When the White Ribbon Campaign runs this year between November 25 and December 6, there is no doubt social media will play a part in its success. Founded in 1991 by Jack Layton and other visionaries, the campaign is dedicated to engaging men and boys around ending violence against women. What started in Toronto as a small grassroots organization has today grown into a global movement in 60 countries worldwide.
But the challenge for the organization and its executive director Todd Minerson is moving beyond awareness. Most guys know right from wrong, "but they don't know what they can do and how they can make difference," he explains.
"We've really struggled to find ways to flip the switch from belief into action for men around this issue."
All of us would agree it's nice to be "liked". But as Minerson points out, "Most of us work in the real world...and a 'like' isn't necessarily changing someone's attitude or behaviour and that's what we want to get to at the end of day."
It's a common challenge confronted by many nonprofits. Increasing awareness is one thing — but how do you move people from awareness to meaningful action, whether that's a change in behaviour or support in the form of a donation?
Many organizations even struggle with getting their followers to take online action, says Claire Kerr, director of digital philanthropy at Artez Interactive. Whether signing an online petition, subscribing to a newsletter or donating money, nonprofits are trying to figure out how best to make that leap from being "liked" to attaining more meaningful support.
Part of the problem is the media doesn't know how to write about and evaluate the nonprofit sector, says Kerr. So those outlier cases of organizations doing something hugely effective tends to capture media attention. "Charities then try to compare themselves not knowing it's not replicable or not knowing all the facts of the campaign."
Organizations need realistic expectations, Kerr adds. How's this for a dose of reality? The 2011 Nonprofit Social Network Survey stated social media is not a great tool if you're looking for donations. "Most organizations surveyed weren't raising any money or less than $1,000 on Facebook and 80% were raising nothing," she says. But, she adds, there's a really good reason why charities should invest in online channels nonetheless: "It's the most cost-effective channel and the fastest growing."
So expectations need to be tempered knowing one day the route will prove more effective; we're just not there yet. What's the best approach today according to Kerr? "The strongest campaigns are multi-channel; when organizations are consistent across all channels, those are usually the most successful."
For the White Ribbon's Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser in September, the goal was to create awareness and raise funds, while also mobilizing supporters online. Aside from the more obvious Facebook and Twitter, other platforms were used for storytelling purposes. Bloggers were invited to share their stories online and Minerson produced a video that answered the question: "where will I get shoes?" with tips from store owners. "The number one barrier is embarrassment," he explains. "So we're trying to address those things in a supportive way." Social media also allows participants to share their goals with their communities.
"We're trying to give our champions the tools to tell the story," he says. "That's critical because it helps amplify our reach and helps influence the number of people that can flip that switch from belief to action." Investing in champions is key. But he cautions that one shouldn't try to be all things to all people. "We pour our energies into partners we have already rather than trying to be too broad."
Know your audience
While Ribbon also created a PSA that, interestingly, uses humour and a strength-based approach instead of guilt or pulling on emotional strings, which is often the norm for charities. But it came down to knowing their audience and what they were looking for. Do your research, get outside opinions, don't guess or assume, says Minerson. "Really understand who they are." Adopt an enlightened self-interest. "Once you understand the target audience, think about what's in it for them to take action."
It's an approach social media strategist Ruth Bastedo pursues regularly. Having worked with White Ribbon in the past and now based at the Social Media Group as director, group head of client strategy and engagement, Bastedo says it's important to know your community, its main influencers and what they've been saying about you. Listening is fundamental part of any strategy development process when it comes to social media. "You have to know where you're coming from, in order to know where you're going," says Bastedo. If you want to keep track of the community on a more current basis, you need to engage in monitoring. Both activities allow an organization to know if they're actually engaging the right communities.
It was the depth of understanding for their community — garnered in a variety of online methods — that helped White Ribbon focus their other campaign, It starts with you. It stays with him. With the goal of inspiring men to promote healthy equal relationships with the boys in their lives, the campaign uses a host of online tips, tools and quizzes.
In the initial planning stages, White Ribbon was intent on finding a celebrity spokesperson, assuming that's what men wanted. But after hearing from their audience, they learned it wasn't. Rather, they preferred everyday heroes, men like themselves. As a result, the site now hosts powerful stories of men documenting their own very personal journeys. White Ribbon also partnered with the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) to develop online learning modules for their 76,000 teachers — another idea conceived after getting to know their community and discovering what was useful for them.
Measure success & don't forget to ask!
No matter your campaign or audience, Kerr says to be sure to track and measure what you're trying to do, asking yourself throughout: what do we want to accomplish? Is it a newsletter sign-up? A donation? A simple program like Google Analytics will make it easy to see what people do on your website and if they're completing the goals you've set for them. An organization can then make changes to direct supporters more effectively toward your intended actions.
And most significantly, never, ever, forget a call to action. "The number one reason people don't generate actions for awareness campaigns is that they don't ask for them," emphasizes Kerr. Organizations mistakenly assume their video or cause is compelling enough to inspire people to give or do something. But that's not the case. Studies show successful campaigns are the ones with specific asks.
"Supporters are just waiting to be asked to do something; awareness goes toward action when you ask someone to take it".
Elisa Birnbaum is a freelance journalist, producer and communications consultant living in Toronto. She is also president of Elle Communications and can be reached at: email@example.com.
Please note: While we ensure that all links and e-mail addresses are accurate at their publishing date, the quick-changing nature of the web means that some links to other web sites and e-mail addresses may no longer be accurate.