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How charities can leverage social media

Charities, like everyone else use social media.  They really are no different to how other businesses and individuals leverage social media. However, whilst the primary aim of most charities is to raise awareness and funds it is not dissimilar to a new startup wishing to raise its profile or even make money by driving traffic to an external page. The only thing that differs is the potential outcome, charities are driven by brand awareness and raising their profile as oppose to things like click through rates and profit, which tends to dominate the private sector.

cover image for wordpressAlthough getting a campaign noticed gets more and more difficult every day, there are thousands of charities out there, just like there are thousands of businesses vying for the attention of the public. Whilst not every campaign can be like #Bringbackourgirls or #NoMakeupselfie etc they can, however, learn a lot from them in being able to reach the mass market and get as many eyeballs on the campaign as possible.  There is no reason why your charitable campaign can’t be the next #Icebucketchallenge or similar.

A campaign that we have begun working on recently is #MyChildsMyWorld by Friends of Bonei Olam. Bonei Olam created the #MyChildsMyworld hashtag and started a campaign around this as a way to raise funds for Jewish couples suffering from infertility. The hashtag used isn’t directly relevant to Bonei Olam (i.e. it doesn’t include their name in the title) but is pretty simple to remember and hasn’t been used before by anyone, which makes it a good campaign slogan for their cause. (Michelle Obama, left)One particular trend that has emerged from the successful charities that have implemented social media effectively is the use of the hashtag. All three examples above had specific hashtags that were even used offline as a prefix onto their respective names. I am sure we can all remember Michelle Obama holding up a sign in the White House with the “Bring back our girls” campaign slogan with its hashtag etched on a blank piece of paper. Thus, the hashtag is a powerful, yet simple tool that any charity or campaign can fully utilise.

Should you wish to create a charitable campaign then you will need to get your thinking hat on to what is the best hashtag to use. Bear in mind that it isn’t best advised to use one that has been used previously. Nor does it have to relate directly to the charity. Neither the icebucket challenge nor the no makeup selfie related to their respective charities, they did however relate to the action and the campaign, so don’t make the hashtag completely obscure!

The next apparent trend that stands out like a sore thumb when analysing these campaigns is the ease in which to get involved. Pouring a bucket of water over one’s head, or taking a photo without any makeup requires little or no effort. For a long time the only charitable events that took place  required long preparation, like running a marathon or even running a bath full of beans took a degree of planning and effort. Taking a photo without any makeup on, whilst daunting for some women, requires no effort; it is very easy. As is tipping a bucket of ice cold water over your head, whilst it may send shivers down your spine, everyone can take part.

icebucket challengeAnd that right there is one of the key reasons why charities are leveraging social media so well. Anyone can do it. Naturally if you only wanted a few people to take part you would make the entrance criteria as challenging as possible, but when marketing something to the mass market it stands to reason that the ease of use is going to be a critical factor in deciding whether or not people jump on the bandwagon or not.

Thirdly, and tying into the above, most of the campaigns we looked at have a degree of fun to them. Whilst the cause shouldn’t be made fun of or not taken seriously, it’s always good to associate a degree of light heartedness around the campaign so it isn’t too dark and dreary. Another trend that emerges when looking at how charities use social media is how integrated it is and how seamless it looks (from the outside anyway). Updates and posts should be relevant to each specific network and should be integrated into the whole campaign. Often the campaign is tied in to offline efforts and relevant hashtags can be found on “older” forms of advertising.

So if you are launching your charitable campaign it is a good idea to make sure your online efforts tie into your offline efforts and vice versa. It also means there will be more eyeballs on the campaign too. If you have a hashtag and are using it on other forms of marketing materials then the chances are you will have a greater influx of people talking about you, as opposed to if you just use the hashtag in its native form online.

Another factor that plays a significant role in creating the success of an online charitable campaign is the use of influential people, such as celebrities. There is no denying that the usage of celebrities in marketing is extremely influential towards the public, despite how relevant they maybe to the cause. As discussed previously, the use of Michelle Obama (whether intended or not) played a big part in adding to the success of #BringBackOurGirls.

A celebrity backing a campaign really helps validate it and add social proof to it. Humans sadly are like lemmings and if the most popular lemming endorses something then we will all like it. However, getting a celebrity behind your campaign doesn’t have to be as hard as you would imagine, all you need to do is implement an outreach campaign like Bonei Olam have done.

Bonei Olam and #MyChildsMyWorld have been doing this.  Below shows their outreach campaign to celebrities relevant to their cause. As well as the Bonei Olam example below is another of how we have successfully used it for another campaign (this time Greenpeace).  This tweet was RT’d by Ellie Goulding, and as a result retweeted 100’s of times by her fans, you can see the impact it thus had!

The final piece of the puzzle that is particularly evident when looking at successful charitable campaigns online is that they play to people’s emotions. The video below by Bonei Olam really hits home and makes your eyes water a little bit. Yes we are big softies. If we feel no emotional connection to the cause then we are unlikely to want to be a part of it. The video below, even if you don’t have children or have faced infertility really makes you resonate with Andrew and Rachel. As did the #BringBackOurGirls campaign when it launched. Even the use of words such as ‘our’ as opposed to ‘their’, made us feel inclusive to the campaign. If you are launching a charitable campaign, it is worth playing to people’s emotions in some way shape or form. After all we make all of our decisions on a day to day basis based on them.

So, if you are thinking about launching a new charitable campaign, whilst it may not have the success of the ice bucket challenge or that of the no-makeup selfie, you can learn a lot from them. Remember to create a killer hashtag that people memorise and repost. Make the campaign easy to become involved with.  There is nothing worse than alienating a large percentage of people who would otherwise be keen to be involved but cannot be because of lack of funds or similar. Make sure that whilst it is easily accessible to everyone that it is also fun and quirky, if not then people probably won’t want to take part.

Ensure the campaign is fully integrated and whilst you might be using tools such as social media primarily they can be connected to other more traditional forms of communication like direct mail. Why not reach out to some influential celebrities who may be relevant to your cause?  Social media makes this really simple to do.  Or why not go one step further and play to their emotions while you are at it?   We know Ricky Gervais loves the environment, why not (if you are promoting an animal cause) play to his and other animal lovers’ emotions with a hard-hitting video? We are sure if you do all of the above then you will be well on your way to raising the awareness needed for your campaign and the vital funds for your charity.

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