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

The cheapest form of social media coverage…


Well, don’t you just love it when you see something special?

Forget X-Factor, this is just awesome… Nevermind, how intelligent this young girl is.

Actually, I love it for more than just the pure talent Alyssa has… I also happen to think it’s a perfect ‘two-finger salute’ in the direction of all those claiming they can make a video ‘viral’.

So far, 2.5m+ views and just short of 8,000 comments, without considering the media pick-up. That’s astonishing on its own!

Pepsi and Coca-Cola get mentions in this video. Coupled with these mentions, everyone who sees this video talks about it so positively.

So… that’s huge positivity and brands names all in one video. Mixing that all together and tapping into the subconscious, we now have something that brands really want when they make a video and want it to go ‘viral’.

Money can’t buy that sadly, it’s an organic and natural mystery. And don’t believe anyone that tells you otherwise.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!


On my last day at 1000heads, I came across a video that genuinely gave me goosebumps [in a good way]. It’s a clip of Charlie Chaplin‘s final speech from The Great Dictator (1940). The movie itself is a comedy, and a satirical take on Nazi Germany – but the final speech is absolutely captivating, and amazingly inspirational.

Watch the video; how does it make you feel?

I’ve watched the clip 7-8 times now, and I’m drawn to the line, “we think too much and feel too little“; which is so true of the times we’re living in.The same could be said of the marketing environment.

When was the last time you saw a brand genuinely concerned with how a consumer felt when buying a product? How often do brands ‘think’ about how the consumer ‘feels’? I don’t think I’ve seen a piece of marketing content during 2011 and actually felt anything. Maybe I’m desensitised to everything, possibly my mind has been saturated with mediocrity, maybe we all are the same, but I haven’t seen a comeback from any brand to make me think and feel otherwise.

It seems as though the marketing world might be bowing down to “the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress“. Too busy shifting their thoughts and feelings onto the consumer, without worrying about individual’s wants, needs, desires, passions, interests or simply what gets a person up in the morning. Which is a shame because, in 2012, brands have the perfect chance to stop this boring trend of broadcasting and start communicating.

So, instead of telling me the benefits your product has compared to your competitors [I’m sure most people don’t remember anyway], start telling me something about the brand. Tell me something I didn’t know. Even better, tell me something I care about. Let’s have a chat, a simple two-way conversation, where you can find out about me, and I’ll listen too. We might even get to know each other, become friends and start a meaningful relationship. That’s what I’d call a competitive advantage.

The proof is in the pudding. If you always buy [brand X] but you see a similar product, [brand Y], cheaper, you’d probably buy the latter. Why? Because neither brand has inspired you, they haven’t evoked an emotion from you strong enough to warrant losing money. However, if you knew [brand X] very well and trusted them, maybe you wouldn’t even be looking for discounts or deals or sales in the first place.

In the words of the mighty Terry Tibbs of Fonejacker: “Talk to me”.

Real and genuine communication, be it in person, over the telephone, via text message, email, or simply across a social network, is how humans connect with each other. But we’ve known that for a while now, haven’t we?; “Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines“. Well said Charlie.

And on that note, I say goodbye to 2011, and hello to 2012. I promise to blog more, be a better person and stop smoking. In reality, I promise to keep judging and buying cigarettes. Happy New Year.