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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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Voices from the Field – WaterAid

madagascar2Whilst travelling to Madagascar to observe WaterAid’s Voices from the Field (VftF) project, I was reading an excellent book about photojournalism.

One of the chapters focuses on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and how many organisations have commissioned photojournalists in recent years, with reference to well-known campaigns.

The chapter critiques issues such as informed consent, representation, branding guidelines, negative vs positive imagery, authenticity, compassion fatigue and editing. It was ideal fodder for thinking about the week ahead.

Why do I feel uncomfortable about some of the debates? I think the main reason is because the majority of the photographers referenced in this particular chapter are of Western descent – but there are some highly talented photographers in the global south documenting the work of humanitarian organisations. Why are so few of them featured?

Maybe this is one of the reasons I was so intrigued by the VftF project when I first heard about it. I instantly wanted to learn more, hence my trip to Madagascar to spend three days in the field with Ernest Randriarimalala, WaterAid’s VftF officer there.

Making a film about Madagascar

During my time observing Ernest he was filming a video about Madagascar from his perspective. After a few general shots of the capital, Tana, we set off towards Antsirabe, Madagascar’s second largest city.

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On the way we made a few stops to take some background shots and the first thing I noticed about Ernest was his natural communication skills. Whenever we asked to film, no one challenged us. Ernest explained that he was making a film about his country and not one single person objected.

Having worked myself in marketing and communications for over 20 years, I often encounter people who do not want to be filmed.

Perhaps the Malagasy people are just too polite to say no, maybe they like being photographed more than some other cultures, or most probably they are charmed by Ernest and his enchanting smile.

Building long-term relationships

In my opinion communication skills are absolutely fundamental for the VftF role. Ernest speaks Malagasy, French and English fluently which means he can genuinely inform people of his work.

He is also able to relate to the communities he visits, as he grew up in a village with no water or sanitation and was often sick as a result.

I visited both pre- and post- intervention sites during my trip and I was heart-warmingly touched by the difference between the two.

The VftF project is about building long-term relationships with communities, documenting progress and creating stories to inform donors that their fundraising efforts are making a big difference to people’s lives.

Helping people thousands of miles away

For three weeks in June, Ernest visited the UK for training and advocacy work.

During this time he spent five days in Northumbria visiting a number of WaterAid supporters, which included speaking at a fundraising ball organised by Northumbrian Water.

To me, the VftF programme has so many obvious benefits, such as language, relationship building, informed consent and effective use of funds, but what I hadn’t thought about was the two-way communication and advocacy work that Ernest carries out each year.

At the ball he showed images of the toilets and access to clean water that have been installed, and more importantly the people who benefit, as a result of their fundraising efforts.

When he returns to the field, he is also able to tell beneficiaries about meeting the many people who have organised balls, raffles, cake sales, sponsored runs, all to help communities they are unlikely to ever visit nearly 10,000 km away.

As Ernest said, “It was great meeting these people in a city in the north of England, who are doing all these fundraising activities to help people thousands of miles away. It is so amazing that they organise so many events to help the Malagasy people.”

A watchdog for WaterAid

The other thing I’d never really considered was the accountability side of this role. Ernest is truly passionate about his work and in many ways acts as a watchdog for WaterAid and its supporters as he documents the installation of new facilities.

As he puts it: “I really enjoy my job. I get to meet all these people whose lives have changed as a result of our work. I’m really glad that I get to see both the fundraising side in the UK as well as the end result.

“If I ever thought that money was not being spent well, then I’d quit my job. Simple as that. I’m lucky that I don’t feel that way at all. I absolutely love it.”

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