How charities are owning social media innovation to get ahead

How charities are owning social media innovation to get ahead

Over the years charities have picked up a poor reputation when it comes to utilising social tools. The media have continued to feed this notion with articles and reports being published claiming charities are behind the times and failing to engage in digital. Yet,a recent study from Charity Dynamics showed that charities are in fact increasing their investment in digital and here at Electric Putty we've definitely started to see signs of this.

Many charities are leading the way digitally and being incredibly innovative with their social strategies. This is having a huge impact both on the effectiveness of their brand and on their bottom line.

Here are just some of our favourite ways charities are owning social media innovation and increasing engagement and donations.

Scope use Buzzfeed and Reddit to get people talking about disability

Scope's #EndTheAwkward campaign aims to get people talking about disability and to feel they can ask the questions they usually wouldn't. As part of this campaign, Scope used both Buzzfeed and Reddit to engage audiences. Both platforms have their own risks (or perceived risks), but like Scope's campaign, the choice to use these social outlets was brave and bold.

Reddit can be seen as too risky because users are so honest and there have been some serious car-crash moments that have, understandably, put people off using the platform like Woody Harrelson's AMA (ask me anything). Yet, when used correctly and respecting the users of Reddit - it can be a great way of engaging with supporters.

Scope used Reddit as a platform to do an AMA with Alex Brooker, a disabled journalist and TV presenter.

Using Reddit in this way was perfect for the #EndTheAwkward campaign because in fact they wanted people to ask awkward questions and weren't afraid to tackle 'difficult' users.

Scope also utilised Buzzfeed by creating several pieces of content including one entitled The 29 Most Awkward GIFs.

Buzzfeed is great for quickly communicating an idea or concept, often with a humorous twist. In this example, it acts on two levels: it engages people with funny content in a medium that's on trend (GIFs), but also has a deeper meaning - yes this is funny and awkward, but there is a serious issue here that shouldn't be seen as awkward.

Charities hijacking tube strike hashtag

At the end of last month during the London tube strike, several charities made a controversial move by hijacking the #tubestrike hashtag.

This was a risky move, as hijacking hashtags is incredibly frowned upon on Twitter and has resulted in a lot of bad press for organisations in the past when the 'rules of Twitter' were still being defined. Yet many people thought the #tubestrike hijack was an innovative, smart way of engaging with people and raising awareness of a cause.

Save the Children used the hijacking to raise awareness of the problems in Syria by creating a custom tube status graphic with information about real issues affecting Syrian citizens on a daily basis.

The less well known Leonard Cheshire Disability charity used a similar approach by highlighting how difficult it is to use the tube for wheelchair users.

Both charities gained a tremendous amount of press around this and garnered lots of support. A risky but effective strategy that was entirely dependent on being reactive to what was happening on social media.

Minifigs take over Girlguiding website and social platforms

On April 1st the Girlguiding website, blog and social platforms were taken over by minifigs (small Lego people). This was a fun April Fool's prank to announce the launch of a new partnership between Girlguiding and minifigs.

Unlike the tubestrike hashtag hijacking, this was a planned strategy that included every aspect of Girlguiding's online presence.

In just over three hours, the charity increased their mentions by four times (1600 mentions) and had a reach of 75k on Facebook.

This campaign is a great example of a charity really thinking innovatively. They knew their current supporters and target audience would enjoy the mayhem, and it also worked at engaging new audiences. Not only did it focus on telling a clear story, but it was also something out of the ordinary appearing on people's feeds; people were intrigued.

The #nomakeupselfie phenomenon

Over a few short weeks, a social phenomenon occurred on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. People started taking pictures of themselves without any make-up on to raise awareness of cancer using the hashtag #nomakeupselfie.

Even though this wasn't initiated by any of the cancer charities, many of them were quick to jump on board to transform this phenomenon into an incredibly successful online fundraising campaigns.

Cancer Research UK did this by showing their support for the #nomakeupselfie and asked people to donate by text.

As a result, Cancer Research UK alone raised over £8million in just 6 days. Many of the other cancer charities also raised substantial funds through this campaign as the hashtag went viral. Spin off campaigns such as the #makeupselfie started to emerge which encouraged men to take a selfie with a full face of make-up.

In this example, credit has to go to Cancer Research UK, who saw an opportunity and took it. They were quick to react, responsive and flexible. As a result, they saw a huge impact including millions of pounds raised in donations, lots of press coverage and increased awareness of their brand.

WWF use snapchat to highlight plight of endangered animals

Charities often shy away from the newer social media platforms until they have become more established. WWF, however, proved this isn't always the best approach. In Denmark and Turkey they recently used Snapchat's self destruct countdown feature (e.g. the image is only viewable for a few seconds and then disappears) to mirror what's happening with endangered animals and tagged them with the hashtag #LastSelfie.

What was clever about this was it reimagined a popular current social media trend (e.g. selfie) into a new creative and powerful campaign.


These are just a few examples that show that charities can be ahead of the game, and that many are not only using social media to engage audiences but are doing it incredibly well.

So why do these innovative ideas work so well? Primarily because the charities we've mentioned can see the power that social platforms can have when utilised effectively. Most of these charities are reactive, aren't afraid to take risks and are aware of the social landscape. They know their audience and know how to target them.

Yet the really crucial factor that makes these campaigns stand out above the rest is because they've put time and energy into the message they want to get across to their supporters and they've nailed that message. There are hundreds of charities engaging in all sorts of campaigns on social platforms, but the ones that really work and are most effective are the ones that know exactly what they want to say and what outcome they want to achieve.

How can your charity start being more socially innovative?

Have a clear message - Just like the rest of your marketing, social media innovation needs to include brand consistency. If you wouldn't put an image or piece of text on the front page of your website, don't put it on any social platforms! Your charity needs to think about what it is trying to achieve and how it plans to reach that goal. Effective campaigns are ones which supporters quickly understand what the charity is trying to say.

Being reactive and proactive - Often it is the red tape that stops smaller charities from being able to quickly respond to something online. Yet by the time the question has been asked and approved, the opportunity has been missed. Trusting your team to represent your charity on social platforms is crucial for innovation but so is educating them on your brand and social media etiquette.

Take risks - Using new social tools can be daunting; coupled with numerous horror stories where social media has gone wrong, charities can feel afraid they'll tarnish their brand. However, it's just as much a risk to not engage in new tools as it is to get stuck in. Your supporters will still be talking about you anyway and if you aren't there to engage with them then you won't have a voice.

The simple way of mitigating the risk of a social media disaster is to educate yourself, on the platform you are using, on what other organisations have done well and done badly, and ensure you have a social media policy in place.

Know your audience - All of the charities featured in this blog post ran campaigns that were appropriate for their target audience. These charities clearly understand what their supporters like and don't like.

Be aware of the social landscape - Innovation on social media takes time and resource, it can't just be something that's dipped in and out of. The reason why charities can be innovative and jump on opportunities is because they are aware of what's going on. This can be seen with both the #nomakeupselfie and #LastSelfie which pick up on a current trend.