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Sharing the knowledge: How NGOs can benefit from online consumer awareness

Social & Digital

Sharing the knowledge: How NGOs can benefit from online consumer awareness


Processed work practices and marketing models have long been the domain of marketers and, as a result of digital technologies, sweeping changes have sent many a seasoned marketer into a spin.

The speed of this rate of change in our world, both personal and professional, has led to cultural shifts that see society voice opinions online about our world and this gathers mass-momentum in an extraordinary way – it can be defined as a giant leap forward in cultural evolution.

As a result of technology innovation, this cultural evolution is having a major effect on our perceptions of, and responses to, political agendas and social causes in an entirely new way. As a result, one of the biggest sectors facing change is the not-for-profit sector.
As a sector, NGO’s are: traditional in their approach, highly process driven, highly accountable, and politically active. They are one of the sectors that stand to benefit most from this ‘evolution’ scenario.

They are also one of the many sectors that are facing major organisational and communication changes, in an attempt to capitalise on the open mood and ‘self-organised’ people movements that are online, with a powerful voice and resonance – there is an emerging sentiment that we can use online to change the world for the better.

We have seen this with major disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, where the voice of the people online held the US Government accountable for its slow response to its own people. Katrina’s survivors sought help and those with lost ones tried to find them using online technologies and communication channels.

We have seen mass online political movements – for example, the peoples’ outrage at human rights abuses resulting from Moldova to Iran’s recent elections. It seems even the most powerful dictatorial governments do not have the ability to ‘hush-up’ the people anymore.

So how do NGOs benefit from the powerful online voice that seeks to change the world? How do they use this channel as a highly effective fundraising tool? I have provided the first part of a case study on ActionAid Australia’s Project TOTO, the end of which is yet to play out. It is a brave social media initiative and can be found in the case study section of Marketingmag.com.au.

My client hopes to make this work in the virtual world by raising awareness and enabling those trapped in poverty. Most importantly, the insights from my experiences (and yours]) have value to be shared as we all learn during this cultural evolution.

The top-line observations that I have made regarding the key barriers to unlocking the potential of online channel activities and online people power (social media) would include:

1. Not everyone in the organisation understands the implications, the potential risks and the opportunities that the online environment offers. In some organisations there is a lonely voice of the online advocate in a company
2. I have often heard people say, “social media doesn’t fit in as a core part of our business”. This astounds me when coming from organisations that are witnessing ever-growing levels of transactions through their websites. Somehow interacting with the customer it is still perceived as a ‘separate’
3. It is clear that a cultural disparity often exists between ages and roles – I am not being ageist! But often in the halls of power I have borne witness to comments such as “it’s for the young ones”, “it will never take off”, “my CEO/the Board doesn’t get it”. These comments are not limited to the domain of the most traditional companies either
4. The need for policy and control still inhibits the natural order and progression of our world that, in turn, inhibits the organisation from opening itself up to the oxygen of its consumer, who doesn’t abide by policy and control
5. Rapid response times of the online voice for most organisations are unfeasible against a backdrop of legal sign offs and getting corporate ‘facts’; this is the same in the case of the accuracy of NGOs’ ‘research stats’. Conversation participation requires re-thinking and preparation work to enable a policy of fast turn-around response. This also requires the trust of the employees who are responding.
6. ‘Make it go away’ – fear factors are real and alive, and
7. How does it make money? The gap between the social web, its participants and the corporations wishing to engage and monetise the channel is vast. Social media is yet to mature, to take advantage of opportunities and commercialise models to the longest tail of the web. We are still waiting on Twitter to let us know how it seeks to commercialise itself!

My positive experiences (a limited top few) include:

1. Online offers new transactional channels at a lower cost to deliver excellent customer servicing opportunities
2. The social sector in digital provides community interaction with customers, while improving brand values that can support above-the-line marketing activities, if taken as a 360-degree approach
3. The value of the consumer relationship is paramount and can never be underestimated as a powerful acquisition, conversion and retention device. I have seen this manifest itself from a small group of targeted customer advocates to many thousands of new customers
4. User generated content makes money – it doesn’t have to be difficult. Simple ratings and review devices demonstrate a higher conversion rate, in excess of 50%, when compared to other non-rated products
5. The value of online recommendation and the value of the advocate deliver LTV customer figures at a far lower cost
6. Digital mediums are continuously proven to be more cost effective than other transactional and marketing mediums
7. Online provides a windfall of free research, insight and competitor analysis, delivering competitive advantage
8. Using online as a collection and resource point, with a good content distribution strategy impacts every element of the business value chain, and
9. It is not hard when you get stakeholder understanding and buy-in. I have found that by using steering groups, short training sessions (so the eyes don’t glaze over!), ongoing education techniques and show and tell case studies, a thirst to learn is unearthed from the most ‘anti-online’ client, who has in turn become the biggest online advocate.

Online is many things and it is not going away. Whatever type of organisation yours is – the early adopter, the policy inhibited or the cultural luddite – use online opportunities to innovate, test and learn. This will enable you to bring your organisation, its culture and its processes, with you into the cultural evolution of social media.

Share all your knowledge and experiences, be willing to take the good with the bad – dial up the good, drop the bad, don’t be afraid to learn, and innovate.

‘Give Poverty a Voice’ case study

Client: ActionAid Australia
Part One: Project TOTO – A Lesson in Learning
Agency: Bendalls Group


ActionAid Australia is to re-brand from the previous brand of Austcare. It is recognised under the current economic climate that there is a challenge to look at different communication methods to satisfy the objectives within budgets.
ActionAid Australia recognises the power of the internet and its role in their sector to act as part of a powerful communications and fundraising tool and the emerging role of social media to capture the ‘hearts and minds’ of society to communicate the issues and programs it represents.
Provide a strategy and implementation plan, utilising the social web to:

  • Dial up the conversation to get brand awareness
  • Drive awareness of ActionAid Australia’s Mission
  • Drive website traffic and registrations
  • Drive donation action

Provide evidential material to support the recommendations in the strategy.


1. Extensive research was undertaken, including:

  • Speaking with and gaining counsel from other social media participants and journalists
  • External research on the role of social media within the NGO sector, and
  • A listening post was set up with results analysed.

2. Training through Bendalls Group’s aligned with GetSocialAdvice.com’s team. Theoretical and practical training was provided to the ActionAid team to understand and enable the participation of the organisation in social media – further training was undertaken in smaller group sessions.

It was clear from the research findings that social media channels resonated and were theoretically supportive of the strategic objectives. However, as a channel to satisfy the brief and objectives, the engagement devices, ‘what people cared about’ was going to be a challenge to get a response in the current economic climate.
People had the global financial crisis on their minds and to shift that focus to those worse off without a Bob Geldolf was a big ask.
However, key points emerged from the research period to provide a roadmap in forming the strategy:
a. People wanted to see solutions from any money that they donated to charity
b. The people wanted to see and ‘feel’ real aspects of charitable work, not dry factual reports and marketing speak
c. Deep issues relating to poverty had been over saturated with messaging from numerous aid agencies and was lacking engagement or resonance.
So the strategy started to focus on a single-minded proposition ‘Real Content from Real People’, which manifested into ‘Give Poverty a Voice’
We needed someone to enable the impoverished to have a voice and a channel for that voice.
The solution? Take 10 Australian bloggers, send them out to remote regions across the world and let them train and set up blog outreach posts to allow people in poverty stricken communities to tell their stories and show the value of the work that ActionAid Australia is delivering. Broadcast this worldwide through the internet and let the social channel engage with the voice of poverty, to connect ActionAid Australia to the Australian social media community to help make this happen authentically and organically – tell the story through the average Australian eyes and ears, not through deeply engrossed aid workers, who confront the issues daily.


The ‘Give Poverty a Voice’ program required an inaugural blogger, who had a solid background in IT skills, to map a process and a training manual in the harshest of conditions that they could pass on to the other bloggers. We needed a blogger who had experience of political writing to enable them to uncover the issues, while doing the initial IT blog set up. That person had to have a natural resonance with people and an understanding of the real political issues happening on the ground, with personal, socially responsible ethics.
So #secretmission was launched on Twitter. The target was @stilgherrian, a growing political blogger and contributor to Crikey.com, who had a larger than life personality and experience as a journalist (ABC Radio Adelaide).
The initial announcement of the strategy captured the heart of the Australian Twitterati as they surmised exactly what #secretmission and @stilgherrian was up to.

As the implementation moved on, we announced Stilgherrian was challenged with going to Tanzania on behalf of ActionAid Australia to complete the inaugural task of the ‘Give Poverty a Voice’ program. The social media channel itself named this ‘#TOTO, The Overseas Training Operation’, but it also had connotations with a certain African song and some personal joking and ribbing.
There after, the supporting organisational sponsorship requirements and communications issues were implemented (Thanks to sponsors of equipment: Lenovo netbook and thinkpads, Optus, Internode satellite phones and air time, and Telstra video camera phones).

While Stilgherrian is now in Africa, CEO of ActionAid Australia, Archie Law has launched his own blog that was strategically devised in the initial scope to form part of the community of outreach blogs to be hosted on the ActionAid site.
The second part of the campaign is about to officially launch, calling on Australians to nominate others to participate to go out to remote International destinations to contribute to ‘Give Poverty a Voice’, with supporting advertising donated by NineMSN.
This will shortly be followed by and coincide with the reports from Stilgherrian and also the launch of the live blog from Tanzania.


  • Just because it is a social cause or a charity, don’t assume that it is easy to win friends and influence people
  • Social media goes in ebbs and flows – when you think you are winning, you realise the noise is great but return on investment key performance indicators (KPIs) or objectives, are getting scheduled later and later in delivery. The key insight is that social media is a strategy that evolves, is ongoing and is hard to place within a fixed campaign period
  • Once the inaugural trip is complete, no one doubts the value of the content – however, it will be the second phase that will deliver against the KPIs as a result of the learning’s from this first phase. It is a longer lead team than anticipated
  • The ‘brand awareness’ KPI is a big tick so far in terms of volume of word of mouth. Other KPIs are yet to be achieved
  • The results from the training were interesting. The initial response was positive on the day but the actuality afterwards was that the group was too large. Key learning – train the trainer!
  • Subsequent training was more effective with a smaller group
  • Misunderstandings happen – one public issue that happened through this first half of the project was the ‘half naked gnome’. A gnome that sits on Stil’s desk that ActionAid related to wider abuses against women. The comments they made were out of context of the conversation thread
  • Don’t underestimate the time and effort of the supporting aspects of the social media channel

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