Interview: Gemma Smith

The digital communications officer at the RSPCA says digital should be built in, not bolted on

Gemma Smith
Gemma Smith

- What is your role?

I run the charity's Facebook and Twitter profiles, oversee YouTube and Flickr and have started a 'forum outreach' where I engage with people online. In the past we have not addressed criticisms and complaints on external forums, so now I am the friendly face of the RSPCA: I offer responses and advice and feed back comments to the charity.

- How do you monitor your charity's social media?

I respond to criticism on Facebook and Twitter. I can suggest the best course of action, direct people to our information pages or write a press statement. I never edit people's online comments, but I will delete them if they go against our moderation policy.

- How have you built up such a large online following?

We have more than 375,000 Facebook likes and more than 45,000 Twitter followers: creating good, shareable content works best to get people to interact with you. I put out regular community-building posts to encourage interaction and try to balance the fluffy content with calls to action. But there can be too much emphasis on 'likes'. I'd prefer a thousand people to engage with us to a million who rarely post.

- What do you regard as the future for charity digital communications?

There is constant change, so it is hard to predict the future. Charities need to build digital into their communications plan, rather than regard it as a bolt-on to traditional methods.

- What charities do you admire for their digital communications?

Child's i Foundation has achieved impressive results from small-scale social interaction using free tools such as YouTube. Greenpeace's Save the Arctic campaign shows how powerful its social movement is. It combines real-life activity with online interaction and mobilising people to act on other sites - such as posting on Shell's website - and to take part by creating and sharing content and images. It's the essence of social media.

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