Case study: how social media helps to spread the word

Technology is playing an increasingly important role in campaigning. Patrick McCurry finds out how four not-for-profit groups are using it to reach out to supporters and bring about change

RNLI say YouTube is an important channel for developing their work
RNLI say YouTube is an important channel for developing their work

38 Degrees

38 Degrees, the campaigning group with more than a million members, is well known for the mass email blasts it uses to lobby decision-makers. It uses tools from the agency Blue State Digital to create email lists and to segment and target audiences that are particularly interested in certain issues. "It means we can tailor our email blasts," says digital director David Norton.

The organisation is also working with a newer tool, based on the ControlShift software, that enables people to put their own campaigns together. "We're paying a full-time developer's salary to move this campaigning platform software forward," says Norton, adding that the project is being handled on a non-profit basis.

In terms of social media, 38 Degrees makes heavy use of Facebook. If a member has a campaign idea, the organisation will often post it on its Facebook wall and invite comments. "Depending on the number of likes and shares, we can decide if it's an idea we want to take further," says Norton. The organisation also uses targeted Facebook adverts for its campaigns, such as the one against the government's NHS hospital closure clause.

"Facebook is good for reaching a large number of people in a targeted way," says Norton: "Twitter is better for reaching journalists and politicians."

Diabetes UK

Diabetes UK is a heavy user of Facebook and Twitter in its campaigns, and uses free software programs such as Tweetdeck and Facebook Insights to track its activity.

Twitter is helpful for sharing information quickly, says digital engagement executive Amy Burton, pointing to a recent consultation by the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency on licences for people with diabetes. "Our tweet on this was shared widely, but there was less viewing of the attached link," says Burton. She says that Facebook is more useful when details of a story need to be communicated.

Facebook is also a good channel for allowing campaign supporters to share their experiences. Burton points to the charity's 4 Ts campaign to raise awareness of type 1 diabetes symptoms. "We got lots of supporters giving their experiences and sharing links with friends and family," she says.

The Tweetdeck and Insights software enable the charity to manage its Twitter and Facebook activity. It is also testing a social media management tool, Sprout Social, for more in-depth statistics about Twitter activity.

The charity uses Instagram for sharing video. Burton says: "We use videos sometimes to thank supporters for their help on a campaign, and we use Instagram to share the videos. The supporter may then share the video with their contacts and, in some cases, that can raise additional money."

London Cycling Campaign

It was in the run-up to the 2012 London mayoral election that the cycling charity first started using campaign technology tools in earnest. It uses web tools from the specialist provider Engaging Networks to make supporters aware of its campaigns and put pressure on decision-makers.

The LCC uses database, data-capture, email targeting and broadcast tools from Engaging Networks. During the mayoral election, it used the tools to create a web portal through which people could sign its petition. It also used the tools to build supporter lists and, subsequently, to segment them. This enabled the LCC to track the kind of action different supporters had taken and to invite them to take further actions.

Before the forthcoming London council elections in May, the LCC is compiling a database of all the candidates and their email addresses. Supporters can put their postcodes into the LCC portal and immediately find out what the cycling issues are in their wards, who is standing and how to contact them.

Mike Cavenett, communications manager at the charity, says: "As far as we know, this is the first time ward-level campaigning that targets local candidates has been done. We've been working with a separate developer to put in place a mapping tool as part of this campaign."


Last year, the lifeboat charity RNLI developed a custom-built app called #SaveWave, which encouraged supporters to share RNLI rescue stories on Facebook and Twitter as part of an awareness-raising campaign. The software is similar to Thunderclap, a tool that blasts out a timed Facebook post or tweet from an individual's profile once they have signed up to the tool.

With #SaveWave, RNLI supporters registered at a microsite to join the scheme. Two specially selected rescue stories shared at #SaveWave were automatically shared each week through the Facebook and Twitter accounts of everyone who signed up to the campaign - and, importantly, with many more individuals who were followers or friends of the supporters. The initial aim was for these stories to reach a million people; the final figure exceeded expectations at 1.8 million.

Emily Pykett, social media manager at the charity, says that YouTube, the video-hosting website, is an important channel for raising awareness of its work. All RNLI rescue volunteers film incidents and, where appropriate, this footage is edited by volunteer press officers, who have received special training and put online. By posting the results on YouTube, the charity can quickly share footage of dramatic events with TV stations and print media in different parts of the UK.

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