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Five things we learned at the Digital Communications on a Shoestring Conference

21 October 2010

How do you get an online audience to support your campaign, give you money or volunteer when you have a limited comms budget?

At the sold out CharityComms Digital Communications on a Shoestring Conference, delegates were looking for answers to these questions and more. Trina Wallace shares five things she learned from the day.

1. “Loose Tweets sink fleets.”

Twitter isn’t for everyone, just like other social media, advised Matthew McGregor, Director at digital agency Blue State Digital London. He argued that online audiences can spot impersonal and feed-fed Twitter posts a mile off and that this could have a negative effect on your charity. Authenticity is key to getting it right, as is asking what your aims are in being on there. “Just because you can do something online doesn’t mean that you should,” said Matthew, who gave the example of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s “awkward” YouTube video following the expenses scandal.

2. Give your audience something to do.

Facebook users especially are notorious for using charity groups as nothing but badges of honour. Richard Piggin, deputy chief executive at Beatbullying, managed to turn social networking “slactivists” to “activists” by asking his audience, across social media platforms, to do one thing. Beatbullying Facebook groups, YouTube, Twitter and other social media all drove users to the charity’s CyberMentoring site, asking them to become a CyberMentor, advising young people who are being bullied online, themselves. There’s now a waiting list of 4,000 to become a CyberMentor.

3. “We should be on Facebook” is not a social media strategy.

Matt Rhodes, client services director at social media agency FreshNetworks, thinks people get carried away by online tools rather than planning a proper strategy. Before launching a digital campaign, Matt said the first thing to do is to ask what you want to achieve. It might be to increase debate, get people’s email addresses or for them to visit your website. “Measuring how well you are doing isn’t about how many people are following you on Twitter,” said Matt. Rather, it’s about how you are doing against what you want to achieve. That’s how you justify digital communications to senior management.

4. Don’t forget to tell people’s stories.

Digital communications require the same skills and content as offline communications. The success of both for charities relies on how well you tell people’s stories. Jude Habib, founder and creative director at digital training company Sound Delivery, reminded delegates that audio is a great way to tell the stories of the people they support. “Audio – podcasts, audio press releases – is a great way to tell the stories of people who don’t want to be seen,” said Jude. “There is a demand for audio. The media need audio and web users want it.”

5. Email is one of the most powerful digital communications tools.

Don’t be put off by the term “e-campaigning”, said Duane Raymond, managing director at campaigning consultancy Fairsay. Just read “campaigning” instead and remember that email is a fantastic way of getting your target audience to take action. Duane advised delegates to avoid overly designed emails and focus on one ask at a time, referring readers to a website for more information if necessary. “People want to be communicated with, not marketed at,” said Duane.

Trina Wallace

copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.