On a recent trip to Engage Prague, I heard Alice More O’Ferrall from the World Wildlife Fund speak about the success of this year’s Earth Hour. More specifically, how the charity uses social media to drive engagement and user involvement during the annual event. 

But with multiple campaigns happening throughout the year - how does WWF manage and plan digital activity on a global scale?

I recently followed up with Alice to find out more about WWF's wider strategy. Here's what I discovered. 

The role of social

As my previous article on WWF's Earth Hour probably made clear, social is not a singular focus for the charity - but something that feeds into every element of its digital strategy. This means it views each and every digital touchpoint – from its Facebook page to its main site – as an opportunity for people to discover more about the charity and its work. In turn, social also provides an opportunity for WWF to tell its story, grow its community, and find out more about its audience. 

Social is not only key to the user journey, but a vital way for the charity itself to capitalise on valuable data from new and existing supporters. 

So then, what does it do with this insight?

As Digital Engagement Manager for WWF International, it is Alice’s job (among many others in the team) to ensure the charity is able to guide its digital supporters into taking action. Whether it's sharing a Facebook post, signing up to an e-action (a WWF petition) or joining Earth Hour – WWF is focused on making it as easy and intuitive as possible for people to get involved. 

Local and global content

A lot of the issues WWF focuses on - such as climate change, wildlife crime, or ocean conservation - are global in scale. However, these issues also have very stark local impacts, with the interest of users often dependant on where they live. As such, even though WWF is a global network – with national offices all around the world and over 6,500 staff – it plans content at a local level in order to be most relevant and compelling for local audiences. 

Of course, that does not mean it limits followers to just local issues. WWF’s large global network also offers the audience opportunity to discover its work in places thousands of miles from their doorsteps. The current #savethevaquita campaign – a movement to save the world’s smallest porpoise found only in the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico – is just one example of this.

Only recently, the Mexican government announced they are taking the necessary steps to help stop the most endangered marine mammal from going extinct. It was a combination of local and international support which truly drove the change. The campaign generated a lot of support from celebrities around the world, most notably from Leonardo DiCaprio, who is also a WWF-US board member.

Experimenting with Viber

In terms of specific areas of focus, WWF works across the major social media channels of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, the charity is not averse to venturing outside of the big three. It also recently began experimenting with Viber, launching on the messaging app in time for Earth Day. This allowed users to send free stickers to friends, use public chat, and even talk to an adventure chatbot that aimed to engage a younger audience on important topics. 

WWF has amassed 2.5m followers on Viber since the launch – evidence that the charity is able to adapt its strategy to suit various platforms and demographics. 

When it comes to measurement and metrics such as KPIs, Alice suggests that it is usually content dependent. For certain types of content, the charity might focus on engagement levels, while for others it might aim for conversion (e.g. a user signing a petition), website visits, or comments and responses.

Social data and demographics

Alongside differing metrics, WWF is also aware that each channel tends to attract a different demographic. Consequently, the charity tailors its messages to varying audiences where it can. This is not only due to the varying concerns of different age groups – but the differences in how they respond to certain calls to action. 

For example, an older demographic might have more money to support fundraising efforts or show more interest in signing up to emails. On the other hand, a younger audience might be more interested in galvanising their local community or joining a creative competition, such as the one launched this year for Earth Hour, which challenged young people to make a video about how climate change affects them.

Again, data is a big focus for WWF. As a non-profit organisation, social data in particular allows the charity to generate the best ROI on digital activity. The charity uses a weekly review schedule to measure content across all channels, in order to see what is performing best and where. It also regularly conducts user surveys and asks for feedback from supporters about what types of content they like the most. 

Similarly, while WWF used micro-influencers for Earth Hour 2017, Alice mentioned that the charity hopes to capitalise on influencers more widely in future to better understand how to reach its audience on the issues that matter most to them: 

As an NGO (non-governmental organisation), our supporters are our biggest strength and we are keen to hear from them as much as we can.

Trends and innovation

Charities often seem particularly innovative when it comes to social campaigns, perhaps more so in comparison to other industries. Alice mentioned that this might be due to the fact that, when budgets are constrained, creativity tends to flourish. But it's also true that social is a medium for emotional stories – this is something the charity sector happens to have in bucket-loads. 

When you combine this with WWF’s evident passion for the cause, it’s unsurprising that campaigns like Earth Hour create more impact with each passing year.

In 2017, 187 countries and territories joined the Earth Hour movement, with the hashtag eventually trending in over 30 countries. As a result, WWF witnessed both individuals and organisations calling for stronger climate policy in seven countries, and over 100,000 people changed their profile picture and used Facebook to shine a light on climate action.

So, what’s next for WWF?

When it comes to the next big trend in social, Alice cited AI in social messaging, i.e. chatbots. 

By giving people real-time responses to issues, Alice suggests that AI will enable organisations like WWF to better use their resources, all the while improving the audience's experience. Whether or not the charity sector can overcome most of the current chatbot pitfalls – such as limited technology and user apathy – remains to be seen. However, if there’s one charity that sets a goal and sticks to it – it’s this one.

AI is pretty exciting right now and the possibilities are endless. I appreciate that people are worried about how it might affect us in the long-term, and it is disruptive. However, I think that AI could prove to be beneficial in many applications - particularly in social media.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 22 June, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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