In the world of social media, World Vision Canada found out that the cliché “if you build it they will come” doesn’t work as well as “if you listen, they will talk.”
The relief organization is using its print and Web audience as a guiding light to help focus World Vision Canada’s social media strategy.
For instance, it was an avid supporter of the organization that actually independently developed World Vision Canada’s original Facebook page some four years ago, according to James Carroll, director of digital marketing for the Mississauga, Ont.-based World Vision national office.
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World Vision was careful “not to dictate the conversation but rather to facilitate it,” said Carroll.
Refraining from grabbing the reins was a wise move, he said. Today the organization’s Facebook page is an active platform teeming with discussions and conversations among more than 7,900 fans.
Similarly, the re-launch this week of its ChildView magazine on a more social media-friendly online format is largely in response to feedback from its readers. “We wanted to deliver the magazine to our audience in the format that they deem to be more useful to them rather than in the format we think they should have,” Carroll told ITBusiness.ca.
World Vision finds friends on Facebook
The thrust of World Vision Canada’s print and digital strategies is mainly geared towards spreading awareness and gaining support of its local and worldwide projects, connecting supporters and stakeholders and backing up its child sponsorship program.
This was originally done through print publications and traditional Web sites and micro-sites promoting auxiliary publications or time-bound projects.
“We started to see some of our constituents on Facebook but we were not so sure how to effectively reach out to them,” said Carroll. “Then four years ago, one of our supporters who was a student, started a Facebook group.”
World Vision watched as the World Vision Facebook group steadily attracted Facebook friends. People were posting pictures and sharing stories and experiences about their sponsored children, their participation in various volunteer activities and schedules of World Vision events.
“We just joined in the conversation and listened in. We didn’t take over,” said Carroll.
By the time the group had morphed into a full blown Facebook Page and administration was turned over to World Vision Canada, there were more than a few hundred regular visitors. Today the World Vision Canada Facebook Page has in excess of 7,900 visitors and friends. The organization also has about 1,400 followers on Twitter.
Carroll could not immediately give any specific numbers, but he said World Vision’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube presence is crucial to its programs.
“Conversations and sharing happening in the social networks drives traffic to our Web site. Information people get from our Web site and invitations they get from friends through social media encourage them to join our projects,” said Carroll.
For many organizations relying on a social media presence is critical, according to Adam Froman, CEO of Toronto-based digital strategy firm Delvinia.
Delvinia helped the town of Markham, Ont. launch an effective social media campaign that encouraged town residents to participate in local elections.
Froman said companies need to “listen in” on the conversations around their brands in order to discern the trends and issues that could impact their product or services. “Today, more likely than not, these conversations are taking place in the social media space.”
In many cases, Froman said, having a traditional Web site alone is no longer enough.
“Many surveys indicate that a growing number of people access Web sites through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. If your brand is not there, your business may be losing out,” he said.
With social media, it’s hard to determine exactly what strategy would work best for your business because the area is relatively new, admits Kim Pittaway, a Toronto-based digital content expert.
“My suggestion is don’t just track your site, track the online conversations taking place around your product or market segment or issue,” she said. “You need to know what’s on topic for your readers.”
From Zinio to WordPress
ChildView contains stories of children in need from around the world, issues affecting them and personal accounts of individuals who volunteer with World Vision or those who sponsor children through the organization’s program. The quarterly magazine is sent to subscribers in printed form as well as online in PDF form. Today’s online ChildView is hosted on WordPress.
The original online version of ChildView was hosted by Zinio; a digital magazine application that excels is presenting magazines online as close as possible to their printed versions. A look at ChildView’s Fall 2010 edition shows a really snappy magazine with lots of interactive buttons that leads readers to graphs, hyperlinked maps and YouTube videos. The attractively packaged publication also has buttons that connect to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but somehow the site fell short of what ChildView readers wanted.
“People liked the magazine but many had difficulty navigating around it,” said Carroll. “The interface was not immediately recognizable to a lot of readers so they were not able to discover a lot of features in the content.”
To help guide readers, designers used instructional buttons that said for instance: Roll over words above to reveal the story or Click the arrow above to advance through the statistics.
On the back-end, Carroll said, the Zinio “tagging conventions” made it difficult for World Vision administrators to track online traffic. The organization, he said, had to employ another firm to analyze the data.
Zinio also suffered from some “stability” and “shareability” issues, according to Carroll. The online magazine did not load consistently. “If the user’s computer had Flash 6 as oppose to Flash 10, they were likely to have a less fluid online experience,” he said.
While the Zinio version had buttons linked to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, users found they could not share specific components of an article said Carroll. “If they wanted to share just a photo, or a graph to a friend they, couldn’t do that. It had to be the whole page,” he said.
ChildView got its own Web site on Tuesday. Now hosted on WordPress, the publication looks more like your typical Web site: a banner title on top; scrolling headline articles on the top page; two columns of section headings with photos and kickers; and a third column highlighting videos, images, a call for sponsorship, polls and the president’s message.
“It’s all very familiar to the reader and easy to navigate,” said Carroll.
The photos, images and text are also very easy to share. A reader can right click on an image and he will be given choices such as print, copy or email the image. Each page has a URL that can be copied and pasted as a link for sharing on Twitter or Facebook.
Tracking traffic is much easier as well. Now, site administrators can use tools such as Google Analytics to monitor visitor behaviour and trends on their own rather than resorting to the services of another firm.
The WordPress system is also ideal for setting up micro-sites for campaigns that have a specific shelf life, said Carroll. “The WordPress site templates are easy to set-up and adapt to your specific style preference and what’s more they are free. Otherwise we would have to pay as much as $1,500 for a custom job.”
Tips for starting a social media campaign
Integrating online publications and organization activities with social media provides the potential to trigger a “viral explosion” according to Dev Basu, a search engine optimization specialist, and president of Powered by Search. “Awareness of a brand or participation in an activity has the potential to spread rapidly when it’s talked about in social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook because awareness is not just spreading from one person to his friends but also to his freinds’ friends and so on.”
This is why, Basu said, many charitable organizations seeking donations now have some form of social media presence. For instance, Twistival Toronto, a local initiative aimed at rasing $500,000 for various charities has attracted thousands of volunteers and participants to its meetings by communicating with people through Twitter, he said.
Basu said charitable organizations and SMBs eyeing to launch a social media campaign should consider the following:
- Determine who your audience are and what type of social media tools they use
- Make sure you online content, print publications and info about activities are shared among these social media channels
- Set up a Facebook page for your company or organization. Start commenting on issues relevant to your brand on Twitter
- Make good use of Facebook’s “like button”. When a person “likes” you Facebook page it immediately shows up on that person’s profile and could attract more people to your site
- Consider using Facebook Causes , it’s an application on the social media site that is designed to help users set up a social media platform for activism and philanthropy. There are more than 13 million active users of Facebook Causes
Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blogs on ITBusiness.ca Blogs and join the ITBusiness.ca Facebook Page.