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Three simple changes that will refresh your charity’s Instagram channel

4 September 2020

It’s no secret that creating successful social media channels can be a minefield. Algorithm updates, sub-channels (hello Reels) and evolving design trends keep charity social media managers on their toes. Let’s not forget the need to engage with our audience, moderate incoming messages and jump on #trending content! Throw a global pandemic into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for one very adaptable social media team.

At the beginning of 2020, the Sightsavers team knew our Instagram channel was due a refresh. Instagram is first and foremost a platform for stunning photography, and our case study images were the highest performing posts. How could we make our feed image-led and people-first, yet maintain a strong brand theme throughout?

Here are three key changes we made, and that you could try too…

Let the photos do the talking

Instagram along with Facebook, has a strong focus on championing individual creators over businesses. To bring our channel into 2020, we knew we had to not only look at how other charities were using the platform, but also how individuals were making it work for them.

It’s no secret that strong, impactful photography is what makes an Instagram audience tick, so when we started to look at refreshing our channel strategy, our key objective was to make the feed all about the images of the people we work with and support. This is the content that cuts through the common branded aesthetic of business pages on Instagram. We had been using logos on photos and for a time that seemed to be working for us, but it was now looking tired and out of keeping with the rest of the platform’s aesthetic. Logos were removed from all imagery and we focused on using professional photography in the feed, whilst more ‘authentic’ vlog style videos were reserved for our Instagram Stories. By doing this our channel is more in keeping with other individual influencer accounts, which are Instagram’s bread and butter.

After running this for a few weeks, we could see from our analytics that using striking photos was drawing people in and inspiring engagement. This informed our promotion strategy. We selected some of the most attention-grabbing (and highest performing) images and boosted them. The post below received over 250 engagements – roughly five times what we would normally expect to receive on an organic post.

Introduce a design theme to catch the attention of your audience

Although it was important for us to focus on the photography of our work, we also wanted the page to have clear branding that was unmistakably ‘Sightsavers’.

Enter: in-house design team. Working together we decided upon a grid structure theme and a concept to make one column of our feed designed assets, with a branded thread running from top to bottom. The idea being that each post works independently and in the grid. The assets could be quotes, statements or statistics – I’m sure you’ve seen the ‘quote of the day’ or ‘motivational quotes’ that are virally shared on Instagram. We wanted our assets to be shareable and recognisable, without the need for our logo. The design team were also able to incorporate elements for us to be able to switch seamlessly from our different identities (Equal World and Inclusive Futures campaign) so that each asset neatly slotted together.

Our vision was for each row to tell a story of the people we work with. It might be someone with visual impairment, someone with a neglected tropical disease or a person with a disability; each row would shine the spotlight on them. When you looked at the images in the bigger feed, you would get an instant snapshot of Sightsavers, our story, vision and mission, through a combination of imagery and design.

With the new design came new challenges. A lot more time and thought goes into planning our grid in advance but here’s how we manage it:

At the beginning of the month, review the social calendar for the upcoming weeks and block out key dates we know we will want to post about on the grid.

  • Plan how many image posts could be made for each key moment.
  • Identify quotes / stats / statements for the text assets.
  • Once the assets are ready, use Planoly to mock up the grid and ensure everything slots together seamlessly.

This ensures we are planned ahead well in advance of when we need to post!

As a result of changing our grid layout, we saw a marked increase in direct messages from followers appreciating our work and wanting to get involved in our cause. One person said “I’ve been following you almost a year and I always thought of working with you. I know that during this period it’s impossible to do something together, but after the coronavirus is gone, I would really like to help and join you!”

By posting consistently, we have formed meaningful connections with our followers that can now develop into ongoing relationships and impact the work we do.

Channel creativity through Stories

With the newly designed aspects of the channel came a need to plan our grid in advance to ensure everything slotted into place. How could we allow for the constantly reactive nature of social media whilst posting our designed grid? Stories! Regularly using Stories to post reactively, or testing different types of content for our audience, gave us invaluable insight into how our audience thinks and allowed us to maintain our grid theme.

Before going ahead with our new plan, we had to ensure that internal communications leads were on board. We set up meetings, explaining our methodology and showing how our competitors used Instagram, as well as drawing from our own Instagram insights to support our recommendations.

During the first few months, we’ve connected with influencers through a variety of fun story challenges and experiences. This includes #EatWellSeeWell, where we asked people to share images of meals they had created using foods that are good for eye health. We also created posts for the travel-lovers in our virtual trips around the world and shared vlogs from our staff campaigning for disability rights. Stories brings life to our feed and enables a less ‘polished’ connection with our audience. On top of this, by reposting other people’s mentions of us in our own Stories, we’ve been able to not only highlight our supporters, but showcase proof-points for our feed posts. Of course, there will be days where reactive content is thin on the ground, and this is when we’ve found sharing our own grid post to Stories helps boost reach and engagement.

The impact? In Q2 2020, Story replies increased by 59% and impressions increased by 45%. On top of this, grid post average engagement rate increased 12%, supporting our theory that our audience would look to our Stories first for timely, reactive content before moving to the grid for more information.

Overall, we’ve seen a marked increase in total engagements (23%) on our posts since introducing the new grid. This equates to an 11% increase in our engagement rate. But despite us social media experts understanding these metrics, I know it can be tricky to get buy-in based on engagement alone. For us, the grid has worked from a fundraising perspective too. Our revenue from Instagram increased four-fold in Q2, and our website visitors increased by 18%. Win-win!

If there’s one thing I’m sure I don’t have to say when it comes to social media, it’s that it is ever-evolving! We’ll be continuing to look for ways to adapt our feed as analytics and new updates come in, but by utilising many different elements of the platform within our changes, we’ve aimed to make it as ‘future-proof’ as possible and so can you.

More like this: Telling a survivor’s story on IGTV

Image: Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

Joanna Storer

social media community manager, Sightsavers

Joanna is social media community manager at Sightsavers. She focuses on creating, delivering, analysing and moderating content across multiple social media channels, and manages ongoing projects with communications teams. Sightsavers vision is of a world where no one is blind from avoidable causes, and where people with disabilities participate equally in society.