How are charities doing in the social media space?

In a bid to check out best practice among charities and hopefully learn at least one new thing about social media for social good, I went to the Third Sector Cost Effective E-Communications, Social Networking & Blogging event on Tuesday.

It was a fairly small affair, about 110 delegates, with most presentations given by well-known charities and one or two brands such as Dell.

As always there were stand out presentations with the wow factor and there were some really well thought out and informative talks that are worth a mention.  One such example was the NSPCC who gave a good strategic overview of the possibilities social media has for organisations that ‘bring their budgets together’, crossing the departmental divide to build communities that are interested in fundraising, campaigning, volunteering etc.

The good stuff

This idea was nicely demonstrated by some inspirational case studies including The Dogs Trust and the Atheist Bus Campaign (wow factor coming up).

The Dogs Trust run their social media activity via their marketing department, but use Twitter as means to achieving their purpose;  placing dogs in good homes. I liked how this highlights the way social media can be used as a means of service delivery as well as promotion.

The Atheist Bus Campaign is one of those lovely gem like examples of social media in its purest form. Even though The British Humanist Association is the administering organisation, I think it’s fair to say that this campaign is so social media it’s ‘owned’ by the community who are involved with it.

Atheist Bus Campaign case study

It all started with the suggestion made by Journalist Ariane Sherine:

“[if all atheists reading this] contribute £5, it’s possible that we can fund a much-needed atheist London bus ad with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and [enjoy] your life.”

This was followed up by blogger Jon Worth who set up a page on Pledgebank where by people could donate to the campaign.  It caught the imagination of bloggers across the net and, well you know how these things go. One thing led to another and next thing, they raised double their target and we were seeing buses carrying an advert with a slogan almost identical to the original suggestion made by Ariane.

So not only a lovely example of ‘people power’ but also a star example of integrated thinking in action.  This campaign raised it’s own money (mostly online) and whilst it’s momentum grew online, it was actually about achieving something tangible in the real world (i.e. adverts on buses) which helped gain the interest of offline media such as television and newspapers. It also saw no departmental divide – so everyone involved was either actively raising awareness, campaigning and donations or had the potential to do any of these. And it was started and taken forward by volunteers to boot. There every box ticked I think.

The other stuff

OK so that’s some of the good stuff.  So where does it fall down? Chatting with attendees from non-presenting charities there seems to be same barriers to social media you come up against in other sectors; misunderstanding of social media at decision maker level, silo mentality within organisations and issues around measurement.

I also noticed a lot of talk about campaigns and very little about long-term relationship management, which is a shame as it seems a bit of no-brainer to me to want to nurture a lifelong relationship with people who have shown interest in a cause.

So what did I learn about social media for social good?

Mainly that charities are finding their way in this space as much as every one else, some are much further down the road than others in their understanding and thinking and some haven’t even thought twice about it. The notable exception to this would seem to be big brand charities and those for children and young people who are doing some cracking work and are following the very simple golden rule – listen and respond (easy really).

Learning in nutshell

To achieve really great things you gotta grow a pair (of ears), cut through crap and get on with it.


One Response to “How are charities doing in the social media space?”

  1. A slightly adapted version of the Atheist Bus presentation is now online at my blog:
    As for your point about building longer term relationships – that is indeed the hard part, and it’s what the BHA will now be working on after the initial success of the atheist bus campaign. It’s not easy though!

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