It emerges when the resources available to a group are insufficient compared to the challenges they face. As such, it has many faces – spanning refugees, single-parent households, those experiencing homelessness, those living with chronic illnesses or learning disabilities, and beyond.
That’s where charities come in, working to help the more vulnerable in society.
But how can charities do this vital work more effectively? How can they get closer to their audiences, speak their language and understand unmet needs?
Simple: social media insight.
Harnessing the power of social media data allows charities to better support vulnerable groups both directly and indirectly. By listening directly to the voices of those they exist to support, charities can help create better products and services that support them. They can also help indirectly by exploring broader public attitudes, thereby changing the narrative and lobbying changemakers more effectively.
So, what does this look like in practice?
Knowledge is power
Social media data presents a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with your audience. Conversations aren’t framed, distorted or managed by researchers. Instead, it’s raw, unfiltered – it’s what people say to each other when researchers aren’t in the room.
Listening to vulnerable groups directly, on their own terms, gives charities a deeper understanding of how people feel, think and act about topics that matter, in a way that survey data just doesn’t permit.
Exploring what groups are saying online can inform campaign areas as diverse as:
- Campaign innovation. Gaining deeper insights into our audiences allows charities to design more effective programs and campaigns that can aid them.
- Communication and content optimisation. By listening directly to people online, charities will understand what resonates with them and improve their communication strategies to better connect with their audience.
- Identifying issues and trends. Social insight can help charities stay up-to-date. If a new social issue related to their cause arises, or if the behaviours of vulnerable groups online change, they can quickly respond and understand the causes and adapt their strategies.
This is powerful stuff and can be applied widely across many charitable causes.
Take loneliness for example. The British Red Cross “knew” a lot of superficial information about attitudes to loneliness and which groups people think are lonely.
But to raise awareness and support – and prevent more chronic loneliness – they needed to challenge accepted stereotypes, shine a light on the journey into loneliness, and equip people to recognise and talk about it. So, they set out to research how people experience loneliness and what causes it.
Traditional research methods struggle to engage these audiences, the experience of loneliness is too sensitive and isolating. However, social media’s veil of anonymity helps people share stories, in their own words.
Using social media data, therefore, the team at Listen + Learn Research immersed ourselves in thousands of different loneliness stories, reading them and unpacking the meaning behind each. As a result, we identified five loneliness ‘personas’, each with different manifestations of loneliness and demographic profile. This provided the British Red Cross with a storyboard from which to develop a creative which captured the essence of each persona in a relatable way. Raising awareness of the issue and making the message land with the watcher.
So, by tuning in directly to vulnerable groups, charities can more fully understand who they are, where they are and what they need – creating better services, comms and campaigns in the process.
“Public sentiment is everything”
“With public sentiment”, US President Abraham Lincoln once said, “nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed”. Public sentiment was, he concluded, “everything”.
So too with social media insight.
Exploring and understanding broader public opinion can help you indirectly understand and help, niche groups. And exploring wider social attitudes towards vulnerable groups can improve the work of charities across a range of areas:
- Helping to change the narrative. Exploring broader opinions online helps charities understand public prejudices, awareness and level of engagement towards vulnerable groups, allowing them to recentre the narrative and educate prospective supporters.
- Measuring impact. Exploring public opinion towards vulnerable groups can help charities measure the impact of their programs and campaigns by tracking changes in attitudes and behaviours related to their cause. This information can be used to improve future initiatives and demonstrate the value of their work to supporters.
- Optimising fundraising. Social insight can also help indirectly by identifying new fundraising opportunities. Studying conversations online allows charities to understand the giving behaviours and preferences of their supporters, allowing them to tailor their fundraising efforts accordingly.
We applied many of these when we helped a global humanitarian charity. To help them steer their comms towards conflict and crisis, they were keen to get a better understanding of what the general public thinks and feels about the conflict in Ukraine.
So, we used social media to understand the frames and narratives that people use to make sense of and discuss the Ukraine crisis – and how this connects and compares to other crises.
We found, for instance, that most social media comments fell into one of eight identified themes: such as a focus on the military, references to God, TikTok being a place for unity and Russia being an evil regime.
The charity incorporated these eight themes into its fundraising campaign to reach, engage and broaden its donor community more effectively.
Ethics above all
It’s crucial to remember and adhere to ethical guidelines when using social insight to directly or indirectly reach vulnerable people.
What people share on social media can be pretty revealing, personal, and intimate. That trust should never be abused.
While there aren’t any standardised or binding ethical guidelines for the social intelligence industry, there are best-practice principles charities can use to collect and use social media data in a way that respects people’s safety, integrity and privacy. We’ve compiled a checklist, based on Listen + Learn Research’s own data collection practices, developed and fine-tuned over many years of social media research.
Be careful to:
- Only collect data that has been shared in a public social space. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not to gain access to a closed community. If you want access to their data, ask – and then respect their decision.
- Check that your social listening platform has agreements in place with social media platforms to access their data.
- Remember that access to social media sites can and does change (remember Facebook and Instagram), don’t assume what’s ok today will still be ok six months down the line.
- Remove identifiable information about individuals (e.g. post URLs, Usernames) to make sure they cannot be found.
- Keep only what you need, ditch the rest.
- Set a time to delete your social media data after use. It’s good practice, saves on storage and prevents ‘forgotten data’ from being used beyond its original purpose.
- Analyse groups of people and report back in aggregate so that you’re commenting on the lives of groups rather than an individual (who might then be identifiable).
- Protect people’s anonymity by obscuring any quotes you use (e.g. change a few words without altering the overall meaning) to make sure data can’t be traced back using Google.
- Train your team and make sure they understand their roles as guardians of other people’s privacy (a good thought experiment here is to workshop what to do if they read something from someone they know…)
We hope charities will find this useful and that it makes it easier to be a positive force for change on social media.
If you found this useful you may also want to read: Turning TikToks into insights: how can charities harness the power of TikTok?
Banner Image: Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash