DFID

DFID: Using Social Media for Research, Monitoring and Evalution

DFID have recently published a report on how they use social media for research, monitoring and evaluation in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report offers a fascinating insight into the effectiveness and efficiency of using social media as a research tool for M&E. The research included an analysis of Twitter data and considers areas such as identifying social media influencers in sharing of knowledge, assessing negative versus positive sentiment and what kinds of topics were being discussed.

Methodological approaches are also discussed, outlining some of the limitations such as availability of data and the difficulty of defining the demographic characteristics of Twitter users. 23,693 tweets were purchased via data-reseller Gnip. This sample was pre-selected using common keywords associated with relevant topics.

It’s an interesting report, especially if you are considering using Twitter data collection for international development M&E. There is also a very useful bibliography.

Another DFID Practice Note worth reading is “Using Social Media Data in International Development Research, Monitoring and Evaluation’.

 

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DFID and their use of social media – 2015

It’s been nearly two years since I wrote about DFID and their use of social media. I met with Marisol Grandon, Head of Creative Content to hear about their latest initiatives. Marisol explained how their interaction via social media has transformed over the last year or two “One of our key improvements is the design elements within our social media output which has gone from strength to strength. We have recently been producing more short form graphics. Smartphones are increasingly available even on a tight budget and people want bitesize news in 15 seconds or less.  Many people these days are time restricted and also tend to consume these news clips without their sound on – visual news is perfect for these audiences. ” I’ve noticed myself over the past few months how DFIDs content is growing in terms of visual output. They are still very strong advocates of good quality visuals. One great example of this is their coverage of the Global Goals.

Personally I don’t generally like animated news bites, perhaps I’m showing my age. What I was pleased to hear about is their experimentation with Periscope. Marisol explained that it is still very much a minority audience, but for those that do engage they thrive on the immediacy and interactive nature. In June, Michelle Obama’s speech when she visited Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets, was broadcast on Periscope with an audience of 2000 people. David Cameron’s speech about the Global Goals was similarly well received. In my opinion, the demand for live broadcasts will only increase as mobile data improves.

DFID’s core established social media of Facebook, Twitter and Flickr continue to be the most popular. In fact both Facebook and Twitter followers have more or less doubled since 2013 – Twitter has increased from 116,000 to 215,000 and Facebook 42,000 to 87,000.

Marisol feels it is important to explore the potential of new social media platforms. DFID launched its Snapchat channel this September at the first ever #YouthSummit held at DFID. International Development Secretary, Justine Greening said “Globally, over 1.8 billion people in the world are aged between 10 and 24 – the vast majority are living in less developed countries and face uncertain futures. These young people can be the leaders, teachers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. There is no question they must be at the heart of our efforts to tackle global poverty. The face of development is a young face and the UK’s first ever Youth Summit gives young people all over the world the chance to have their voices heard. But the journey doesn’t end here. Young people will be at the centre of our work to create a world that is healthier, safer and more prosperous for everyone.”

Snapchat is an ideal platform to talk to the UK’s youth. It now has over 100 million subscribers. The lo-fi aspect of Snapchat means that it is all about creativity with it’s stickers and lightness of touch. Sometimes communications people can find this aspect of their work difficult, especially in a Government organisation. I look forward to hearing whether DFID’s Snapchat channel is a success or not.

The area I enjoyed hearing about the most was DFID’s recent engagement with long form social media. Marisol said “International Development suits the long form treatment. It allows stories to be explained in a visual, compelling and nuanced way. Our followers are electing to learn more about complex issues and long form is the perfect vehicle for this. We have been using platforms such as Storehouse, Exposure, Immersive and Shorthand more and more.”

I confess that I have not really explored the possibilities of long form social media much, but I was very impressed with DFID’s Married at 3, Divorced at 7 article and the Medics Behind the Mask. which were both very educating.

Marisol ended by sharing her excitement for the potential of new apps and technologies. “I’ve been really impressed with some of the recent virtual reality films. I think with new advances such as Google Cardboard we will see levels of access rise dramatically. The interactivity of live video within apps like Periscope is what makes it so exciting and makes YouTube look almost slow and old fashioned.”

I’m slightly surprised by this closing remark as DFID have never really invested in their YouTube channel (which I commented on in my first blog), perhaps they foresaw the potential of VR before the rest of us. I sense we might see the first DFID VR film before my next blog post…..

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DFID, Social Media and Infographics

Just over a year ago I met with the digital team at DFID for the first time and wrote a blog critiquing their use of social media. At that very first meeting we briefly discussed the possibility of our students working on a project as part of the MA Media and International Development that I teach on.

Last week after several further discussions it become a reality and I visited DFID with 7 students to start a consultative process. The students will be auditing DFID’s social media outputs and also considering their use of photography and informed consent. We had an intensive day of meetings with various member of the digital team: Marisol Grandon (Head of Digital), Simon Davis (Senior Content Editor), Russell Watkins (Photography Editor), Jess Lea (Girls and Women Digital Lead) and Ricci Coughlan (Digital Editorial Designer). It was an absolutely fascinating day where we learned a great deal about content generation for their social channels. In my blog post just over a year ago, Marisol and I discussed the potential for appointing a graphic designer in the team and the desire to produce more engaging content. I was delighted to hear that about 3 months later Ricci was appointed on a secondment from another government department. In Ricci’s presentation I was blown away by some of the infographics that he had produced over the last 9 months. Talk about a successful appointment. As I said in my previous post, images and infographics can be highly shareable and I want to share some of their recent successes.

The first infographic I want to introduce is a birds eye view of the first British Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone.

It is a fantastic example to show the power of social media to strengthen stakeholder relationships. The infographic has been widely shared including tweets from the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defense and Save the Children. It is important for multi-lateral agencies such as DFID to engage with new audiences. I’m sure many of Save the Children’s followers also follow DFID but I wonder how many followers of the MoD’s twitter account also follow them? How many of them have started following them as a result of this retweet? The infographic was also lifted and posted on the Mirror website. More exposure to an audience that might not be aware of DFID’s work.Below is another example of how content created by DFID was used on the UN’s Twitter channel.

I asked the team if social media had helped improve relationships with other organisations. They said that they regularly receive or send direct messages to other organisations to share and promote information and that this had undoubtedly improved relationships. I don’t know why I’d never thought about this more deeply before. To me, as an individual, social media and particularly Twitter has been an invaluable tool for networking and this is equally or maybe even more important for global organisations who share similar goals or values. It’s hard to put a value on this but I hope senior managers appreciate how immensely important this kind of networking is in a digital age.

My favourite infographic from DFID is a series of 8-bit pixel designs which were used to raise awareness of the girls summit which was held in the summer. This style seems to resonate with other DFID supporters as it was highly shared on Facebook. Maybe DFID followers on Facebook are a similar age to myself and therefore the use of a retro style appealed to them. Maybe it was the subject matter?

Infographics can be very succinct with their message or very detailed. DFID have experimented with several approaches including animated gifs, videos and quotegrams too. I’m not particularly a fan of quotegram and animated gifs and looking at shares they are not so popular with other audiences, but I applaud DFID for experimenting with different mediums. The video style infographic below however, is detailed and has had a good number of views.

Although infographics have the potential for sharing, they take a long time to research and produce and do not always engage with the public. Using an agency to produce these kind of graphics can be costly so having an in-house designer who is proficient in these skills can be a more cost effective approach. But, it doesn’t always work.

Ricci said “I feel it is important to add that I am very proud of the work here and they are very much the products of team work, not only between the digital editors and myself but also our colleagues in strategic communications and policy who contribute advice, guidance and outreach. The team work at DFID is one of the many highlights of my experience here in my first year.”

On the whole I’m a big fan of the infographics produced by DFID. It would be good to measure the overall reach that these graphics have had. I don’t have time to do that at the moment, maybe the student group will in their analysis. You can view and assess the infographics for yourself as they are available in a dedicated Flickr group. I hope you find them interesting.

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Should we pay subjects in development communications?

I am currently mentoring a group of Master’s students who are working on a project looking at DFID’s use of photography. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading about the ethical use of imagery in the development sector and have scanned the internet and third sector organisation’s websites for guidelines of photography, branding or visual identities to learn about best practice.

One of the most comprehensive set of guidelines I have uncovered so far is the old ethical-photography-guidelines from AusAID. It is acutely obvious that these guidelines will have been agonised over by several departments over several months before being agreed. There is no doubt in my mind there will have been a great deal of collegiate debate over the tiniest of details. But can we ever get a document like this completely right? Not really, as ethical considerations are so subjective. One particular item in the AusAID guidelines leapt off the page at me

“Absolutely no payment or any other form of compensation are to be provided to subjects in exchange for the photo or consent.”

It doesn’t explain why. This intrigues me. I’ve modeled on a number of occasions (I know it’s hard to believe). Mostly it’s just been because someone I know needs a favour or they want me to be a blur in the background. However, on more than one occasion I have been paid. In fact, I once got paid £50 cash for being a blur in a billboard advert for Audi.  It took one hour. Maybe I should take it up professionally. No seriously, I know that Audi is a large commercial entity and therefore cannot be compared directly to development communications which often adopt a more documentary style of photography which aims to be objective. But, why is that I can be paid for being a blur whereas subjects of AUSaid’s visual imagery can’t? Within the same guidelines every effort is made to ensure human rights and dignity of that subject. Is asking someone to work for nothing dignified?

I have worked with a lot of photographers in my career and I know that capturing the ‘perfect image’ is not a 5 minute job. This is especially the case when trying to ensure that the image is representative and taken in the right context. This might involve asking the subject to be photographed in their place of work which is 20 minutes away. Why should they give up their time? Could this be considered a form of exploitation?

As anyone who has worked in development communication will know, imagery is immensely important. Good imagery can shape perceptions, change behaviours and often are essential to spark interest from the media in a story.

Photographers are usually given a strict criteria when on a photo shoot i.e. no stereotypes, ensure relevance and dignity at all times, don’t oversimplify the message, there must be a gender balance, consider power relations and so on. Maybe we would achieve better visual communication if subjects were paid a reasonable fee? It would make the photographer’s job a lot easier to capture the image in the given brief and surely the subject would feel more appreciated? I suppose one of the counter-arguments is that if the subjects are paid they may be open to staging the true representation of the image and authenticity is lost? Surely this is the responsibility of the photographer or art director? Another good reason for not paying subjects it that it sets a precedent amongst that community and possibly smaller NGOs simply cannot afford to pay fees.

The debate is complex but maybe one solution to ensure authenticity and representation would be for the subject to be shown all images and for them to only give consent to those they select? Let’s call it paid participatory photography. A new era in development communication maybe?

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DFID and Social Media

Last week I was fortunate to visit the Department for International Development (DFID) to meet with Marisol Grandon, their Head of Digital to talk about how they use social media in their communications.

I asked Marisol a probing question: if she had to close down DFID’s social networks and was able to keep just one, which one would she keep. She was tied between Twitter and Facebook as they are the main channels for engagement. She also stressed the importance of Flickr. I confess that I had only looked briefly at their Flickr site, and once I looked again I could see why. The old adage says that a picture is worth a thousand words, and DFID’s Flickr site has over 2,000 photos. That’s a lot of words! I spent nearly 2 hours looking at the images and reading the captions. I could easily have spent a lot longer – time permitting. There is a mixture of imagery – stunning portraiture, documentary, reportage and landscape photography. They portray vividly the emotions of joy, hope, sadness; scenes of devastation and scenes of jubilation. Below are just a handful.

rainmaker

Photo credit: Department For International Development / International Development Research Centre /Thomas Omondi

port-au-prince

Image: Department for International Development / Russell Watkins

rwanada-15-years-on

Image: Department for International Development

Marisol and I talked a lot about photography. DFID employ six staff in their digital team, several with a degree or an interest in professional photography. I’m not sure if this is strategic or accidental, but their curation of powerful imagery from around the world has clearly benefited all of their social media channels. The strategy is working.

The Twitter channel has 116,000 followers and is growing rapidly. They often tweet up to to 10 times a day, sometimes more. Lovejoy and Saxton (2011) carried out a study on 100 non-profit organisation Twitter accounts in the US. Their paper Information, Community and Action: How Non-Profit Organizations Use Social Media categorized tweets into 3 main groupings in the belief that most tweets were to spread information, foster dialogue and build community, or mobilize supporters. The study concluded that nonprofit organizations have become more interactive in their use of Twitter, but the output is often information heavy. They suggested that organisations should be using Twitter to its full potential to build communities, mobilise action and engage with stakeholders.

I follow DFID on Twitter and generally feel very engaged. A variety of tweets are used: educational, informational, signposting, promotional and mobilising. They regularly retweet and promote content from other organisations, for example Plan UK’s powerful new video and an infographic from Concern Worldwide. Do I feel part of a community? Yes, I think so. I’m receiving information from DFID that I find interesting and informative and get a feel for the work being carried out in the field. I’ve only quickly “analysed” a few weeks tweets, but reading them I do feel engaged. I suppose my only observation is that I, as a stakeholder, could have been asked to contribute more. Not constantly surveyed, but asked my opinion through quick and easy methods such as a poll. As I say, my analysis was not in-depth, so it’s not a detailed critique.

DFID’s Facebook page has 42,000 likes, about a third of the number of Twitter followers, which is not surprising considering that the demographic of Facebook regular users is generally younger than on Twitter. The Facebook page is updated far less regularly than Twitter, which is normal. It is bright and colourful and once again utilises strong imagery and use of infographics. When I have previously managed Facebok sites with large followings it has always been images that connect with the user that have received the most likes. I’m slightly surprised that some of the images haven’t received more likes.

DFID’s Google+ page is rapidly gaining more followers. Without an analytics function, Marisol wasn’t able to shed much light on interactions with the page, but anecdotally said that engagement seems to be more informed, educated and critical. They have also recently launched an Intagram site which is important for engaging with younger audiences, especially those accessing the web via mobile.

I asked Marisol how she hopes to improve the social media channels in the future. She would like to see better use of graphic design. I strongly agree with this. As I said previously, imagery and infographics are highly shareable. A graphic designer could definitely add value to their growing bank of imagery. A lot of people underestimate the value of good design. She also mentioned that mobile content and video content are high on the agenda. Again I couldn’t agree more. It is fundamental that all digital output is in a responsive design format. I think this is even more important for stakeholders accessing content in the developing world than it is for stakeholders in the UK. Mobile web should be the top of the want list.

In my opinion DFID need to work on their YouTube channel the most going forward. Content is variable and has scope for improvement. 13 of their videos have 10,000+ views. Two videos have far more views than any other. India’s Slumdog Millions has 88,787 views and Love Sex and Survival has 76,569 views. Both were published four years ago. Love Sex and Survival has only 17 ‘votes’ – 11 positive and 6 negative. The next most popular video has 22,365 views. Why have the two most popular videos got so many more views? Yes, they have been on the channel two years more than the next most popular video, however there are plenty of others videos that have been on the channel for four years or more. Perhaps they were promoted with advertising? Both videos are well produced and tell compelling stories, but again, so do many of the other videos. Was the ‘India’s Slumdog Millions’ video timely, being released not long after the box office hit Slumdog Millionaire? The other video has ‘sex’ in the title. Surely people aren’t that shallow? Maybe they are, we know that sex sells. I would love to have the time to analyse the channel in more detail, looking at quantitative and qualitative data.

There are some other interesting videos that deserve more views. The lecture talk Digital Divides – The Potential of the Internet for Development is of great interest to me. Maybe there is some potential for leading scholars in the UK to present online lectures on the DFID channel about a myriad of development subjects. Or am I drifting in to MOOC or TED territory?

Videos don’t have to be costly to be successful. Content is King – and Queen of course. I produced a film called What is International Development for the School of International Development at UEA for minimal cost. It has had over 5,000 views. I wonder how many views it would have had if DFID had produced it. They have such an arsenal of tools which they can use to seed a video more effectively.

Marisol agrees that more strategic production of video is necessary. It all comes down to availability of budgets I suppose. Video can be both resource and budget intensive, but targeted right can reach a lot of people. DFID, along with many other government departments, are moving towards a strategy of digital first. The digital team have recently undergone a number of audits including the digital communication capability review. Change is imminent. I sincerely hope as a result DFID decide to prioritise and appropriately fund video in the near future.

I’m hugely impressed with DFID’s social media presence and I look forward to its continued success.

 

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