Chris Harris: Charities should be leaders, not followers on social media

Instead of latching on to the latest Twitter trend charities should come up with fresh campaigns that their audience can relate to, writes the founder of the social media agency Harkable

Chris Harris
Chris Harris

Newsjacking: we’re all guilty of it – composing a tweet to share or devising a little witticism (#ReplaceFilmTitleWithBacon anyone?) in an attempt to stay on top of the hot topic of conversation. All harmless fun.

This behaviour extends to brands and of course charities, with a few recent cultural memes including #IceBucketChallenge, #WakeUpCall and #NoMakeUpSelfie. But in the midst of all this viral media fervour, are we losing sight of what really matters when it comes to campaigning and fundraising on social media?

With these memes recently hitting the public consciousness, the prevailing attitude is increasingly that charities should go with the flow and let their social activities play out organically, rather than try to lead the agenda.

Yes, all marketing departments need to be set up in such a way that they can react quickly to developments on social media. But the fickle nature of viral campaigning and the multiplicity of factors involved mean they are incredibly difficult to predict and marketers can be left chasing their own tails.

Instead, charities should start to look at newsjacking as a means to an end and a strategy for maintaining relevance in their conversations with their audience, rather than the most important element underpinning their social media marketing activities.

Charities also need to remember that not every social craze or topical issue is worth hijacking. It would just feel wrong if Save The Children got behind #NoMakeUpSelfie or Age UK behind #IceBucketChallenge. Even the various charities that newsjacked the recent #tubestrike seemed out of place and didn’t compel me to put my hand in my pocket.

I understand that it’s more challenging than ever for charities to raise awareness, particularly in the context of heavily scrutinised marketing budgets. But a charity can take marketing risks and innovate in a way that’s not jarring to its audience and which can really enforce its message.

To do this, we need to get back to focusing on core values. Instead of allowing themselves to be led by what people are already doing on social media, charities should be more confident about creating their own ideas and campaigns and come up with traditional social strategies to deliver them. Similarly, charities need to leverage the adoption of user behaviours and technologies: would the #IceBucketChallenge have been such a success in a pre-smartphone age?

Movember and Samaritans Radar are perfect examples of how organisations should be using social media to come up with fresh campaigns that resonate with audiences. Newsjacking can be a powerful tool for boosting donations, as proven by the recent success of #IceBucketChallenge – but charities must be careful not to get bogged down in trying to identify the next viral craze.

They need to be leading the discussion, not being led by it. Taking a more strategic approach to their social media marketing remains vital to achieving this.

Chris Harris is the founder of the social media agency Harkable

This article was originally published on the Third Sector blog

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