Michi MacLennan: Content marketing for charities - adopting Red Bull's approach

After moving from Red Bull to the Air Ambulance Service with no previous sector experience, our guest columnist doubled digital donations within six months. How did he do it?

Michi MacLennan
Michi MacLennan

Content marketing is a fine concept when you’re at an organisation with resources to spare. But what if you’re at a charity where every penny counts and your team is a fraction the size of what you’d like it to be?

The good news is that the same lessons can be applied whether you have dozens of people working within your digital team or you’re a fearsome one-person potential content-publishing machine.

Going from Red Bull, where we had more than 50 country sites and hundreds of dedicated digital staff, and arriving with no previous charity experience at the Air Ambulance Service, which had a digital team of precisely one, was a highly rewarding challenge. Within six months I had written a new strategy, hired a tiny but perfectly formed team, increased website traffic by double digits, quadrupled reach and impressions through Facebook and, most importantly, more than doubled digital donations.

Here are some tips as to how you can do the same.

Start and maintain a live and updated content strategy

There’s no point spending months on a content strategy. The world of digital moves so quickly it would already be out of date by the time you finished. Jot down initial thoughts about each subject here under sections in an updateable Google Doc/Shee, and look to regularly optimise and refine as you learn along the way.

Publish content straight away

OK, not within the first 30 minutes. But don’t take more than a week or two before you’re regularly publishing content straight away. It’s by far the quickest and most effective means of learning what works.

Identify the right content mix – it’s all about the stories

What does a content mix look like? Find an example below for inspiration – yours might look drastically different. Apportion percentages to each main vertical – you don’t need to stay strictly to this; it’s just good for guidance. Your charity will have amazing stories to tell and your audience (both current and potential) wants to hear them to know that you’re providing value. With these real-life stories you help to build trust, which is increasingly vital given recent scandals.

Determine the correct content types

As with most of these tips, these will be charity-specific. For content publishing you’re generally speaking about video, images and text, though not necessarily in that order. Video is in vogue but takes the most time and resources, so it will be the least regular type. Audiences also love strong images, so think how you can get those – do they already exist and are there sources (such as colleagues) who can take images that might be non-professional but are more authentic?

THE AUDIENCE

In caps because it’s the most important, even if for flow reasons I’ve lumped it in here. From the get-go you need a rough idea of who these people are, and as you refine you can get more detail. Have a session with colleagues to discuss the demographics and, as you go along, zero in on who you want to be reaching. This is vital for using targeting on social media.

Establish an optimal multichannel approach

At the Air Ambulance Service there were no newsletters. It wasn’t too hard to determine that a loyal audience would want a regular source in their inbox showing the value of their continued support. With each channel create a one or two-page plan. Start simply and, if it works, build from there. Regarding social media, determine which platform is best for you – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, Bebo and so on. Be selective and hit those main platforms where your audience lives. There’s no shame in sticking to one or two.

Be mindful of budget

You don’t have money for sheeny video content? Who cares? If you’re a smaller charity your audience is already aware of that and won’t mind a rough-and-ready approach. Paid social media is key for reaching audiences, but this is a tricky balance for a charity. Ensure this is weighed up against overall budget and utilised effectively.

Maintain an up-to-date content calendar

There are some great cheapish options such as DivvyHQ and CoSchedule, and free options include Trello and Google Calendar. I loathe spreadsheets for a content calendar, but it’s still better than nothing. Schedule content types for regular publishing intervals and ensure the content mix is applied across those channels so you avoid gaps. It won’t be perfect at first, but again it’s a start to build from.

Strong use of analytics

Get cosy with Google Analytics, Facebook and Twitter Insights, or whichever other tools can tell you what’s performing, what isn’t and whether or not you’re growing in those areas you need to. Use growth from the year before to track how you’re doing, and to establish key performance indicators. If you can afford access, weigh up the stats of competitors to see where you might be missing a trick. Don’t just rely on numbers, though: look at the wider landscape, listen to your own gut feeling, and of course…

…talk to your audience – and your colleagues

funnel

Community engagement on social channels helps you determine what’s working with your audience. Your colleagues will know those little nuggets of gold – in terms of news and unique details – that will provide a richer content-publishing calendar and avoid things feeling too broad. Make them your experts – it also means they feel valued and aids internal buy-in.

Always have an onward journey

Some get sniffy about producing too many "asks", but think of it instead with reference to audience need: if they really like a piece of content, they want the logical next step. You should think where your piece of content is on the donation funnel (see above right) and offer an onward journey that logically leads them down it, whether that is towards liking the page, signing up to a newsletter, exploring opportunities to volunteer, making a single donation or becoming a regular giver. If you offer valuable content then their offering something in return makes sense rather than feeling like a step too far.

Michi MacLennan (@MichiMaclennan) is a digital transformation consultant. You can find out more about him here

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