Social Good

By Ayesha Hoda

Published in Spider Magazine – Dawn (June 2013)

The impact created by non-profit organisations using effective social media campaigns.

While many corporate brands in Pakistan have now realised the power of social media, very few nonprofits here are harnessing its power effectively to build a case for their cause.

Through blogs, micro blogs and social networks, a non-profit can create public awareness of its cause and mission, raise funds or promote fundraisers, reach new supporters and volunteers, and get people to take some action, all for free.

There are a few non-government organisations in Pakistan that have strengthened their digital presence in the last couple of years, mainly via their websites, Facebook pages and Twitter handles.

One such NGO is Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan, a human rights organisation focused on information and communication technologies (ICTs). Some of its most prominent projects include the Take Back The Tech Campaign, Access is My Right and PakVotes.

Though its website – www.bytesforall.pk – is promptly updated as activities take place, Bytes for All considers social media the central hub of engagement. Its Coordinator Advocacy and Outreach, Furhan Hussain highlights, “That’s where the concentration of our primary audience is [with nearly 30,000 fans on Facebook]. We make it a point to keep engaging with people through tweets and status updates, share links of all activity happening at our front as well as all relevant press coverage.”

Furhan says that people have so much information coming their way these days that their attention spans have decreased drastically, and very few want to read complicated reports and tedious blog posts. That is why B4A has heavily shifted towards visualisation of information in small, palatable bits, using posters, infographics, photographs and videos.

Another NGO with a large following on social media is The Citizens Foundation (TCF), which builds schools for less privileged children in Pakistan. Its main Facebook page currently has more than 41,000 fans. There are several other pages created and run by supporters in different parts of the world. Interestingly, TCF gained a name on Twitter not through its official handle but as a result of active promotion by Tuba Mehmood (@Tuba_TCF), who was the former Assistant Manager for Volunteers and Alumni at TCF in Lahore.

Tuba started using Twitter in 2011, in search of volunteers in Lahore for TCF’s mentoring program. What worked for her was personally promoting the cause and replying to all queries politely but enthusiastically, followed by face-to-face meetings. People were drawn because someone spoke to them on a personal level rather than just giving updates via an official handle.

“I think interacting with people is extremely important if you’re selling your idea or product,” Tuba says. “I got a tremendous response and I’ve got many dedicated volunteers via Twitter. It helped with donations as well.”

Tuba currently has around 3000 followers on Twitter and is better known by her handle.

Similarly, Nuzhat Saadia Siddiqi (@guldaar), Press and Media Coordinator, WWF-Pakistan (World Wide Fund for Nature, Pakistan), started using social media in 2010 to promote her organisation’s work. Nuzhat’s was inspired by WWF International and Greenpeace International, two organisations that have leveraged social media tremendously to reach out to a global audience.

“A large number of young adults from Pakistan are now online and I believe that reaching out to them about conservation, sustainability and environment issues is a critical supplement to their traditional education,” Nuzhat shares. “No one really thinks about involving them [18-34 year olds] in the process of positive change through volunteer and environmental activities.”

Over the last three years, WWF-Pakistan social media campaigns have received an overwhelming response not just from Pakistanis but also from people in other countries, who were pleasantly surprised to see such work being done in Pakistan, a country usually associated with sectarian violence and terrorism. Due to its increasing importance for marketing of WWF-Pakistan projects, the social media function was recently outsourced to an agency.

Sharing her experiences of cause marketing online, Nuzhat says, “I believe the best way to engage with an audience via social media is to keep the tone personal, be pro-active, and share only what you really truly believe in. Several brands and organisations outsource their social media from the get-go and not all social media experts currently working in the field treat your organisation as their own, but rather as a brand. A brand is impersonal, a cause is personal. For me, it has been about believing in the cause and spreading my joy and trust in it. This has been the main reason that without spending even a single dime, we went from having 12 to 50,000 supporters on Facebook.”

Gradually, more non-profit pages seem to be springing up in Pakistan but only those with a well-designed strategy and persistent updates have an impact. For instance, HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Education) Pakistan – an NGO that runs schools, vocational training centres, works in healthcare for vulnerable communities and provides emergency relief and rehabilitation – has recently become active on social media.

Tahiya Tul Husna, Social Media Specialist at HOPE, says their strategy is: Awareness > Influence > Action > Impact. HOPE encourages its employees to use their personal social media accounts to cross-promote social campaigns online and become online ambassadors.

“HOPE Pakistan cannot operate as a faceless organisation,” Tahiya says. “Every donor and volunteer has to be engaged and people are more ‘invested’ in the lives of the real people that they follow on Twitter than an actual brand, even if it belongs to a respected NGO.”

Important lessons are to be learnt from these and a few such other success stories of non-profits. First and foremost is that since social media is a free and powerful marketing tool, Pakistani non-profits, with their limited marketing budgets, should definitely use it (after analyzing any risks involved). Other things to keep in mind when developing a strategy are:

  • Universal appeal – Promote the cause as a whole, not only your organisation
  • Emotional impact – storytelling, photos and videos work more than lengthy updates or blog posts
  • A social exchange – build relationships online rather than simply disseminating messages
  • The human element – get some staff members on board who can become ambassadors for your cause online
  • Get them involved – tell people what steps they can take to make a difference (it can be as simple as requesting a retweet).
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