Social networking

Television? Newspapers? Radio? The first thing aid agencies usually discuss these days when planning their media campaigns is Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. No major aid organisation will think about any media work without placing social media at the centre. 

Things have moved quickly. According to social media expert Dan Gillmor, 2004 was a “turning point” in that the story of the tsunami unfolded on YouTube. By 2007, Britain’s Disasters Emergency Committee had little difficult persuading the leaders of the UK’s three main political parties to each record a message for the website of its Sudan appeal. Then, to mark World Aids Day in 2008, the British Red Cross teamed up with the teenage social networking site Bebo to launch an HIV/Aids awareness-raising campaign called ‘What’s the Story?’. But perhaps the most striking example of this so far is Save the Children’s 2010 #blogladesh campaign conducted over Twitter. 

The international charity wanted to raise awareness of the UN Millennium Development Goals summit in New York – a dry subject for the media. But Liz Scarff, the recently appointed digital media manager at Save the Children UK, attended a ‘Cybermummy’ blogging conference in London and believed that she had stumbled on to a useful resource. She came up with the idea of taking three ‘mummy bloggers’ with a large Internet following on a trip to see the aid organisation’s work and to let them use their blogs, tweets and online presence to reach Save the Children’s target audience. “It was a deliberate decision to go for mummy bloggers,” says Scarff. “Who could be more powerful to tell stories about children than mothers who have their hopes and dreams for their own children?” 

But the results surprised the aid agency. In one morning, 40,000 people had been reached as the three started tweeting. Two days later, the #blogladesh hashtag had trended on Twitter. The three mummy bloggers also kept up the pressure, continuing to blog, tweet and upload pictures to Flickr while out in Bangladesh. By the time the three returned, the number of people following the Twitter campaign had risen to 10 million. In addition, over 100 blogs had been written on the subject, there were items on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, BBC Radio 5 Live and the ITV News, while the powerful website Mumsnet invited one of the three to its webchat with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. All for a cost of, Scarff estimates, around £5,000 outlay (mainly flights and accommodation).

Why did it work so well? “We entered a niche community,” says Scarff of the campaign’s success.

“Social media operates like local and regional newspapers used to. Of course, you can’t replicate exactly what we did because it was a novelty – you can’t do mummy bloggers again but you could do food bloggers or political bloggers.”

In a fragmenting media world, where aid agencies are becoming increasingly competitive, many more will look in this direction.


Post a comment

November 24, 2011 12:08 pm

Today social networking is more important than ever; whether it is facebook,
twitter or blogs there is a need to be in cyberspace. However, simply being out
there is not enough. You need to know how to utilise the platforms available by
engaging with your audience. The Common Wealth being on twitter just tweeting about
new articles is not going to spark interest. People have short attention spans and
you need to make them care enough about a certain issue to keep reading. Not enough
companies know how to do this.

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