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Social media and the third sector
15 June, 2012 - 11:33
Some of the most creative uses of social media have come from the third sector. At a time of budget cuts and lack of resources, we scoured the charity industry and found examples of some fantastic work.
Why does social media have so much potential for charities?
“Because it’s a real leveller”, says Matt Collins, social media consultant who runs charitychap.com, “if you’ve got great content packed full of emotion you can reach 1000s of people.”
Digital Manager at Time to Change, Abi McDougall, heads up an ambitious campaign to tackle the stigma against mental health in the UK, a joint programme run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. She believes, “we would not have got to where we are if we didn’t have social media.”
The problems faced with new media are not specific to the corporate sector; we examined how third sector organisations tackle common problems.
Being on the pulse
At the junction where Hackney meets Islington is Old Street roundabout, also dubbed as ‘Silicon Roundabout’. It is claimed to be UK’s version of Silicon Valley, so called because of the tech start ups and bigger names like Facebook and Google who have set up in the area. But what you may not have realised is that it’s a hub for third sector organisations as well.
We spoke to Matt Collins, aka Charity Chap, about convergence of the two sectors in the Old Street area.
“There’s a real cultural convergence, tech start-ups by their very definition are at the cutting edge of digital communications and forward thinking. Charities are at the forefront as well, in a way that you wouldn’t always predict. Some of the best campaigns are by charities not brands; brands are often trying to keep up with the innovations. They’ve naturally gravitated towards each other in East London.”
Securing senior management buy-in
The key to any great social media campaign: without the resources and senior backing, digital campaigns will struggle.
Collins puts it plainly, “To not back social media and give it the time and resources it requires is like not answering your phone. You will be cutting yourself off to 1000s of potential supporters.”
“A lot of it is building on success; I think to convince senior management you need to be able to prove to them it’s valuable. It’s a results driven attitude change rather than just enlightened managers,” believes James Sadri, Digital Campaigner at Greenpeace UK.
Abigail McDougall, Digital Manager at Time to Change suggests, “reminding your management team that you can use blogs in many other ways such as in your annual report and when talking to funders.”
Raising the profile of social media inside your organisation
It’s often difficult to translate the potential benefit of social media tools outside of the communications team, convincing the value of 140 characters.
One organisation, Greenpeace, are trialling a six-week experiment to tackle just that issue. They have opened up their UK Twitter account to every department applying a concise but comprehensive list of ground rules.
Using a micro-program that pushes out tweets using a particular hashtag by a list of approved accounts, @GreenpeaceUK have given free rein to any employee wishing to post to Twitter.
“If we think people care more about what we do on social media within the organisation and they’re more involved then that will be a success,” says Sadri.
To harness the real potential of social media means releasing control, a concept many organisations are struggling with. Sadri adds, “Driving behaviour changes and encouraging participation beyond sharing petitions is very difficult to do but that is how I would like see social media being used effectively.”
You can read the full interview here.
Great social media isn’t just exclusive to the bigger charities with larger budgets.
EIA, an environmental organisation that packs a big punch, took on no-less than the consumer online giants, Amazon. The battleground was the social web. Armed with a 52 second-video, a loyal following and a budget of £1000, EIA set out to expose the sale of whale meat available via Amazon.jp. Whale meat that is supposedly protected by international treaties banning international trade.
Their aim was simple: urge consumers to tell Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, to stop selling whale meat. In the lead-up they had researched 24 ‘champions’ for their cause, those who carried relevant clout on social media. At the launch the video took on a life of its own, with 3000 views. Within hours the total soon jumped to 12,000 mid-campaign. ‘Clicktivists’ were empowered with various levels of engagement, from a simple RT to using an email template.
In 24 hours whale items were pulled from the site and just 17 days later, Amazon.com confirmed the prohibition of sale “products containing shark, whale, or dolphin”. A resounding success, an experiment using social media in such a way and the fastest win in EIA’s 28-year history.
The campaign video didn’t reach the giddy heights of viral seen by some campaigning films but it had purpose and a strong call-to-action; the quality of its viewers and their level of engagement created enough volume to bring about real change. The video itself, filmed at home in a mere few hours was short, so people could digest and share easily. It linked the issue to the everyday consumer with compelling visuals and strong cultural references. It had a direct call-to-action.
Whose Olympics? is another small project on a tight budget. With just £5000 to play with they are utilising free platforms such as Daily Motion and MeetUp with the ambitious aim to create a user-generated video archive of how London’s Open Spaces are being used before, during and after the Olympic Games.
They’ve recruited and trained champion volunteers on basic film techniques to kick start their programme.
“We targeted active networks who we knew may have an interest in this field,” reported Matt Wood-hill, co-researcher on the project. Over a two-day process including round-table discussions, brainstorming and practical training the champions were equipped with the tools, the know-how and the enthusiasm to create and share interesting content around such a relevant topic in the UK at the moment.
It's about social capital, "our recruits are volunteering in their own time, it was important that the training was fun and engaging," says Wood-Hill, "they had the opportunity to meet like-minded people and gain new skills and we'll gain great content."
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