Using social media to boost your charity’s reach onlineCharity Insight Staff Writer
With approximately 10 per cent of all visits to charity websites coming from social networks and forums, social media offers charities lots of untapped potential, says Robin Goad of Experian Hitwise
Social media and social networking are becoming an increasingly integral part of the online world. The Internet has always been a hub through which people across the globe can gather and communicate with one another. But whereas ten years ago the social element of the Internet was restricted to the geeky chat rooms, now online social interaction has hit the mainstream.
For large corporations, SMEs, NGOs, government departments and even celebrities, having a presence in social media is swiftly becoming as essential as having a website. The problem is that everyone has a website, and differentiating yourself from the billions of websites online is becoming harder and more expensive than ever before. Social media provides an avenue through which companies, organisations or individuals can fast-track themselves to getting noticed online.
Social media has become so popular online that social networking sites now receive more visits from UK Internet users each month than search engines. In September of this year 11.5 per cent of all UK Internet visits to websites went to social networks. Facebook has become virtually synonymous with social networking, and with over 500 million users worldwide, it has cemented itself not only as the number one social networking site in the world, but also as one of the most popular websites online. Facebook now accounts for one in every six page views in the UK, and is closing the gap with Google as the most visited website in the world.
Why do people follow companies on social sites?
While Facebook's popularity stems originally from people wanting to chat to friends and share photos with one another online, increasingly consumers are signing up to company Facebook pages. A recent poll conducted by Experian CheetahMail showed that the top two reasons consumers followed brands through social media was to find out about special offers and to see consumer reviews.
Although the most popular reason for people to visit social media sites is to find out about sales and discounts, a more important reason from a company perspective is that people are looking for recommendations and reviews. Word of mouth and personal recommendations are extremely powerful tools in advertising, because people instinctively trust the recommendations of real consumers rather than the marketing slogans of a company.
Sites such as Qype and TripAdvisor have built their reputations on consumer-generated reviews. TripAdvisor in particular was the number one travel website in the Destinations and Accommodation category of Experian Hitwise's database with nine per cent of all visits to that category in September 2010. The site has become an industry leader because of its engagement with people online and its empowering of Internet consumers to speak their minds.
Where does this leave charities?
Charities like any other brand need to use social media in order to engage with their consumers. Social media provides a direct channel for charities to talk to their customers. As one advocate put it, social media puts us directly at the water cooler - we no longer have to wonder what our consumers are talking about, we can be there to join the conversation.
Charities can use social media to promote their fundraising activities; to raise awareness of ongoing campaigns that are running; to engage consumers and educate them in the works that the charity does; to talk to people and answer their questions about the charity; to make their voice heard.
The good news is that some charities are already taking advantage of social networks but many have yet to realise the potential of social media. Approximately 10 per cent of all visits to charity websites in the Community category come from social networks and forums. Over the last three years the reliance of traffic from social networks has doubled for charity websites. As an industry though, charity websites do not receive as high a proportion of their traffic from social media as other industries such as Entertainment, Lifestyle of News and Media sites.
LIVESTRONG and Nike Chalkbot
A good example of a charity which has really embraced social media and benefited as a result is the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a cancer charity which runs the LIVESTRONG campaign. In September 2008 Lance Armstrong announced his desire to return to the Tour de France having beaten testicular cancer. At the 2009 Tour de France, LIVESTRONG promoted Lance Armstrong's journey through Twitter and visits to the LIVESTRONG quadrupled as a result.
One of the interesting innovations of the 2009 Tour de France was the Nike Chalkbot, a road painting machine which was used to spray the roads along the Tour de France with messages of hope, delivered by members of the public by text and through Twitter. Chalkbot gained 4,000 followers on Twitter and received over 36,000 messages, thousands of which were printed on the roads of France raising awareness of the charity on a global stage.
Having posted messages on Twitter, fans went to the LIVESTRONG website to find more information about the charity. The chart above shows the percentages of Twitter's traffic that went to the LIVESTRONG and Nike websites. During the 2009 Tour de France Livestrong.org received a 12 fold increase in traffic from Twitter. A year later in the 2010 Tour de France Twitter was still a major contributor of traffic to LIVESTRONG campaign with 1 in every 8 visits coming from the micro-blogging platform.
What LIVESTRONG has shown, is that a relatively new charity can very quickly grow its reputation into a worldwide brand through intelligent use of social media. The tools are there to engage with people online, the new media message is: it's time to get social.
Robin Goad is research director of Experian Hitwise