With nearly three million Kiwis on Facebook, it’s no wonder that this highly engaging platform has proven to be an effective way for brands to connect with New Zealanders. And what better tool for charities (who largely have slim to no budgets) to utilise than Facebook, along with fellow powerhouse social media platforms Twitter and Instagram. In a bid to discover how New Zealand charities are using social media, we interviewed and analysed the work of five charities (that we had no affiliation with) over a three month period.
The charities we spoke with were: The Hearing House, Orphans Aid International. Ronald McDonald House Charities, Starship Foundation and Women’s Refuge. Thanks to Fundraising New Zealand for the opportunity to contribute in our own little way to this all important sector.
Which social media platforms?
When it comes to working out what social media platforms are being utilised, Facebook is a clear winner amongst all five charities we spoke with. However, for The Hearing House they also considered the needs and interests of their audience when choosing platforms. “We looked at who our target audience was and from there, we were able to gain an idea of what platforms they used”, says Courtney Bellingham, Fundraising and Events Coordinator. “Our main target audience is families and cochlear implant users. They’re all active on Facebook, so to reach them we use Facebook on a daily basis.” In fact, The Hearing House is so fond of Facebook that they operate two separate Facebook entities, a closed Group, which is aimed at family members, as well as a public charity Page.
Likewise, Ronald McDonald House Charities reach their audience through three separate Facebook Pages – a public charity Facebook Page, as well as two regional Pages for their Auckland and Wellington Houses. Orphans Aid International also operates a general charity Facebook Page, plus Pages for their four charity shops, then separate event pages from time to time.
Twitter is seen by many of the charities as the ideal social media tool to use when connecting with politicians and corporate supporters. “We find Twitter is a great way to connect with New Zealand MPs, who often have their own account”, observes Courtney from The Hearing House. “We can Tweet them individually and draw their attention to whatever message or research we want to highlight.”
Twitter is also seen as a great platform to connect with and thank corporate sponsors and supporters. “Corporates often come into Ronald McDonald House Charities to cook or volunteer”, says Andrea Leersnyder Donor Development Manager at Ronald McDonald House Charities. “They’ll often tweet or tag us in a post about their visit. Likewise, if we know a group is coming in to volunteer, we’ll tweet in advance that they’re coming and they’ll often retweet it. We find that getting some of our corporate partners to share something on their Facebook Page is really hard as they often have a set content calendar, but it’s much easier for them to send a tweet instantly.”
Instagram has also proven to be a popular social media platform with charities aiming to reach a younger audience of fans. For the Starship Foundation, it’s the ideal way to connect with many of the young people who have visited the hospital, or had a connection with it via siblings. Starship Foundation shares a range of photos of Starship patients, alongside inspirational and well known Kiwi faces like All Black Keven Mealamu, who is a Barfoot & Thompson ambassador to Starship. Ronald McDonald House Charities and Women’s Refuge prefer to use Instagram to showcase fundraising events or photos of celebrity volunteers, such as when the Miss New Zealand contestants volunteered at Ronald McDonald House Charities recently.
LinkedIn has proven less popular with the five charities we spoke with. However, The Starship Foundation says they do use it from time to time to publicise corporate news and to support their Five Star Sponsors, such as ASB, Barfoot & Thompson, Mercury Energy, New World, and SKY. None of the five charities have used Snapchat yet, although there was some interest to adopt it in the near future. “I really want to start a Snapchat account”, admits Andrea from Ronald McDonald House Charities. “There’s things we do in the Houses that our families would love to see, but that isn’t really appropriate to share on Instagram or Facebook. Snapchat would also be great to provide fans with a behind the scenes look at events.”
To have a strategy or not.
At Mosh Social Media we encourage every brand we work with to take the time to establish a social media strategy. It doesn’t have to be oodles of pages long, but it is important to note down what your objectives are for social media and start planning how you are going to meet these. After all, you don’t set off on a long road trip without a map. Or do you?
It was interesting to note that Starship Foundation was the only charity out of the five that has a documented strategy. For others, such as The Hearing House and Ronald McDonald House Charities, their social media strategy was more fluid, taking the form of an ongoing conversation rather than rigid documentation.
Ruth MacIntyre, Digital Media & Youth Development at Women’s Refuge says she is currently writing a social media strategy, more for the sake of her co-workers than to map out the charity’s social media future. “I’ve found that everyone [who does social media for Women’s Refuge] has a different way of posting things. A lot of our workforce is over the age of 40 and they end up Liking Women’s Refuge posts as the Page rather than as their personal Facebook profile. It can get confusing. So I’m developing a social media strategy so things can be more specific.”
Despite the lack of paperwork, each charity was enthusiastic in their desire to use social media to raise greater awareness for their cause. Their measure for success: enthusiastic and engaged followers, rather than a crowd of disengaged people. “We want people to support Women’s Refuge because they support our work and mantra, rather than just having a Like”, says Ruth. The other four charities all echo this, saying that authentic social media support is key. “We want to know that people are listening and that we’re providing relevant content, rather than just posting for the sake of posting”, observes Melissa Dobson, Communications & Events Executive at Starship Foundation.
Generating an engaged audience is important to Ronald McDonald House Charities, who recruit many of their ambassadors through social media. “When we see someone who is engaged on the Facebook Page, we will private message them and ask if we can send them information on being a family ambassador. This role initially involves them sharing their story in our newsletter. But from there we’ve seen ambassadors turn into the main speakers at our fundraising event.” This really is a case of Ronald McDonald House Charity’s online presence supporting their offline strategy.
For Orphans Aid International, inspiring their followers is paramount. “We want to use social media to inspire people so we can grow our following, which in turn helps to raise awareness and leads to donations”, says Sue van Schreven, co-founder and CEO. This approach has lead to some successful donation results for the charity. “It’s often quite organic and not a planned push for money”, says Sue. “We once ran a story on Facebook of a girl who needed to have an eye operation and we received money to help her really quickly. It came about more from communicating a need, rather than a hard ask. We’re careful with this though and I always keep an eye on when we lose followers and what we’re saying at those times.”
In turn, Women’s Refuge has struggled to generate donations via social media. “Fundraising for us is important. But we run into the same problem time and time again. People love the shock and horror stories, but they don’t like so much the fundraising side of things,” says Ruth. “Domestic violence is one of those social issues that people like to be mad about…but as soon as they have to get involved, they don’t want to. At Women’s Refuge we don’t have fluffy newborn chickens or cute orphan kids to be able to use to sell our service. It comes down to personal behaviour, so people tend to switch off when money is brought up.”
Courtney at The Hearing House says they have also run into a wall of disinterest when trying to generate donations on social media. “We tried to run a Christmas appeal on Facebook and Twitter in 2014, where we publish a video of the children saying what they each wanted for Christmas. We wanted to show how these deaf children were now hearing the sound of Christmas, but it just didn’t take off. In hindsight, we should have put a lot more thought behind the strategy and also more money. We saw that it wasn’t working, so we pulled it.”
Staff and time resources.
While many large organisations now have full time social media managers or an agency they work with, the charities we spoke with were often juggling multiple roles, fitting in social media when and where they could. No one knows this as well as Ruth at Women’s Refuge, who juggles an impressive workload. “I have about three to four portfolios which I work on at Women’s Refuge. But I try and spend about 10 hours a week going over various things, such as making sure posts are scheduled for Facebook. I’d essentially like someone else to manage social media full time.”
Courtney at The Hearing House also manages the charity’s social media by herself. “On an average week I’ll spend maybe one day a week on social media. That’s being generous, we don’t have a lot of resources. But in saying that, we have a great product – deaf kids learning to listen and speak with cochlear implants and hearing aids. We’re lucky in what we do is quite visual, which works well with social media.”
For the Starship Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities and Orphans Aid International, social media is very much a team effort. “Clare Andrew is our Marketing, Communications & Partnerships Administrator and mainly looks after Instagram, while Ruth Morse, Starship Foundation’s Marketing & Communications Executive, drives Facebook. But as a team we’re always working together and watching all the channels”, says Melissa from Starship Foundation.
At Ronald McDonald House Charities, ensuring staff contribute to the charity’s social media is part of their KPI’s. “Everyone has to Tweet three times a week”, says Claire Cooper, National Director of Mission Funding. “We don’t necessarily have one person responsible for social. Andrea is the content editor for social media, and ensures everything is on brand, and relevant for our target audience. However, we recognise that as staff we all work inside the House, so if someone sees something that could work on social media they’ll gather it. It’s about ensuring the staff all recognise the importance of social media and everyone having a shared responsibility to create content.”
Sue at Orphans Aid International echos this and says social media is shared between herself and the charity’s op shop managers. “All the shop managers, as part of their role, publish posts about their shop and the things they’re selling each week. There are also a couple of other staff who have admin rights for our Facebook, but generally it’s me posting. I’ll be on Facebook while I’m peeling the potatoes or doing the ironing. It’s just something that gets squeezed in around everything else going on.”
Social media budgets.
When we brought up social media budgets with the charities, for the most part it generated a good-natured chuckle. Unlike the grand budgets that many companies have access to, charities mostly have no or very limited monetary resources, which are often already spread thin across the organisation. “At the moment we don’t have any funding for social media”, admits Ruth from Women’s Refuge. “It’s often quite hard to secure funding because it’s not for our call service… I’d love to see a social media budget so we could spread the word and also have enough money to pay someone to help full time.”
Meanwhile, The Hearing House spent a modest budget of around $1,000 on boosting social media posts last year. Separate to this is a social media advertising budget for their main campaign, Loud Shirt Day. “We spent $700 on Loud Shirt Day social media ads in 2015”, admits Courtney. “However, we’re looking to increase this significantly to $4,000 for Loud Shirt Day this year.”
Starship Foundation and Orphans Aid International also work with limited budgets. “To date, we’ve mostly only had good organic growth and engagement,” says Ruth from Starship Foundation. “So we really just spend our small budget on targeting audiences where something is only relevant to a certain geographic area, such as an event.” In turn, Orphans Aid International also picks and chooses what posts they will put money behind. “If it’s something important that we want to communicate to our followers, then we will boost,” says Sue.
There was also a caution by some in investing too much into social media. “Social media is a huge avenue for communicating with people, but there’s also a wariness about not overly investing in it since we don’t own these audiences”, admits Ruth from Starship Foundation. “We can’t communicate with these people outside of the social media platforms, so there’s always a slight caution in investing too much money.”
It was exciting to hear the many stories the five charities told us about the successful posts they have all shared on social media. Sharing photos of cute kids is always going to be a winner for charities such as Starship Foundation, The Hearing House, Ronald McDonald House Charities and Orphans Aid International. “We always do well with posts about new children that have arrived at our orphanage in Romania”, admits Sue from Orphans Aid International. “They’re rescue stories and people love them… We get a lot of adoption enquiries whenever we post these, which we refer on to the right people.”
For The Hearing House, a particular standout post was when they shared the heartwarming story of a father who had a cochlear implant tattooed on his head in support of his young daughter. The post generated more than 1,500 Likes and reached nearly 20,000 people organically. “The LAD Bible Facebook Page picked it up and it went viral, ending up in the Huffington Post and other major newspapers. That was awesome! We got a lot of traction from that,” says Courtney. The Hearing House also finds sharing feel-good photos and videos on Facebook generates good engagement. “We’ve had great success with our switch on videos of the kids having their cochlear implants switched on for the first time. We got lots of positive feedback, shares and likes,” says Courtney.
For the Starship Foundation, the audience enjoys being able to share a unique patient experience or tangible result that impacts the health and wellbeing of young New Zealanders. “Aspirational figures engaging with the children often do well. We shared on Instagram a photo of sportsman Shaun Johnson and a patient, from when he visited Starship recently and it was a very popular post”, says Ruth. “One of our top performing posts this year came from a newly introduced pilot study to test newborns for congenital heart defects. The pilot detected its first case just two weeks after it commenced and that was a wonderful, potentially lifesaving outcome that we were able to share with our social media audience.”
While children reign supreme in terms of successful social media posts, Ronald McDonald House Charities also finds that sharing photos on Facebook of staff members resonates particularly well with followers, who have previously stayed at their two Houses. “Families love to see these posts! They all start commenting, saying hi and getting engaged. We try and not do it too often, but when we do, it goes really well”, says Andrea. Drawing attention to corporate gifts the charity receives also receives positive engagement. “We might get donated a car and if we post about that it just goes mad with people Liking and commenting. Families who have stayed at Ronald McDonald House Charities before can relate to this, and understand the need that these donations will help meet.”
While feel-good posts resonate best with many of the charities audiences, Ruth at Women’s Refuge says they have found it’s their hard hitting posts, where they take a stand that receive the most engagement. “We gave singer Chris Brown a hiding over social media [when he announced his New Zealander tour] and that was picked up in the news. We initially posted about his visit, before going on to post a few memes, which ended up going viral. We had Chris’ promotor call us directly to ask us to take the posts down. We told him no.”
Alongside the all consuming highs, there can also be failures and challenges to face. In the age of short attention spans, a fickle audience is a given and something that charities often encounter on social media. “We sometimes see audience fatigue”, admits Andrea at Ronald McDonald House Charties. “So it’s important to vary our content. If we have four days straight of cute kids, it’s not going to have the same impact as posting say a cute child story, then a volunteer story and then the next day talking about a corporate coming in to volunteer.”
Negative backlash can also be another hurdle that charities face on social media. Sue at Orphans Aid International is all too familiar with this. “We often get people saying, “What about the children in New Zealand?” We’re always going to get that as a charity. We just reassure these people that we do help Kiwi kids too.”
Dealing with negative or malicious comments is an obstacle that Women’s Refuge regularly faces. “Lisa Lewis put on a women’s boxing event earlier this year, which we promoted on social media. We had some backlash around it, with people commenting, “isn’t it violence to use violence to fundraise for domestic violence victims?” In those cases it’s a matter of making sure we can take the time to explain our side of the story to our audience,” says Ruth.
We looked at the performance of each charity’s Facebook Page for the three months February – April 2016 (note for Ronald McDonald House Charities we used the Auckland Page). We wanted to understand how they were performing against general benchmarks, plus see if we could glean any insights as to what works and what doesn’t in the charity sector.
There are three main areas we measure:
1. Community: how many people have joined the community and is it continuing to grow, which indicates general interest in the brand or cause.
2. Engagement: are people interacting with content, which indicates how interesting and relevant the content is. It is also an important factor in getting content in front of more people organically (as opposed to promoting content with advertising), by utilising people’s networks i.e. the inherent power of social media.
3. Distribution: how many times is content being seen and how many individual people are seeing the content.
Communities vary in size from just under 1,000 Page Likes, to over 27,000, which is comparable to other sectors in New Zealand. Generally speaking, Page Like growth will slow as the community gets bigger, which is evident with these five charities as well. Of note, is Ronald McDonald House Charities Auckland, which grew over 9% in the three months, a great increase for a reasonably established Page.
Frequency of posts ranged from around once every two days, to once per day, which is fairly typical for a good Facebook presence. We often say if you don’t have anything relevant or interesting to post, it’s best not to post anything, as users can opt out of receiving your content just as easily as they opt in.
Posting too much (more than once a day) can have a detrimental effect overall, so the range these five charities are within indicates they know what they’re they doing and they respect their audiences.
When people Like, Comment on, or Share a post, their action has the opportunity to be seen by their network of friends. On average, New Zealanders have around 300 friends on Facebook, so these actions, or engagements as we call them, are hugely important to get key messages out in front of as many people as possible (for as little investment).
As well as helping to distribute your content further, engagements are the defining measurement of how interesting or relevant your content is.
Among our five charities, there’s a decent spread of overall engagements and engagements per post that are being achieved. Women’s Refuge is clearly getting a lot of engagement, however they do have a significantly larger community than say, The Hearing House, but an enviable level of engagement for any brand all the same.
These metrics can be skewed by one or two posts that go viral, or by ‘boosting’ posts which means paying for them to be seen, so it’s not always an even playing field. So to get a much truer sense of the quality of content, we look at engagements per person reached.
This measurement of engagement removes any influence virality or advertising budget has, so is a good way to compare the quality of content between different organisations.
Generally speaking, anything over 1% of people engaging with posts should be the aim. Over 2% on a post is very good, and probably something you want to keep doing. Over 3%, and you’re killing it, so these five charities, who are averaging well over 2% and in the case of Ronald McDonald House Charities, just under 4%, are doing an amazing job.
You’ll note that Women’s Refuge, who had the highest engagements per post on the previous graphic, has the lowest engagement per person reached (although still very healthy at 2.39%). This is all down to the huge number of people reached by Women’s Refuge content.
So in one sense, it’s great that their content is being distributed far and wide – awareness is a key objective of most charities. But the flip-side is, there are a lot of people who have seen the content and not engaged with it, an indication that it’s not relevant to them.
Content can be distributed organically, that is, by people engaging with it and spreading it to their networks (for free), or by paying Facebook for it to be put in people’s newsfeeds. The Reach of your content is the result of this distribution, so if you have an endless budget, you could technically reach every single active Facebook user in the world.
For those with a more modest (or no) budget, organic reach is very important to spread key messages. Above we can see how many people our five charities have reached in the three months. Note The Hearing House has reached just over 12,000 people, which in comparison to Women’s Refuge is quite small. However, this figure could be quite satisfactory depending on what the strategy is. I.e. do they want to reach as many people as possible, or do they want to reach a specific target that their work is relevant to.
The Hearing House had 3.26% engagement, which suggests it is reaching the right people and perhaps if they increased their reach to 50,000 people their very healthy level of engagement would suffer. So sometimes more is more and sometimes less is more, and this is true of both overall performance as well as individual pieces of content – it depends on the objective(s) behind it.
Best posts for each charity based on engagements per person reached.
ORPHANS AID INTERNATIONAL
RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE AKL
THE HEARING HOUSE
These posts are not necessarily the posts that got the highest total likes, comments or shares, but they are the ones that were the most engaging per person reached. The common thread through these posts are the strong emotional elements, whether it’s through story or through a familiar topic, such as the Christchurch earthquake.
This is indicative of social media in general, where stories and emotional content typically do much better than other types, such as ‘being helpful’ (facts and figures, how-to’s, links to articles, what’s-on type posts), or overly promotional posts (product showcasing, sales announcements etc). Of note, is the fact that both Ronald McDonald House Charities and Starship Foundation’s posts are not particularly optimised – the former using a portrait image (not ideal for Facebook) and the latter not using an image at all!
This is one of the quirks of social media, where ‘good’ posts are often hard to predict and amazingly polished design and payout is not necessarily needed for a post to succeed.
Worst performing posts for each charity based on engagements per person reached.
ORPHANS AID INTERNATIONAL
RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE AKL
THE HEARING HOUSE
These low performing posts are possibly more easy to predict than the best performing posts. Generally speaking, posting links to other articles never goes particularly well, especially when no value is added in the post copy (see Starship Foundation’s ‘An interesting article…’). Not only can they look unattractive in a Facebook newsfeed, but it also forces people off Facebook – the place they actually want to be at the time.
For charities with limited resources, this curated type of content can seem like a great time-saver, and it definitely has a place in any social media strategy. However, using images and adding value to the original article is key for this type of content to have the best chance at life!
Overall the five charities we looked at are performing well – engagement particularly. If you’re part of a charity and want to know how your social media stacks up, find your numbers and use these five as a comparison. Also, look at your content – are you posting stories that create emotional connections? Or are you posting links to articles off Facebook?
And while you’re being reflective, here are a few more tips, which came to light when we looked at our five charities:
1. Review your cover image – a lot of people will see it on their phone, where it gets cropped and might lose its meaning. See Women’s Refuge for a good example and Ronald McDonald House Charities Auckland for an example of text being cut off.
2. Profile pictures need to be thought about in context as well. 99% of the time your profile picture is seen in people’s newsfeeds next to your posts, where it’s tiny. Use brand colours and logos rather than text. Take a look at The Hearing House’s profile picture on mobile – the illustration of the house with the ear would work great as a profile picture, so removing all the text would be ideal.
3. Sticking with images, generally speaking portrait images (that is, images that are taller than they are wide) don’t look so good on Facebook. Square is good (works on Insta as well) but make sure your resolution is high enough for smart phones, which have crazy amounts of pixels crammed into their screens. 1200px x 1200px is recommended, but you can also use landscape at 1200px wide x 628px tall.
4. Post frequency should be thought about from your audience’s perspective. Do they want a flurry of posts all in one day or content spread out a bit more. Use the schedule function with Facebook posts, so you do the work in a flurry, but let the content be published in a more dispersed way.
5. The idea of social media is that it’s social. Two-way or multi-way conversations. A good sign a social media profile is working is when visitors are posting and making inquiries through it. We noticed that three of five charities (Women’s Refuge, Orphans Aid and The Hearing House) we looked at weren’t responding to visitor posts. This may be due to resources and an inability to manage these inbound inquiries, and if that’s the case they should switch off visitor posts (in Page settings).
Remember, it’s not only frustrating for a visitor to have their post ignored, it’s on display for all visitors to your Page, which sets the expectation your organisation does not respond (care?), thereby discouraging other potential conversations.
We would like to thank all the charities that gave up their time to take part in this article. We’re very grateful for your openness and willingness to talk about your strategies, challenges and budgets! Not to mention giving us access to your performance data – much appreciated!