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Social media trends for charities: What’s big in 2021?

16 July 2021

With new and emerging channels, constant updates to platforms, and changing audience behaviours and expectations, it can be tricky for charity social media managers to keep up.  

In our most recent conference – Beyond the algorithm: social media for charities, we brought together some of the best charity brains to explore the latest trends, case studies and innovations in social media. Here are some of our top takeaways from the day:

  1. The social audio market is here to stay!

    With the rise of Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, Facebook’s live audio rooms and Spotify’s Greenroom (to mention a few), social audio is one of the biggest trends right now, according to Melis Figanmese, a senior campaigns officer from the International Federation of Redcross and Red Crescent Societies.

    But is it a passing fad? According to Melis: “Social audio is here to stay. Audio is to Clubhouse what Stories are to Snapchat. This was the idea behind Stories – now every single app has a Stories function. In my opinion, Clubhouse is going to do the same thing for social audio”.

    Quoting Jeremiah Owyang Melis said: “Text is not enough, and video is too much; social audio is just right. It represents the opportunity for social connection and empathy without the downsides of video.”

    Melis had a few words of caution for anyone considering Clubhouse. Clubhouse is invite-only with a limit of 500 guests, which doesn’t feel inclusive. You’ll also need to build your audience from scratch on this platform, compared to Twitter Spaces, where you can engage with existing followers, create your own room and have unlimited listeners (it’s public).
  2. Let your followers lead

    Corinne Clark, social media manager for Sightsavers, recommended letting followers lead your social content, this helped her team double their engagement and prioritise competing internal asks.

    Alongside using Sprout Social, Corinne recommended blocking out an hour every day for social listening on platforms to build a picture of what is working. They also experimented with leaving 30% of their social calendar empty – allowing them to create reactive content during campaigns.

    Eleanor Sutherland, communications officer at Citizens Advice, advised charities ask the people who know best. At Citizen’s Advice, they wanted to engage young people through TikTok, so they looked to younger team members using the platform already: “They helped us keep up with trends and understand if our content was relevant to our audience”.
  3. Story-first: be flexible when applying your brand

    Eleanor recommended charities be flexible when applying brand on social. For example, content on TikTok is unpolished, personal and authentic, so sticking to their style guide wouldn’t have worked. Eleanor suggested seeing each TikTok post as a standalone content piece and to ask: “would this be interesting to people who don’t know who we are?”

    In a similar vein, Courtney Zitola, senior digital marketing officer at NSPCC had tips for developing social-first authentic stories. She said: “Let your story or storyteller showcase your brand rather than selling it.”

    When it comes to video content, Courtney said that charities should focus on the story and not the film quality, since people have come to expect UGC and low-fi filming. She also recommended charities choose everyday people over the verified: “We’re now engaging with people who look, feel and sound feel familiar to us. Your audience will see themselves in the content.”   
  4. Meet your audiences where they’re at

    Francis Breeveld, communications and policy officer at StreetDoctors, said charities should meet audiences on the platforms they are already on. In her talk about the power of social media co-creation, Francis said: “One of our young volunteers recently told us that no one born after the year 2000 uses Facebook anymore, so we’re moving away from that as an engagement strategy. Now we’re using TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram”.

    Francis advised delegates to look for outside channels and partners that could help connect them with new (larger) audiences. StreetDoctors worked with LadBible and Liberty – she said: “as a small charity I couldn’t have run these campaigns on my own – collaboration was key.” You can watch StreetDoctors’ videos here: #ApplyPressure, 8 Minutes to save a life, LADbible.

    In their talk about fundraising on social, Charlotte Harris, marketing director, and Amber Parsons creative director from Raw London, recommended that charities start prospecting months before a campaign, so it lands with a warm audience. Charlotte said: “Prospecting for us (in this campaign) was about generating engagement across channels before making any specific asks…we weren’t asking for anything from them except maybe to like our page or view the video, so that we could re-engage with them later on the donation routes.”
  5. Audit your social media to measure success and set realistic KPIs

    All social media channels can give us a wealth of data, which we can use to assess performance and plan future activity.

    StrawberrySocial’s social strategist and analyst, Dan Spicer, believes the trap that marketers and social media managers often fall into is deciding on metrics and KPIs without a fundamental understanding of how platforms operate in terms of the way they distribute content. He said: “There is no true understanding of how each platform works algorithmically in terms of distributing content and messages”. Dan urged social media managers to “really do the research” to understand how the platforms and algorithms operate.”

    Abbie Hettle, digital content manager at the British Veterinary Association, advocates for charities to take a deep dive into the bigger picture metrics using a social media audit. Her suggested six areas to focus on included: followers, audience insights, engagement, top performing posts, campaigns and competitors. This should help us to plan future activity. develop campaign plans, day-to-day activity, and so much more.

As well as all these great tips there was also a panel discussion about managing the dark side of social media. Acknowledging that social media managers face many challenges, from dealing with trolls and abuse to handling PR crisis situations and that this affects mental health we took the opportunity to talk to those who have had to navigate this tricky area themselves. Do make sure to check out this panel, and all the talks from the day, through our On Demand service. This event was packed with inspiring talks bursting with practical information. If you missed it, we’ve got you covered!

Further reading

Image: Oliver Dumoulin on Unsplash

Emma Wickenden

senior events producer, CharityComms

Emma joined CharityComms in 2008 to help develop and grow the organisation. She has done everything from managing the website to running CharityComms' events portfolio. Today Emma is the senior events producer, developing concepts, formats and content for our flagship conferences and seminars.