How has social media impacted on charity comms?

This article was originally written by me for The Wall Blog and The Platform Blog.

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Verity Pillinger-Cork, Web and Digital Marketing Manager for RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People), to discuss how the charity is using social media to connect with those in need of information and support, and its assortment of stakeholders including carers, fundraisers, sponsors and donors.

On paper, it sounds phenomenally challenging, especially as it must be incredibly tough to decide which stakeholder group will be most receptive to communications messaging and therefore deliver the most value to the organisation.

After all, the charity sector in 2012 is fiercely competitive, with the top 1000 UK charities fighting for approximately £19.6bn each year. But does social media give these organisations an edge and how are RNIB using it to gain ground on the top 10? Let’s find out…

BF: First off, how is RNIB using social media to reach its audience?

VPC: “Ultimately we want more people to find out about our charity and the amazing work we do trying to reach almost 2 million people in the UK living with sight loss.

“We started using social media in earnest a couple of years ago, and since then we’ve seen the number of people engaging with us in this way grow at a phenomenal rate. Social media sits alongside our website as a way of being able to tell people about our services, and to encourage people to support us. It’s also great that we get to have a conversation with our followers/likers – it’s a really immediate and friendly way to talk to our customers.

“We’re trying to be sensible with the number of social media accounts that we have. For instance, we’ve got one main RNIB Facebook page and Twitter account and a handful of off-shoot accounts that are used to support specific, key areas of the business like campaigns, fundraising and our reading services.

“Our main Facebook and Twitter accounts cover a broad range of subjects. This ranges from promoting our core services (RNIB Helpline, RNIB Membership, RNIB National Library Service which includes Talking Books, accessible products and publications), to getting someone to write to their MP about benefit cuts, to inspiring someone to run a marathon for us.

“We are also engaging blind and partially sighted people in awareness campaigns, such as our Switch on to technology and Service Matters months, and promoting our services as referral routes for professionals who work with blind or partially sighted people.

“But it’s not all about Facebook and Twitter. We’re just beginning to see how we can use sites like LinkedIn to engage with a different audience group. We’re producing far more videos as an organisation and engagement with our YouTube channel is on the up.”

BF: What are your core objectives when using social media?

VPC: “One of our key objectives is about independence. As an organisation, RNIB wants to end the isolation of sight loss, helping people to live independently. We can really drive that objective forwards via social media. That might be by telling people about what we’re doing – maybe introducing people to services that were unknown to them – or by giving them a way to share experiences with others in the same situation. For instance, if you’ve just been told you’re going to lose your sight, coming to our website can be daunting. But asking us a question via Facebook is a much easier step – and you don’t just get a response from RNIB, you’ll get responses from other people who have been in the same boat.

“Of course, another of our objectives is about increasing our reach. We know that we’re reaching new people as well as those who are familiar with us. We’d like to keep doing that!

“We also use social media to gain customer insight. I think this is an area that we need to explore more. Now that we’ve built a solid presence it’s time to look at what insight we can get and how that can translate into marketing and service delivery.”

BF: Who exactly are your key stakeholders? And are they contactable via social media?

VPC: “Our key stakeholders can be split into three customer groups:

1. Blind and partially sighted people, their friends, families and carers

2. Professionals whose work impacts on the lives of blind and partially sighted people

3. Supporters who raise money for RNIB Group charities.

“The majority of blind and partially sighted people are older (75 plus) and so are less likely to be using social media, but many of our followers do have sight problems.

“Our professional customer groups range in age and occupation, and may also be friends, family or carers of blind and partially sighted people. Often they are more likely to use and engage in multiple social media platforms.

“Our supporter base is comprehensively segmented. Our fundraising team design and deliver many different products and use social media and other digital media in different ways to engage these groups.”

BF: What social channels are you seeing most return on investment from at present?

VPC: “We know that Facebook gives us the most engagement and therefore ROI. However our main Twitter account has almost double the amount of followers, so arguably the reach is greater.

“The power of video to tell us stories must also be acknowledged and therefore You Tube acts as a brilliant support to both Twitter and Facebook.”

BF: How has social media changed RNIB’s marketing practice in the last five years?

VPC: “We were late adopters of social media field due to concerns about the accessibility of these sites for blind and partially sighted people. What we have learnt anecdotally is that blind and partially sighted people have found alternatives, for instance, they use the mobile version of Facebook as they find it easier to navigate. We take these access issues into account when planning and designing our content, and always make sure that content is accessible on our website, so that no-one misses out.

“Social media has become an integral part of our marketing rather than an ‘add on’. We are developing campaigns where social media is the lead, rather than an afterthought. People recognise these sites are here to stay and the numbers of people on them can’t be ignored by anyone!”

BF: Where do you see your communications strategies developing the next five years?

VPC: “RNIB is a long way through a broader programme of work to develop our customer relationship management.

“We recognise that digital is only going to become more important. We are already working on a mobile version of our website, which is vital given the rapid rise in the number of visits to our website via mobile devices, and looking ahead to future developments of our website. We’re also increasingly using enewsletters to talk to our customers.

“We will continue to use offline communications channels to engage customers. Many older or blind and partially sighted people will continue to value printed materials, audio and face-to-face contact, so they will remain important to reach and introduce our services to them.

“Our investment and focus on digital communication will continue, but with a focus on ensuring better integration across platforms and positioning the channels to better support and add value to the customer experience when they come to us through other channels.”

You can connect with RNIB on: FacebookTwitterYouTubeLinkedIn


When sharing gets real, it gets viral… but why?

Following my post about the viral video experience, I experienced the full force of a piece of my content going ‘viral’ (in a small way, anyway).


Here’s the link: AMAZING TWEET.

Key stats:
85 – the number of RTs in a day
18 – the number of favourites
12 – the number of @replies about this
10 – the number of new followers

Now, can someone tell me what it is about this tweet? This far outweighs most things I’ve ever said outside the realms of Facebook.

The most obvious reasoning for this would be… timing. It’s the 13th February after all, exactly 24 hours before St. Valentine’s Day, so this sounds like a strong factor.

I sent the tweet at about 10am, hardly UK prime time, but this is Twitter and somewhere in the World, someone is awake!

Could it be that my tweet was hilariously funny? Unlikely. I’ve sent a few updates today that I thought were equally as cynically side-splitting, but to no avail; Exhibit [A] and [B].

Whatever the reason, this has definitely made me think about how I use my own social media. I’ve already started this with my Instagram account, employing a few basics; my average interactions (likes or comments) has increased from 5.1 per photo to 25.6.

The tweet, created in my office in London, has now travelled all over the Globe; Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal, South Africa, Singapore, Japan, USA, Kenya, Canada, Australia, Finland.

What has this taught me? Don’t be boring, speak my mind, say what I think but do everything intelligently. As always 😉

Please share, but only what we tell you to

Please share, but only what we tell you to (originally written for

Like many twenty-something males in the UK, I’ve always looked to Topman for fashion inspiration. The retail chain took around £1.8 billion in revenue last year and is a market leader because of their ability to influence (rather than simply follow the) trends; a trait that all brands aspire to. This ethos has always stuck in my memory and as a result Topman is front of mind when I want/need new clothes.

However, experience determines perception, and over the weekend I saw a different side to the retailer. I was in-store, browsing through the racks, when I saw the perfect T-shirt for a friend of mine. It was ideal and emblazoned across the front was “It’s all about me”; a running in-joke that we have together.

I took a photo on my phone to send it to him (so we could have a bit of a laugh and see if he wanted it) and to cut a long story short, I was promptly asked by a member of staff to delete the photograph I’d just snapped. I explained what was happening, and that I wanted to send it to a friend, but it didn’t seem to matter. I still don’t really understand why I couldn’t keep the photo, I was simply told to refer to the Topman ‘terms and conditions‘.

[Edit]: Having later checked the T&Cs, I couldn’t find a single line that said that customers weren’t allowed to take photos in-store, or why this regulation had been put in place.

Being a disgruntled customer of the 21st century, I promptly tweeted:

Topman can make their own rules, of course. But are these restrictions rules stifling sales?

For a start, they’ve just shut down a direct product recommendation between two trusted peers – a big word of mouth no no. After that, there seemed to be an expectation placed upon the aforementioned peer to go home, remember the product, visit the website, find the product page and then send it on to his friend? Unlikely at best, inconvenient too.

Building on that further, recent research shows that 32% of Northern Europeans have used their smartphone to share information with a peer about a brand. Essentially meaning that Topman’s regulations are cutting out one of the most used / simplest forms of sharing and communication.

OK, so, sticking to 1000heads’ blogging guidelines and turning this negative into a positive, I’d like to flip this whole policy on its head and create some kind of smartphone-based media sharing campaign for Topman. Without fleshing it out too much, it would basically aim to drive consumers in-store and encourage organic image sharing. I can imagine it being some kind of treasure hunt, using perhaps both Foursquare and Instagram, alongside Twitter and Facebook to push content out to the masses.

Ironically, I found this on the Topman Facebook page:

Just look at the number of tweets and shares that have driven the competition: 191 and 1175 respectively – that’s not bad at all. The Topman brand has fans that share their content and while it’s not officially related to image sharing, I can’t help the feeling that – on the strength of the above – Topman is missing several opportunities to convert positive (and potentially negative) offline retail experiences into online activity.

The Land Rover competition is not inherently social. They’ve done a simple ‘stick a share badge on it’ job and let it go from there. Imagine if they’d actually tapped into something properly and, instead of shutting down P2P recommendation, embraced sharing of in-store content across multiple different platforms?

It could make for a very different story indeed.

To close, it’s worth saying that I still admire Topman, and will do, as long as they keep selling great products. I couldn’t imagine shopping on Oxford Street without visiting their flagship store. But when it comes to engendering positive word of mouth both online and off, they seem to have missed a beat.