Published: 19 April 2012

Creating messages to cut through the social media noise

I recently hosted a session at the CharityComms Social Media Conference on how to get your message to cut through the increasing noise of social media. But just how loud is it out there?

While I’m an advocate of people before platforms, it’s worth looking at the data the main sites publish as a snapshot:

  • 3.5 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each week
  • 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute
  • 500 years of YouTube video are watched every day on Facebook
  • Over 700 YouTube videos are shared on Twitter each minute
  • 100 million people take a social action on YouTube every week
  • 25% of search results for the world’s 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content
  • 34% of bloggers post opinions about products and brands
  • 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations, 70% from strangers, 14% trust advertisements

The comms landscape is evolving at an ever increasing pace. So how can you get heard in an ever noisier world?

Start by listening

Like all good conversations, start by listening. It gives you an opportunity to find out what people are saying, how they liked to be talked to and where to best engage. There is a range of tools available that help monitor online conversations, from the free (Trackur, Social Mention and Google Alerts) to paid for products (Radian6, Sysmos and MyBuzzmetrics). As with any tool, you usually get what you pay for, and they are only as good as the information put in them. To a greater or lesser extent they all collect, process and analyse relevant e-chatter on your topic of choice.

The more sophisticated tools offer an opportunity to drill down into conversations, to look at the sentiment of what’s being said, and to provide data around the volumes and locations of these conversations.

By actively monitoring online conversations, you can get a good sense of what stakeholders, clients and industry analysts are saying about products, issues, services and employees. Having a listening strategy in place, supported by a tool that will help turn conversations into data, and data into actionable insight, allows you to:

  • Monitor your share of voice amongst (potential) supporters and donors
  • Benchmark yourself against other organisations in your sector
  • Identify key sector trends
  • Identify key influencers in your sector and the most loyal supporters, with a view to harnessing them as advocates for the brand
  • Engage with (potential) supporters and donors where they are – picking up comments and questions across the web
  • Gather audience insight and understand your supporters

Learn from others

The most effective social communications have common threads of listening, engagement and measurement. Greenpeace, for example, created a shareable campaign to get Volkswagen to stop lobbying against CO2 emission legislation. As it took off it was adopted by supporters in some unexpected ways, including a grassroots response to Volkswagen’s simple Facebook question: “What would you like us to do more of this year?”

By listening and responding, Greenpeace showed how to engage supporters online, actively encouraging this chorus. By listening but not responding, Volkswagen showed how not to do social media.

Hugh’s Fish Fight is a great example of an integrated campaign, with a clear message, call to action and understanding of audiences. Individuals were asked to sign a petition, bloggers were given digital assets to help spread the message, retailers were given physical assets to show their support. Timing was also key: the digital campaign kicked off a couple of weeks before the Channel 4 documentary to build momentum.

It can be tempting, after an initial massive success, to shift focus and broaden the conversation. This might be appropriate if a campaign has been successful and you want to deepen engagement with your brand. But as Fish Fight shows, changing the call to action but not the core message is the best way to continue a yet-to-be concluded campaign.

Almost a year since the original Fish Fight, a message was sent to supporters to tweet EU fishing ministers with a mass response: a tweet was sent every 10 seconds for 48 hours.

Our work with Plan UK showed the benefits of listening. The initial audience focus of the campaign was women in their 20s and 30s. But it became apparent, initially from blogger outreach then from targeted Facebook activities, that parents, particularly mothers, were much more likely to get involved and sign the petition against early, enforced marriage.The great thing about digital is we can take insights and refocus in real time, so we can maximize reach and budgets.

Outside of the sector we can take inspiration from the Oscars. We no longer want to just view media, we want to participate, and the Oscars leveraged that behaviour. Online audiences could steer the red carpet interviews, access exclusive content and see their comments shared formally by organisers. The result was a 300% increase in social media interaction. While we may not have Oscar sized budgets, this is a great example of making an event out of your communications that could be transferred to campaign launches, restricted appeals, or fundraising events.

It’s all in the mix

The simplest way to look at this when planning your communications strategy is to put media into three categories: paid (eg print, outdoor media); owned (your own assets eg website); and earned (eg word of mouth, blogs). The balance of these will vary depending on what your key objectives are.

  • Paid-for media jumpstarts owned, by driving traffic to your website, social media accounts etc
  • Owned sustains earned by providing detailed information
  • Earned drives up effectiveness by leveraging the networks of others to increase reach

The conversations on the social web never stop. We can’t just buy ad space then call it quits. We have to continue the conversation, engage people and really earn that earned media. And that conversation should be cross platform. Our goal is to connect the dots and integrate all media for maximum results.

We need to remember that social media is not a vertical, like advertising or PR. It’s a horizontal layer that wants to touch every part of your organisation, from supporter acquisition to service delivery. When we start thinking in that way we start being, not just doing, social.

A longer version of this article can be found on The Good Agency's blog.


Charlotte Beckett, head of digital, The Good Agency

Charlotte oversees digital at The Good Agency and is solely responsible for digital planning and strategy for fundraising, campaigning and communications.