Five reasons why charities are doing so well in social media

1. Charities bring people together around a common cause

Social media, in its most basic form, is a way of connecting people through a particular technology or platform around a common interest. This corresponds very closely to the aims of many charities – raising awareness & advocacy, bringing people together, and forming a community around a cause.

When you “Like” a charity on Facebook, this news appears on your profile and in your friends’ news feeds. The things we “Like” on social networks make a statement about who we are and what we believe in. Deciding whether to “Like” a corporation on social media sites might conflict with how we want people to perceive us (even if we use their products), but it is hard to criticise someone for showing support for the work that charities do.

Perhaps this is why human rights and animal protection charities (RSPCA, Dogs Trust, Amnesty International) are doing so well, and we will continue to see initiatives like #Twestival bringing together social media users and charities in real life.

2. Charities can measure the ROI of social media and donations are just a click away

For most organisations, social media represents a cost which can be difficult to justify if they don’t have the processes in place to measure the return on investment – especially if the organisation has no other e-commerce channels. Charities can directly solicit donations, and sites such as JustGiving.com and campaign-based initiatives like Movember are making it simple and fun for individuals to encourage their friends to get involved, collecting sponsorships or donating. This makes it easier for charities to convert intention into action and making it possible to link social media activity with donations. Other charities are taking their storefronts online by setting up shop on eBay. Barnardos has really embraced this concept. There are many benefits to this approach: the auction format means that donated goods achieve their maximum price, and the overhead is low. Volunteers can also be geographically dispersed, and can work flexible hours.

3. Celebrities love lending their clout (or should that be Klout?) to a good cause

While not all celebrity / charity tie-ups have been successful (remember the celebrity Twitter death in support of World AIDS day?), some charities have had major wins from working with celebrities and social media to get their message out there and boost donations. When Justin Bieber donated his birthday to Charity:Water, traffic to the site increased by 300 per cent, raising nearly $50,000 as a result. Although some may mock celebrity / charity tie-ups, their ability to create discussion and awareness about a charity is undeniable.

4. Kindness is cool and charities can tie up with well-known brands to make a difference

There are two schools of thought when it comes to CSR. The cynics see it as brands simply using charities to improve consumer perceptions, while others see it as a more symbiotic relationship where both parties stand to gain. Pepsi Refresh is perhaps the most well-known current initiative, whereby users can nominate a local project to be funded by the Pepsi Refresh fund.

The concept of “buy one, give one” where for every product bought by a consumer, another is given to people in need (pioneered by companies such as TOMs shoes) is also gaining popularity this year with sites like B1G1.com springing up to encourage businesses to get involved in charitable in-kind giving.

5. Social media is multimedia – charities can tell their story convincingly

Lastly, it would be impossible to explore the reasons why charities are doing so well in social media without talking about the possibilities that social media technology creates. From Facebook and YouTube to SlideShare, from Last.fm to Flickr – as well as more specialised sites like Justgiving.com and Facebook Causes – social media provides a multimedia, interactive way for charities to provide compelling stories, show the work that they do, and encourage supporters to promote causes on their behalf. This has an impact that isn’t afforded by a TV advertisement or a leaflet posted through your door. It lets people get really involved with just a few clicks.

Charity:Water has really understood how to engage people around its cause. It uses all of these methods, along with well-curated multimedia content, to create a compelling story, highlighting how much money is raised and being open about how it is spent, and creating opportunities for people to get involved, whether by becoming a volunteer or corporate sponsor, or by buying merchandise or donating.

The lesson for brands in this? People want a reason to get involved, beyond just looking at photos, or being directed to a corporate website. They want to feel good about themselves, and to have the chance to do something tangible. Vanity projects aren’t enough. I’d love to know what you think about the work that charities are doing to harness social media, and how you think brands can learn from it.

Hat-tip to @john_fellows for sharing this post from http://wallblog.co.uk/

  • David Jarman

    Hi Ross, I’m interested in the ways social media and events/festivals work together for social ends – part of the reason I helped organise #EdTwestival. At some point I’d really like to catch up for a chat about this… but need to get my thoughts straight first, this would be for a PhD which is in its early stages!

  • Ross McCulloch

    Sounds good, give me a shout via twitter.