Africa for Norway – a social media viral success story

If you are interested in social media for international development many of you will have already seen the fantastic Africa for Norway video which I mentioned in a previous blog. I was interested in how this video reached 2 million views so quickly, was it traditional or social media that contributed to such a swift success? I contacted Sindre Olav Edland – Gryt, Africa for Norway’s Communication Director to try and find out and he kindly agreed to a Skype interview.

Firstly I was intrigued to know how many people were involved in the process of producing this video and was surprised to find out that over 70 people were involved including music, video production, lyrics, planning and marketing. When you consider the number of people singing in the video I suppose it’s not as surprising as I thought. But on a meagre budget of 20,000 Euros the success of this video is incredible.

Sindre explained the main goal of the creative team “We felt the need to do something different. There are so many NGOs producing video with predictable content and narratives. So many channels are providing information about Africa and other developing countries. People are getting fed up with negative stereotypes and we wanted to make something new that would grab peoples attention.”

The marketing campaign to launch the video was carefully planned. 10,000 stickers were produced and distributed through a range of ‘gatekeepers’ such as activists in a range of cities across Norway. I have an exchange student from Norway in one of the modules I teach on who said that there were stickers everywhere within the University – in corridors / noticeboards / backpacks etc – you couldn’t miss them. The team also contacted online activists via social media, specifically Facebook. A key to their success was a post on the popular Africa is a Country blog which was achieved through a tweet to their account. Little did they know that they had mutual contacts at the blog – it’s a small world! Via this contact the media storm snowballed and within a couple of days an article on the Guardian and a tweet from BBC Have Your Say twitter account. Since then Africa For Norway has received global media coverage and last week presented at TEDx Barcelona.

With my keen interest in social media and ‘celebrity advocacy’ I asked Sindre whether celebrity outreach was considered in their strategy – a bit ironic I know considering the narrative of the video. It wasn’t, but it hasn’t stopped support from a range of celebrities and politicians tweeting about the campaign and aiding it’s success.

Africa for Norway’s Youtube stats suggest that their video is most popular with 35-54 year olds. Their Facebook insights reveal that their largest group of followers are 25-34 year old females (17%), followed by 25-34 year old males (14.4%). Could it be that the video speaks loudest to the “Band Aid Generation”.

So why was it a success? Well, firstly it’s different, creative and funny. All three of these factors are key ingredients for ‘shareability’ – as I like to call it. What has it achieved? Hopefully it has opened the eyes of some NGOs to the power of producing something different. The power of creativity. Sindre commented “There are a few small NGOs making different and exciting types of development videos. We hope we can help shift the communications of larger humanitarian organisations such as UNICEF.”

I asked what’s next for Africa for Norway. There’s been a lot of creative brainstorming going on and a lot of networking with similar minded organisations. They definitely don’t want to be a one hit wonder but recognise the age old problem of the 2nd album syndrome.  I have no doubt that their 2nd album will be as successful. It is obvious from speaking to Sindre that they have learned a great deal from their experience and have carefully taken note on how to improve next time.

Thanks for Sindre for answering my questions so thoroughly and honestly. It was a pleasure talking with you!


Live Below the Line and Social Media

Yesterday I met with Stephen Brown from the Global Poverty Project who manages the Live Below the Line Challenge in the UK. Last month I wrote another blog post about the campaign as I was undertaking a trial 5 day challenge.

Live Below the Line has been running in the UK now for 4 years. Last year they raised £500,000 for several charities, the year before it was £188,000. I’ve been fascinated with this campaign ever since I first heard about it a few months ago as I think it’s an excellent way to combine fundraising with awareness raising. I asked if I could meet up with Stephen to discuss two areas that interest me the most: social media and celebrity advocacy.

Below the Line have two main aims for this years campaign: participation in the challenge and raising brand awareness. For deepening engagement and brand awareness they target the national media, and to encourage participation they target the local/regional media. Nationally they are very interested in publications such as Heat Magazine and the Daily Mail as they hope to change mainstream perceptions on aid. I asked Stephen if he feels that celebrities are important for non-profit organisations to deliver their message. He believes that in order to get coverage from the mainstream media it is essential to have celebrity support otherwise they simply aren’t interested. For example, they managed to get coverage by the Daily Star this year as they had a small quote from Gordon Ramsey who had made a recipe for their website. They also had potential coverage by Channel 5, Sky TV and Sky News – that was until they realised that they had no ‘A’ list celebs taking the challenge. I’ve worked with, and in, the media for a long time, but I didn’t quite realise how shallow they can be. Below the Line have tried to get celebrity supporters but they insist that they must take the challenge. It is important to them that the celebrity has integrity and cares deeply about the cause. This makes their agents/publicists nervous who are often risk adverse when it comes to their clients ‘public brand’. Securing a top celebrity is a key milestone for next year.

So what about social media. Last year 11% of their participants signed up for the campaign via social media. A lot lower than I thought. However this year that number is already up to 18% and they have employed a paid intern specifically to manage their Facebook and Twitter channels. On Twitter they engage with their audience, retweet stories, hold competitions etc. They also actively contact celebrities and politicians on Twitter to see if they can raise awareness. Melanie C tweeted about the campaign on their launch date and she has 373,392 followers.


This year they’ve produced a Facebook App which has recipes from celebrity chefs and also allows you to upload and share your own recipes. Participation is not great at the moment but there’s still time. They also have a video due for release the week in April from the makers of the #danceponydance viral.

I’m surprised that the Below the Line campaign hasn’t spread more on social networks. It’s a quirky challenge and I thought it would attract a young demographic who would then share the challenge with their friends.


How Charity:Water use Social Media

I was perusing Twitter the other day and came across a presentation by Paull Young (@paullyoung) who is Director of Digital Engagement at Charity:Water and was inspired by his talk.

Charity:Water are a relatively new charity which started in 2006. I’ve seen a couple of their videos before but not really heard much more about them. Within the presentation Paull explains about their marketing strategy and how they raise 75% through their digital channels and social media. They were the first charity to have 1 million followers on Twitter and now have nearly 1.4 million followers. They have 248,000 likes on their Facebook page. Compare this to WaterAid in the US which has 28,000 likes. Charity:Water were also one of the first three brands on Instgram and have over 80,000 followers. They attribute their success on Instagram to the quality of their photography. Smiling faces and clean water images share! In fact through their marketing communications their emphasis on strong design and image is evident – their annual report is stunning. The only other charity annual report I have seen that is so design-led is by Invisible Children. Is it a coincidence that two charities who are incredibly successful at social media marketing apprecaite and understand the value of good design? Charity:Water also have a very clean website with simple and effective information architecture. The photography is beautiful and portrays a powerful message.

An innovative addition to their digital comms is a microsite ‘My Charity Water’. Every single dollar that is donated by the general public goes to providing clean water for those in need and every dollar is tracked via GPS and photos so that individual donors can track the impact that they have made. One of the ways people can fundraise is to give up their birthdays and ask their friends and family to donate to Charity:Water instead. They have had over 15,000 people give up their birthdays including several celebrities such as Justin Beiber and Will and Jada Smith.

As a parent of two young girls it is the emotional story of a nine year old from Washington State called Rachel Beckwith that moved me. Rachel gave up her birthday as a nine year old so that she could help provide clean water for people in Africa. She raised $220 and vowed to raise more on her 10th birthday. Rachel was tragically killed in a car accident before her 10th birthday. As a memorial her parents asked people to donate to her campaign and literally thousands did, raising $1.2 million.

Charity:Water truly understand the power of digital and social media. I look forward to seeing future innovations.

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What makes a video go viral? – The success of Mama Hope

Ten months ago Mama Hope, a charity based in San Francisco, released a video African Men: Hollywood Stereotypes. The film was produced a couple of months after the Kony 2012 video and was designed to challenge the stereotypes of African men portrayed by Hollywood. It has been a huge success, and at the time of writing has 1,048,931 views. It has 16,235 likes and only 315 dislikes with 2,909 comments mostly positive. OK, nothing by Kony standards but for a small NGO these statistics are impressive.

Not all the reviews were positive though. In a critique by Elliot Ross on Africa is a Country, he says “People might want to see this video as a counterpoint to Kony2012, and it’s of course nothing like as egregious, but I’m not sure exactly how far we can move away from the Invisible Children with a video by Joe Sabia (who directs the Mama Hope stuff). Sabia is another Silicone Valley, TED-talking master of viral narrative, which seems to boil down to not much more than a heavily concentrated dose of American sentimentality, however that sentiment is directed. Mama Hope is another white-staffed NGO run out of California. They are doing something very different by attempting to engage very broad cultural currents (as opposed to, say, organising the world’s most self-congratulatory wild-goose chase in Central African Republic), but that’s not without its problems.”

I agree. It is quite cheesy. But does cheese sell so to speak? Did the video change perceptions? Will it change behaviours? This is one of the downsides of social media for international development – it’s very hard to measure. It is near impossible to segment on social media, therefore do NGOs have to cater for the masses? One recent comment on Mama Hope’s YouTube channel states:

“I would like to see also the African Women in the video, make it douple [sic] that long and show the Women from the movies that are not shooting but only have the role to show how bad the bad guys are and than show these who are Doctors, Engineers, Scientist….”

Well yesterday, Mama Hope released a new film The Women of Nyamonge Present: Netball to coincide with International Women’s Day.

The video has been live for 13 hours and so far has only 262 views. I’m interested in whether this video will go viral as well. I wonder what Mama Hope’s seeding strategy is. Was the last video considered an antidote to the Kony video(s)? Did it effectively piggyback on their virality? It is hard to analyse as the YouTube public statistics have been disabled, but a million views is incredibly successful for a small NGO.

Mama Hope only have a small fan base on social media, Twitter (1,556 followers) and Facebook (3,969 likes). It will be hard to seed this film via their social media channels alone. So what made the last video so successful? What is through mainstream media? Was it through various blogs that commented on the video?

On a recent blogpost by Hubspot they claim “Most videos we track see about 75% or 80% of views in the first 3 to 5 days.” I’m pleased to see an NGO experimenting with a new style of video and I sincerely hope that this second video also has an impact in the next couple of days.

Welcome to Social Media for Development

I set up this blog in Novemeber 2012. I have worked in marketing and communications in the public and non-profit sector for around 20 years. Recently, I have gained a lot of experience in digital and social media marketing with several successful campaigns under my belt. I love the immediacy of social media and I love how creatively people use it.

I’m relatively new to the world of international development and am collating articles, case studies, musings, blogs, etc about the role of social media in the global south. I have been fascinated, moved, and amazed at how people have utilized social media tools for harmful comments and also to affect change in their communities. This is happening all over the world. With 6 billion mobile accounts, many of them with internet access, the world will witness more change in the future.

I am also intrigued by NGOs who use social media creatively. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Save the Children’s First Ever Non-Stop Global Tweet Chat and I followed the Kony 2012 campaign with great interest

So in a way this blog will be used as my research tool in a way. I will share stories about how social media is being used in developing countries and hope that people send me more examples. I also hope that my next post will be more thought out haha. Like I said I love the immediacy of social media and needed to post something in a short amount of time.