If you use social media you must by now have noticed Isabelle Boemeke. She is the model who discovered the importance of nuclear energy and decided to become an influencer to spread the word. Her efforts have snowballed, but how does her formula actually work and what can communicators learn from her example?
Isabelle’s most recent video really blew up. It starts out by highlighting her exercise routine and her breakfast preferences before moving on to the energy density of uranium and the correspondingly small volume of waste you end up with. Why not, right? By the time it appeared in my morning Twitter scroll it had hundreds of thousands of views and was being shared by big Twitter accounts of entrepreneurs and tech leaders – groups I have long known were in quietly favour of nuclear but that I had never found the secret to engaging.
I’ve spent some time thinking about what’s going on here from a communication standpoint. Most of all it is fascinating to me that no new information is presented in this video: All of these facts and figures have been repeated constantly in every possible medium for the last 65 years, but this time they land. Why? Influencer communication unlocks and activates something special: aspiration.
Aspiration is fundamental to influencer communication, as it was to nuclear energy development and still is in developing countries. Isabelle is inspiring while her Isodope character seems capable of something special, just like the energy source. But at the same time, you know you could be a bit like her if you tried. After all, she’s only really using her phone to create this.
Aspiration fills an important gap in nuclear communication. Naturally, most people don’t have much knowledge of nuclear and therefore don’t have firm opinions on it either. When the topic comes up some people ask themselves, ‘Am I the kind of person who supports nuclear energy? Do I want to be?’ The influencer approach installs the answer ‘Yes’. In doing so it opens the door for the audience to consider new information from a positive and curious starting point.
At the same time, both the content and visual style run counter to the usual currents of clean energy discussion as well as the doomy atmospheres of environmental emergency. We’re inspired by a cyberpunk, high-tech future which is clean, fast and intelligent while filters, outfits and contact lenses set Isodope apart as superhuman. We’re witnessing something beyond the envelope of current thinking in a space where things can be considered afresh.
I asked Isabelle about her aesthetic. What was she going for and what choices had she made along the way? “I wanted to be at the intersection of art, science communication and activism,” she said. “I wanted to make something that is so weird and eye catching that people cannot help but look at it. Just to open a door so they take it more seriously and do their own research.” Each video only delivers a few key facts, but does it in terms that are easy to understand for the highly receptive audience.
We also see Isabelle as an individual who is creating her own thing (which is the nature of TikTok) and doing so in her own way. There are other people who might choose other facts and use them to make the case against nuclear, but who cares? They can do their own videos! Their negative vibes are not even passively acknowledged. She’s putting out her own unique thing with no apologies or excuses, and isn’t that the definition of cool?
While it would be foolish for anyone to try to replicate what Isabelle is doing, it would also be foolish not to stop and think about the lessons she is teaching us about communication in 2020. Here are my takes: First and foremost we need to recognise that influencer culture is no joke; it is here and it works even for a subject like nuclear energy. It’s one of the most powerful forms of third party advocacy yet, but it can only work if it is organic. Her content should also remind us that nuclear energy has always been aspirational. Her attitude underlines that we should never sacrifice confidence to imaginary critics. And lastly we can see there can be enormous power in an individual expressing their own vision and creativity, but I wonder: does our industry let its individuals shine?