Published: 20 February 2012

Measurable inspiration: lessons from successful social media campaigns

The best campaigns don’t always use the most exciting tactics to get great results, argues Rob Blackie from Blue State Digital

The hard truth of many digital campaigns is that nobody knows if they work. Traditionally this has also been true of most non-digital campaigns. What’s different about digital is that, with some thought and effort, we can measure far more elements of success than previously thought.

At the same time, digital is also massively increasing the amount of information available to the public, so it’s hard to cut through. Most people don’t care about you or your campaign, and even your supporters are busy people with many demands on their time. So simply being there doesn’t have any impact.

Better measurement 

In this context digital often fails, and gets weak organisational buy-in. Yet this is surprising when digital is so easy to measure compared to the alternatives.

When digital fails it is usually because it is not led by objectives, the strategy is incoherent and the execution is poor. For instance there’s tweeting for no reason, no link back to campaigning success – and even when the rationale is good, the execution can be poor.

The answer to all of this isn’t just better measurement, it’s to start with objectives rather than tactics. That’s why the best campaigns don’t always use the most exciting tactics to get great results. What they have is a plan for how they gradually get supporters more engaged over time, from simple actions like signing up for an email list to more complex and committed actions, such as attending an event or donating money.

Royal College of Nursing 

A great example of this is the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) Frontline First campaign to protect nursing services in the NHS. The RCN wanted to ensure that, even though efficiency savings in the NHS would need to be made, they could be made in the best way possible for patient care. Over the last year the RCN have engaged their membership, with BSD’s help, so that members could participate in the campaign at a level they were comfortable with.

So if a member was previously passive, they were asked initially to take simple actions, such as signing up to the campaign petition, before being moved on to more complex asks. More engaged members were taken straight to more complex issues, such as how to save money in the NHS, or providing local examples of cuts to services.

The results have been impressive. Over 300 innovations have been identified by nurses, saving up to £100,000 each. And 27,000 people signed a letter to the chancellor ahead of the budget lobbying for better protection of NHS budgets. Across the country at local level the media and stakeholders have taken up local stories, resulting in tangible changes to policy by Trusts; for instance, Lancashire Care Trust reversed plans for 77 redundancies.

RCN’s success has been not just because of great digital tactics, but also because their campaign had realistic objectives, married to a plan for activating their members and supporters over time.


Rob Blackie, managing director, Blue State Digital

Rob is a strategic communicator focusing on digital communications strategies. His specialities are comms and digital strategy, media relations and the interface of policy and communications.