Shamba Shape Up and the Use of Social Media

Shamba Shape Up is a reality style TV show designed to educate East Africa’s rapidly growing rural audience. The make over style show aims to give both farmer and the audience the tools they need to improve productivity and income on their farms. Each week the Shape Up team visit a different farm in a different area of the country. The team includes the film crew and a number of experts from partner organisations who specialize in the topics to be covered in the episode. The core of the series tackles issues surrounding livestock, poultry, crops and soil fertility. Other relevant topics include financial planning, solar power and harvesting rainwater.

The series is also supported online with a popular Facebook page which has around 44,500 fans, a Twitter page which has nearly 3,000 followers, a YouTube channel, and recently, a blog and Instagram. The interaction on the Facebook page is pretty impressive.

As well as online, viewers without internet or power can SMS a database and ask for information in the form of leaflets. These leaflets are posted to people free of charge once they SMS asking for them. So far 250,000 have been distributed. Recently, Shamba Shape Up has moved to mobile, with the starting of iShamba. iShamba is a mobile information service, which gives subscribers access to a call centre, SMS service, weather reports, farming tips and deals or advice form commercial partners.

Katharine MacMahon, Communications Officer for Shamba Shape Up said “The social media has been a great tool for us, with our Facebook page becoming a hub for farmers to get advice from either us or from other farmers on the group. We run regular competitions with our partners help, and also invite people to send in photos of their farm and get involved in discussions. In general, the Facebook page is farmer-focused.

In comparison, the Twitter page, which is much smaller, has more of a partner-focus. We interact with our partners and the information they have to offer much more on Twitter, with more of a complex nature (on the Facebook page, posts must not have words which are more than 7 letters long – keeping it easy to read for farmers who may be less educated).

Last month we held a Tweetchat on #TalkSoil, in the lead up to Global Soil Week, with the help of CIAT. It was successful in both discussing the issues surrounding soil health, and also to raise the profile of Shamba Shape Up in the agricultural community on Twitter. To increase the number of Twitter followers, we aim to tweet much more than we currently do, get involved with more discussions and tweet chats and engage more with #KOT (#KenyansOnTwitter – a huge hashtag in Kenya used by millions), and connect with more farmers here.”

The show is on TV in Kenya (4 million viewers), Uganda (2 million viewers) and Tanzania (4 million viewers). It was started in 2008, and became Kenya’s reality style TV show. It is the third “edu-tainment” production created by Mediae.

A different approach to fundraising videos by Oxfam

Oxfam have recently published two very different styles of video about life inside South Sudan camps. The first film tells a story of a mother in one of the camps by using a GoPro camera. It’s an interesting attempt at participatory video. On one hand it has produced some very realistic images literally from the refugee’s viewpoint. But I still wonder how much was directed and edited.

The other video concept I find more intriguing. It is the story of Elizabeth who again is based in one of the camps. Elizabeth is not on Facebook, but someone has posted the kind of things she might post if she was. It’s a nice idea but somehow it doesn’t work for me. What I do like though is that Oxfam are experimenting with different styles of storytelling. Neither of these videos will have cost much to produce and I hope they continue tell stories with innovative approaches.

Save the Children UK and Social Media

Last week I visited Save the Children UK headquarters in London’s Smithfields to find out more about their use of social media. I met with Rosie Childs, who is responsible for social media in the news and PR teams for a quick chat about some of the strategies they employ. Save the Children recently topped the 2013 Social Media Charity Index. We discussed a lot in an hour, but for this blog post I will focus on blogger outreach and abusive comments on Facebook.

Save the Children are very effective at blogger outreach. One of Rosie’s roles is to seek and nurture relationships with bloggers and vloggers due to their powerful voices and engaged audiences. Just yesterday she returned from a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq where she escorted @Lexcanroar, a young vlogger on a visit. The cost of organising a visit for a blogger is not very expensive but the potential social media reach and influence is massive.

In June this year two of YouTube’s biggest names Charlie McDonnell and his mum Lindsay traveled to Tanzania to see what can be done to end global hunger. Charlie and Lindsay have a combined following on Twitter of 645,000 and nearly 3 million YouTube subscribers. Vloggers have become the new celebrity ambassadors and they are very effective at reaching young audiences. They are possibly more influential than many celebrities as they are often deemed as more honest and reliable.

Before our meeting I looked at Save The Children’s latest Facebook posts. I was appalled to see racist comments on some of the their Typhoon Haiyan appeals. Here is an example


About two or three times a year my wife and I have mini debates about the prevalence of racism in Britain. We are both academics, so we live in an educated bubble for most of the time. I’m probably more aware of prejudice as I work closely with international students and get to hear their stories, but I was actually quite shocked at some of the comments above. I asked Rosie about the moderation of their social media channels. Like most large organisation they have policies that do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, disability or political beliefs. However, in my opinion a couple of the posts above do discriminate. I’ve managed large social media channels in the past and it is difficult to know when to intervene in the community. Rosie said that all the channels are carefully monitored by a number of staff. Most often abusive comments are dealt with by the other Facebook community members, but sometimes posts need to be factually corrected or removed. It’s such a shame there is still a high level of ignorance when it comes to aid and fundraising and indeed misguided narratives about the global south.

It reminded me of a campaign by Oxfam which I read about the other day in a book by Dogra (2012) Representations of Global Poverty. The campaign ran in July 2005 in an attempt to reduce generalised misconceptions. In each advert the space was divided vertically with the myth on the left and the counter-argument on the right e.g. Africa Myth #1 ‘I’m not giving my money to corrupt leaders is Africa’ – Neither are we.” and “Africa Myth #3 ‘African families have too many children’ – African families have to bury too many children.” Maybe other development organisations need to invest some high profile communications at busting myths?

Save The Children’s social media presence is impressive, hence the award. For example there were 15 tweets from their Twitter channel on Thursday 14th November. They ranged in type: fundraising, information, education and promotion as well as retweeting other content. I particularly like the tweet below which shows aid being delivered in the Philippines.


I’m often critical of organisations’ YouTube channels and Save the Children’s is no exception. They have some great videos, my particular favourite being the No Child Born to Die video from 2 years ago, but their channel seems to be a repository of videos with no structure or seeding strategy. Why oh why do organisations spend all this money on video production but fail to seed them properly? There is so much you can do with playlists and titles OR incorporate the use of Vimeo for certain videos.

A goal I’ve set myself for next year is to experience the filming of a celebrity advocacy video in the field. Maybe Save The Children will invite me to observe one and in return I’ll establish a seeding strategy for them.


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.


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


Image: Department for International Development / Russell Watkins


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.