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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Tailoring communications for the digital age

This feature is over 9 years old

The secret of success is to make use of statistics, experts told Robert Armour at Comms Rewired

Organisations which do not fully embrace the potential of digital communications are setting themselves and their cause back decades.

That was the opinion of an illustrious line-up of marketing and digital experts at last week’s Comms Rewired conference in Glasgow where over 100 delegates heard how third sector campaigns and causes have been transformed since the advent of digital media.

Yet despite the obvious advantages and reach of digital, stubborn attitudes still exist.The conference heard how many chiefs – and even boards – of charities were still reluctant to embrace the technology with many rejecting social media as a fad.

Now through tools like Google Analytics, you know where, when and how many people your message is being delivered to - Mairi Damer

The conference took a two pronged approach to digital communications: as a media tool and also an effective marketing one.

Speaker Dave Chaffey, bestselling author and digital marketing guru, told TFN that while third sector organisations would be remiss not to harness the potential of digital, quality had to be prioritised over quantity.

“You need to understand your aims, how you want to engage, where you want your communications to go,” he said. “And that means understanding your audience but also routinely analysing your stats. Marketing really is a full-time job.”

Chaffey said social media marketing is set to become more diverse: “Although it can be a bit of a hassle maintaining a presence on multiple channels, predictions indicate that a diverse range of social media channels will continue to play a key role in expanding reach and output.”

Smaller messaging mediums – quotes, Vine videos, soundbites etc that can be easily digested in those in between moments – are proving very effective for charities whether for fundraising, campaigning or marketing. Jane Hansen, fundraising consultant and delegate at Comms Rewired, said these mediums suited the instant communication generation best – and charities had to harness this.

“Mobile and tablet usage have been on the up for a long time – in 2014 the number of mobile devices is set to outstrip the number of desktop and laptop computers, while mobile will become the primary way people access the internet.

“With more people donating to charity by mobile, and consumers abandoning sites that take more than five seconds to load by mobile, it’s important to make sure your charity is tapping into the growing market for mobile donations.”

Social media is a great tool for engaging donors, supporters and getting your message across. But maintaining those relationships is crucial - Marta Peres Ro

International children’s charity Unicef proved this at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. It was the first charity to be part of a major event’s opening ceremony, during which celebrities such as Ewan McGregor, James McAvoy and Sir Chris Hoy appealed to a worldwide audience in excess of one billion, encouraging them to donate cash via text.

The result? Over £5m raised.

But that was just one upside.

The other was the invaluable publicity Unicef gained through the association – communicating to an untapped audience aspects of its work few people knew about.

“First and foremost, it gave us the chance to show people our work all around the Commonwealth and also in Scotland,” said Unicef’s Commonwealth Games project director Tom Burstow.

“People tend to know about Unicef’s work overseas so it was important to show what we do here,” he said.

The organisation set-up its own social media control room in London to respond to donations and interact with tweets and texts (see picture). It meant donors were met with a human at the other end – instead of an automated text or message.

Marta Peres Ro, Unicef’s digital producer for the games, said that interaction created a human touch which made the experience more meaningful for donors.

“Social media is a great tool for engaging donors, supporters and getting your message across. But maintaining those relationships is crucial,” she said. “Social media takes time, effort and dedication.

“Our feed at the games was not just all about donating cash; people wanted information about who we were and what we did.

Unicef has good brand awareness but not everyone knows what we do. So we used the opportunity to get our message out to a far wider audience.

“And it worked.”

Blogs only make sense if you do them right

A staggering 90% of blogs on websites do little to attract traffic to their cause with few charities actually stopping to consider thepurpose of posting weekly columns

Thousands of charities are now giving their staff members, chief executives and volunteers their 15 minutes of fame via regular blog spots. But few think what impact, if any, these occasional columns have.

With an estimated 240 million blogs out there, making yourself stand out isn’t easy. You need to market yourself on social media, and learn the basics of search engine optimisation, so people can find you. And you need a unique, credible voice, so people like what they find.

This is according to Philip Lockwood-Holmes of Digital design and marketing agency Whitespace, who maintains blogs are probably only worth it if you do them well and you take time to pitch them to the right audience.

“Some charities might think they need to blog but I’d say unless you’ve got something to communicate that people are interested in, then it could be a pointless exercise,” he says.

While complex, jargonistic, wordy blogs are an instant turn off, charities have a tendency to be over-sensitive of their content believing the slightest foray into off-message territory will have the charity regulator and their stakeholders breathing down on them.

Lockwood-Holmes says they need to relax. “If you find yourself self-censoring at every turn you won’t actually be saying anything original and noone will want to read it. The best blogs are witty, funny, emotive, challenging and engaging. You might not be all of these but you can at least aspire to be.”

If you’re none of the above then either stop or get better: flogging a dead horse could do your organisation more harm than good.

“Very good blogs are worth their weight in gold,” says Lockwood-Holmes. “So really consider why you want to blog and whether anyone is going to want to read it. Remember blogs are very like magazine columns: they have to say something interesting and engaging. Otherwise it’s just information you could probably post elsewhere.

The newsroom ain’t what it used to be

Tailoring communications for the digital age

The makeup of the newsroom has changed dramatically over the last few years following a perfect storm of recession, online competition and declining advertising income, explains TFN editor Susan Smith.

In 2001, the Scotsman Publications, where I was working on the Herald & Post advertiser, was a bustling hub containing four publications, each employing reporters specialising in sports, news, features and business and supported by subeditors, photographers and a team of editors. Often four different photographers representing the Herald & Post, the Edinburgh Evening News, the Scotsman and the Scotland on Sunday would all turn up at the same event.

Just last week, it was revealed that the Edinburgh Evening News staff are set to merge with Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday staff, who themselves merged a few years ago. Separate subs are a thing of the past,
and Scotsman owners Johnston Press made the majority of its photographers redundant at the start of this year. Also, earlier this year, the Scotsman was forced to move out of the purpose built but now mostly empty Barclay House, making way for digital company Rockstar, makers of hit game Grand Theft Auto.

Despite the difficulties these changes have brought, however, good journalism is not extinct. If anything, the appetite for news has grown over the last decade. Over 100,000 people visit the Scotsman’s website every day and the love it / hate it Mail Online reported 6.3 million visitors on a single day in March.

Reporters today to do so much more; they write copy to fit pre-designed pages with different versions for the web and social media and often they take photos and videos as well. Editors are desperately scanning digital analytics to see which stories are doing well and demanding hacks develop “click-bait” to attract increasingly capricious readers.

Reporters today are desk-bound in a way they’ve never been before, desperately trying to find a new angle on a story that they knoweveryone else already has.

For charities, this is a great opportunity to direct the news agenda. Techniques for selling your story haven’t really changed, newsdesks will still scramble for an exclusive report with new statistics and strong case studies. And good coverage in one news outlet, will often lead to pick up in others.

Charities that provide a better digital package, including audio, video and photographs, than their competitors, will do even better.