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Can Social Media help to save the world?

Can Social Media help to save the world?

It has been argued that Social Media is the most important change in mass communication since the Guttenberg Press. This seismic shift in the way we communicate has positive and negative outcomes for the developing world. The Arab Spring revolutions are a fine example of positive change. Wael Gonim, who played an influential role in the Egyptian uprisings, says there is no doubt it was an “ internet sparked revolution.” Whereas the controversial Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children has been widely debated for both its positive and negative impacts. On the positive side it was the fastest growing viral video of all times with valuable lessons to be learned from it. The negatives were many: inaccuracy of information, oversimplification and unnecessarily large production budgets, to name but a few.

Charities and NGOs were early adopters of Social Media as a communication and marketing tool. There have been many successful campaigns such as the Greenpeace Mister Splashy Pants campaign, Oxfam’s Land Grab’s campaign and No Child Born to Die by Save the Children. Social Media has made it easier than ever before for large broadcasters to report on issues around the world and with cuts in budgets, it is more cost effective to utilise citizen or activist generated media.

Social Media has undoubtedly changed the way we communicate, it empowers individuals and enables communities to share information and have a collective voice. It has been used by international development agencies and NGOs to crowd source information during disasters such as the Haiti earthquake. NGOs have also employed social media to raise awareness of humanitarian issues, fundraise and report from the field. The negative impacts of social media have been discussed at length such as cyber infidelity, cyber bullying, privacy, addiction, criminality and cultural imperialism.

In 2002 the Guardian published an article about how the mobile phone is changing our world . At that time the number of mobiles in the world was 1.4 billion. Not many people would have predicted that ten years later there would be 6 billion mobile subscriptions and internet enabled mobiles would be more or less standard. The undoubted penetration of smartphones in developing countries over the next few years will give more and more people access to social media networks. Is it a myth that Social Media can help to save the world?

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Kony 2012: success of failure

This lunchtime I attended a lecture entitled Kony 2012: Success or Failure by Sophie Chalk from the International Broadcasting Trust as the finale to the wonderful Media and Development Speaker Series. Most of you reading a blog on Kony 2012 will know the story already, but for those of you who don’t here’s a very brief summary. In March 2012 an organisation in the US called Invisible Children released a video titled Kony 2012. Within 3 days it had been viewed 43 million times and has since had over 110 million views. At the time it was the fastest viral video to reach 100 million views. The video was produced to raise awareness of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group who have repeatedly kidnapped children in Uganda and surrounding countries, training the boys as child soldiers and sexually abusing the girls, alongside other atrocities.

The film, narrated by Jason Russell one of the founders of Invisible Children, aims to make Kony famous, and by doing so across the world force governments to ‘Stop Kony’. The film had a massive backlash as soon as it was released, possibly adding to the success of the video. The report commissioned by the International Broadcasting Trust focuses entirely on the campaign, how it reached so many people, and what can be learned for future digital campaigns. A number of people were interviewed as part of the research from the US, UK and Uganda, ranging from journalists, academics, social media experts and the CEO of Invisible Children.

Kony 2012 wasn’t the first film by Invisible Children, it was their eleventh so why was it so much more successful than the others? The film is 29 minutes long with high budget (reportedly $1m) and high production values. It’s more of a cinematic experience than a documentary.  The report suggests that its simplicity and narrative without ‘development’ speak is what helped make it so successful. It’s a compelling story, told by someone who obviously really cares about the situation. Personally I found the style and narrative incredibly patronising, and having two young children a similar age to Jason Russell’s son Gavin and I found it quite disturbing too. Ethan Zuckerman in has fantastic blog post ‘Unpacking Kony 2012’ describes the campaign as ‘a story about simplification and framing’ and ’emotionally manipulative’. He discusses at length the unintended consequences of the film but nevertheless still admires Invisible Children’s ‘vision of a changing world, where social media empowers indivuals as never before.’ I have to agree with this. Please read the post and some of the 249 responses, it’s excellent.

So how was the campaign seeded in social media?

Firstly, Invisible Children have been campaigning in the US since 2003 and already have a loyal fan base estimated at 3 million people. They have 400,000 followers on Facebook and 50,000 followers on Twitter. The call to action of the film is simple – share this video with your friends and Stop Kony. Their website made it incredibly easy to share and to put pressure on 20 celebrities and 12 policy makers to share the campaign too. 9 of the celebrities including Justin Beiber and Rihanna did. The campaigned exploded after Oprah Winfrey tweeted about the campaign with the video jumping from 660,000 to nine million views overnight. The main demographic of people sharing the film were 16 to 29 years old. At its peak there were 25,000 tweets about #kony2012 every ten minutes, which is truly astonishing. From the youth of US it spread to parents and across the world.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people about Kony 2012. Outside the ‘international development’ world I know hardly anyone who has watched Kony 2012 all the way through. Sure lot’s of people had heard of it, but many couldn’t tell me much about it. I recently asked a room of 20 marketing/PR staff at an event whether they had heard of the film and only three had. The main call to action was at the end of the film, to buy a pack of posters and ‘cover the night’ across the world on 20th April. Over 300,000 packs were sold at $30 each. Where will that $9m be spent? The cover the night campaign never really mobilised. The report suggests that it was too late (6 weeks) after the launch of the film, it also lacked proper organisation on the ground in various cities. In that respect the campaign was a flop.

The #kony2012 backlash

Within hours of the films releases that was an outpour of critism. A great number of critics questioned how Invisible Children spends it’s money. Others criticised the neo-imperialist approach, the lack of local voices, stealing the limelight from International Women’s Day, the proposed military solution and most importantly the inaccuracy e.g. Kony left Uganda 6-7 years ago. In Uganda there was outrage. One of the students at today’s lecture was in Uganda working for an International NGO when the film was released and had been working closely with soldiers. He shared how he was sickened by the film and that the soliders he was working with were terribly insulted. Richard Baguma, Secretary-General of the UNA in Uganda was interviewed as part of the research and said “It has been difficult to find a person with a positive reaction to the video. From what I have heard it is an oversimplification of a complex situation.”

Lessons from #kony2012

The recommendations in the report for NGOs using video as advocacy in the digital age are:
– you can’t make a viral video – only the audience can make a film viral
– social media has brought about an end to geographical boundaries in communications
– you need to accept a potential loss of control in social media
– try to anticpate how people will repond, especially local people
– the pace of social media can be phenomenal
– try to make stories engaging without oversimplifying

The last one is the hardest. Zuckerman summarises perfectly in his blog post “If we need to simplify narratives so people can amplify and spread them, are we forced to engage with only the simplest problems? Or to propose only the simplest of solutions.”

The report doesn’t really summarise whether the campaign was a success or a failure, so I asked Sophie after the lecture – she didn’t really know the answer. I think it was both. As a case study of how to successfully seed a video in social media it’s an undoubted success. I’m still amazed that viewers actually watched until the 23rd minute when the film explains about Cover the Night. Did teenagers share it because it was cool? Who bought the packs? Where are they now? The failures are there in abundance and I don’t need to spell them out again.

Sophie also mentioned charity fatigue and whether there will be social media fatigue in the future. I don’t doubt that many people have social media fatigue, I for one never ever use Facebook anymore, well for personal use. However with the profileration of smartphones in the developed and developing world I don’t think the power of social media has been truly realised yet – just blogged about…..



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Social Media and International Development Hashtags

If you are new to social media and international development I thought some relevant hashtags might be useful for researching in Twitter. Here are a few that I regularly use:


I also love this website, which is how the visual was produced –

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Development organisations and charities use Thunderclap to amplify message

Thunderclap describes itself as “the first ever crowdspeaking platform the helps users be heard by saying something together.” The online tool allows a single message to be shared at exactly the same time, “flash-mob style” via Twitter and Facebook. This amplifies the message and allows for a viral tidal wave of “sharability”. Generic advertising has been proven to be effective when everybody sees it at the same time, sometimes referred to as the Superbowl effect. However social media by nature is much more random with people sharing messages at different times of the day and often on different days. This means that the impact is often lost and the messages do not achieve viral status. Thunderclap is a very simple, but clever tool which enables organisations with enough initial supporters more chance of exposure through trends locally, nationally and globally. Thunderclap has been developed by a US advertising agency Droga5 and it’s currently FREE!

A few examples of international development organisations, NGOs and charities who have used Thunderclap

Possibly the most effective use of Thunderclap was by the UN to promote World Humanitarian Day. They aimed to reach one billion people with their campaign and achieved it in within 20 minutes of the launch. Like other Thunderclaps they had the backing of a celebrity, no other than Beyonce performing her song “I was Here” in the UN General Assembly. It was also supported by Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber, Shakira and many more. You can read more about the success of their Thunderclap on Mashable.

The Royal British Legion recently used Thunderclap innovatively to promote a two minute silence, their message read “I’ll be remembering the fallen at 11 o’clock #2MinuteSilence #LestWeForget,” will be sent at 09:00 GMT on Remembrance Sunday.

Another success was Oxfam’s Stop #landgrabs campaign which had a social reach of 691,779 and aimed to raise awareness of land grabs and target the World Bank to stop funding them.

On 1st December for World Aids Day, Durex will donate one condom for each HIV message shared. Their target is to reach 2.5 million condoms. Read more about the 1share1condom campaign and see how you can potentially save a life with the power of one single tweet or facebook like.





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Book Review: Social Media for Social Good: A How-to Guide for Non-profits

Social Media for Social Good: A How-to Guide for Non-profits
Heather Mansfield – 2012

Heather Mansfield has worked in the non-profit sector for over 15 years. Her first fundraising campaign used a Yahoo! email account via internet cafes in Guatemala back in 1997. Since then she has become one of the leading experts on non profit organisations can use social media to advance their online communications and development strategies. She is the creator on and has presented more than 500 social media webinars and training to nonprofits worldwide.

Her book Social Media for Social Good is in my opinion the ‘social media bible’ for any nonprofit organisation. The book is a clear, well organised, step-by-step ‘how to guide’ to creating a social media strategy from scratch. It also gives indications of how much time and money organisations should be spending on each activity. In reality this is very hard to predict due to many variables, however it is often good to have a ballpark figure to start planning your budget.

The book is neatly divided into 3 areas:
– Web 1.0. – broadcasting from one to many – websites / e-newsletters etc
– Web 2.0. – social web – evolution from broadcasting to supporters to engaging with them – social networking sites / blogging etc
– Web 3.0. – mobile web – group text messaging / responsive websites / apps and so on

Mansfield explains that although the social media tools are free, to manage them isn’t. To manage social media properly it takes a lot of time and creativity. Nonprofit organisations are realising this more and more. I love this quote from the book “Interns and volunteers are wonderful assistants, but if they are untrained, most often they do not have the experience to use these tools effectively.” It reminds me of a great video on Social Media Interns and ROI by Social Media Marketing Guru – Erik Qualman.

Going back to the book, it has a good section on ROI. Mansfield says that the ROI of using social and mobile media is directly linked to your website, e-newsletter database and the quality of your content. She believes that 5,000 followers is the magic number for social networks to be effective and give a good return on investment.

The book offers some sensible advice on building a website or ‘5 must have characteristics of a non-profit website’. These are:

1. Easy to use CMS. So obvious but so important! If your editors find updating difficult they are unlikely to post information updates as regularly.
2. Good writing – again this seems obvious but is so true. It is fundamental that your web editors have excellent spelling and grammar skills. They also need to know how to write copy for a web audience.
3. Well designed graphics and photos. I’ve said this time and time again. Please don’t skimp on your photography budget. A good photo can say a thousand words.
4. Simple, consistent navigation. Information architecture is key to a successful website. There’s a great book on web usability called ‘Don’t Make me Think’ by Steve Krug. I thoroughly recommend it.
5 Purchase a web address.

What I like about this book is it also gives some good examples of websites and campaigns that Mansfield thinks is important.

The book goes on to give sound advice on Web 2.0 and ‘Web 3.0.’ as Mansfield calls it. She offers some great tips for beginners such as ‘be consistent when reserving vanity URLs’. She also offers advice for advanced users of social media too. The book even gives 11 qualities of an effective social media manager.

My final quote from the book is on mobile marketing.

“The Mobile Web is full of promise and potential for social good. It will connect communities worldwide in ways that the nonprofit sector has never experienced or even imagined. In the past, nonprofits in developing nations and the communities they serve have been hindered by the cost of desktop computers and Internet access; they often have not has the infrastructure in place or the financial capacity to utlilise the Internet on a regular basis. The revolution in mobile technology in the developing world is changing forever.” I’ll write lots more about the potential of mobile in future posts!

I wish I’d had this book the first time I wrote a social media strategy. Although it’s aimed at the nonprofit sector, many people can make use of the excellent advice given. An excellent toolkit for anyone interested in social media for social good.


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