they are getting that information. So now it’s up to the consumer to decide.”

Zimmerman also noted that blogs do a great job of distributing the information via the Web because they are highly search-engine optimized. Putting a news release on a blog, for example, makes it easier to find through an Internet search on Google or Yahoo than if it’s posted on a page that only a sub-section of a larger website.

“With a blog, you are communicating directly to an audience in a relatively inexpensive way, it can be done from anywhere, and it’s easy to update,” Zimmerman added.


Social network: “Ethanol Collective”

Last month, ACE launched an online social network called “Ethanol Collective,” a site where people can come together to discuss ethanol and ethanol-related issues. The site has several different discussion forums, an online library of informational materials, a calendar of events, and much more.

To participate in the discussion forums, you must join as a member of the site – but doing so is free and takes only a few minutes. Once logged in, members can chime in on the discussion boards of existing conversations, or start their own by posting a new discussion topic.

“This social network can help exchange ideas on ethanol, and it’s also a way to energize supporters both by spreading the word and drawing people in,” Veerman said.

Veerman notes that the whole idea behind Web 2.0 is not to sell, but rather to encourage people to talk to each other.

“This is about interaction, which will help develop more people who could be swayed toward ethanol because they are speaking with other people like themselves,” he said. “ In my experience it’s pretty remarkable how quickly people often change their opinion after interacting with people who might have a different viewpoint.”

Nathan Schock, Director of Public Relations for POET and expert on new media communication tools, agrees that we must look for new ways to get the word out about ethanol.

“We live in a world where media consumption is changing,” Schock said. “You used to be able to reach out by buying ads and running them in papers, on radio or TV. But the landscape is changing, and you have to know how to reach people in different ways.”


Ethanol calculator: “The Ethanol Factor”

ACE has developed an online calculator that demonstrates how ethanol can save consumers in three ways: savings at the pump, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing the need for oil imports.

Site visitors plug in their own information – what type of vehicle they drive and how often they fuel up – to calculate what their savings would be if they fueled with E10 instead of gasoline. E85 and cellulosic ethanol bonus calculations are also offered.

The calculations can be done either for just the individual driver, for a city of drivers, or for the entire nation.

“This is a new way for us to illustrate the benefits of ethanol,” Jennings said. “ We can tell people about ethanol’s benefits, but this allows them to discover for themselves. It’s a hands-on tool, and that makes the information even more powerful.”

Veerman agrees that putting the user in control brings more value to the interaction. “It reframes the benefits of ethanol and finds a new way to deliver the information,” he said.


Online game: “Barrel Blaster”

As part of its Web 2.0 package, ACE has also overseen the development of a new online game, “Barrel Blaster.” As with the ethanol savings calculator, it’s another avenue for interacting with people and a unique way to get them to think about ethanol.

Reminiscent of a game of “Asteroid” from the early years of videogaming, the online game is a just-for-fun opportunity to play shoot ‘em up against the new “asteroids,” barrels of oil, which come at you in your chosen “ship” – a Hummer, a VW, or a moped.

“It gets people talking,” Veerman said. “Our mission should be to disrupt and delight people to help retain the information we are giving out.”

© American Coalition for Ethanol, all rights reserved.
The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industry�s hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanol�s carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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