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Max St John

Being social: rewiring for change

Danphrenology - a photo by drtel on Flickr

Image courtesy of drtel on Flickr

Earlier this week, the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network published the Charity Social 100 Index – a league table of UK charities based on their use of social media.

It’s the result of six months work by Steve Bridger and Anne McCrossan and gives some useful insight.

The table provides some benchmarks for charities aiming to compete with some of the big hitters – it shows that the average following in the top 100 is around 19,000 Twitter follwers and 35,000 Facebook fans – and shows that financial strength doesn’t necessarily translate into their social “weight category”.

It’s important to acknowledge the implied judgements these kind of league tables might create. Can you really say that having a Linked In community is valuable for every charity, for example, and is it really sensible to own a community rather than stick to creating or curating them within existing networks? These are things that need exploration in the context of the charities’ aims and audiences to find out what’s really going to work in the long term.

The simplistic approach to measurement penalises charities that segment their social activity to provide for different audiences more effectively. For example, our client WWF-UK have a reach of around 80,000 people through Facebook if you consider their Earth Hour, WWF Tiger and WWF Turtle pages as well as the official WWF-UK page, but only the latter is measured which affects its ranking.

But, as Anne and Steve point out, the real value in the work is the conversation it allows us to have about just how much social media has really permeated an organisation.

Of course, charities need to adapt and change to keep up with broader trends in the way people communicate and how they’re marketed to – by integrating social into existing CRM databases and supporter journeys, for example – but even these changes only go skin deep.

If you want to create new, deeper and longer-lasting relationships with people or have a brand that can live in hundreds of disparate pieces and remain coherent and structured, you’re not just going to have to plan strategically but internalise a social way of thinking and behaving.

This means scrutinising existing silos of skills and knowledge, creating new environments for sharing and learning, harnessing the enthusiasm and innate behaviours that exist on-the-ground, and showing leadership and buy-in for change from the very top.

It also means creating the framework and foundations to support change – explicitly stating and sharing objectives, being rigorous about measurement and reporting, giving people the necessary guidance and support they need.

WWF-UK has been very successful in moving to a more social way of working, embedding new skills and practices right across the organisation, and I’m particularly proud of having worked with them on this over the past two and a half years.

What they’ve achieved has come from empowering their staff, a desire and willingness to innovate, support from senior management and an ability to think long term.

From my work with both charities and large commercial organisations, I can see that it’s tempting to simply outsource what they see as ‘social media’ – but this is only ever going to improve short-term marketing.

For long term, sustainable change and to adapt to permanent shifts in the world around us, being social isn’t just about building communities it’s about fundamental changes to how we think, talk and work together – which isn’t easily measurable by counting the numbers.

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