The growing influence of social media on Charities and Social Enterprises (1 of 5)

With the expansion of social media, communicating has never been easier but it has also never been as perilous. With social networks such as twitter and Facebook used worldwide by billions of people and organisations, it is very easy for a message to reach a large number of people.  The benefits of these channels are numerous and include the amount of people reached but also timing, reduced costs and the variety of channels available. One of the important issues is the choice of the channel according to the targeted population.  It has become an increasingly strategic problem at the heart of all communication strategies and can be fatal if poorly chosen. Once the right channels are selected, the problem becomes getting the message right. People are becoming more and more visual because social media facilitates the spread of images and videos, so the shape/nature of the messages can be very different and attractive. With increasing pressure to show originality and creativity in communication, blunders are easy to commit without proper communication and marketing policies. The fact that they are instantly visible worldwide only adds to the pressure. How these changes affect charities and social enterprises? Communication is a key activity in any Sector and particularly in the charitable one. This is due to the fact that organisations rely heavily on donations and grants to function. Also there is an increasing demand for transparency. When it comes to the new communication opportunities social media provides, most charities have understood the potential and are now present on various platforms. Several charities have grown because they appealed to the public in acreative and attractive way, like using celebrities and their image to promote a cause. A great example of a successful campaign that went viral is the Ice Bucket Challenge. It started out with celebrities and then involved people from all over the world.

This also means that if you manage to create momentum (like the Ice Bucket Challenge), not only do more people get involved and a lot more money gets donated, but also more people become aware of the world’s problems. This helps raise awareness for many different issues and create a sense of community. Reaching and uniting people from every nationality, ethnicity and at any time, has never been easier. Charities that still rely only on traditional marketing and word of mouth rarely gain benefit. Most people have changed the way they perceive and address issues: social media networks are easily accessible and give the public the chance to share or simply “like’’, ”retweet’’ and “hashtag’’ a message and the causes that are important to them with their friends, family, etc. This makes it easier for the public and charities to interact and spread the word together. Is it really that simple? Of course social media, like all things, must be handled with care. As mentioned before, the pressure to be creative and original is bigger than ever due to the volume of information posted each day. A message has to stand out, yes, but in a positive way. A campaign that backfires often reaches as many if not more people than a successful one. Recently an example stands out and shows how a tweet perceived the wrong way can backfire and damage an organisation’s image online. England’s women football team returned from the World Cup in Canada with a bronze medal and gained significant media attention in the UK. The FA (Football Association) showed the team constant support online through social media during the World Cup. But when the team returned to England, one tweet was enough to make the public forget the previous messages of support and focus only on that one message:


The tweet was instantly deemed sexist due to poor phrasing and had to be taken down because of the strong reaction it caused online. The content editor responsible for the Twitter account had to apologise and explain the situation: “Sorry if I caused offence. The piece is intended to sum up a nice moment when players are reunited with their families,” he posted. “I reject any accusation of sexism and human interest is a big part of any sport reporting. I’d have done the same for England men, absolutely.” This shows getting the wrong message across, being perceived the wrong way or simply using the wrong social media can be fatal to any organisation. And because of the sensitivity of the end users, the problem can be even more touchy for charities and social enterprises. So how should we communicate? Proper communication and marketing policies as well as a complete strategy must be fully prepared and reviewed before starting any form of widespread communication. The key factors are:

  • Message, brand awareness, nature (pictures, videos etc.)
  • People/target
  • Channel
  • Timing
  • Frequency
  • How to engage/respond
  • How to react should it go wrong

Long story short: it’s not as easy as it looks. It takes time, strategy and skills to comply with ethical practices and marketing policies.

Looking forward to sharing more information with you, Maurizio Gioli