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Social charities in 2013. Have we reached a tipping point?

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The 2013 Social Charity Study is released today. Looking back at the social media landscape from two years ago, it’s become apparent exactly how phenomenal and substantial the growth of social and digital media has become.

Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn YouTube and Google+ over the last two years has grown between 210%-480% per platform. In the last year alone, the amount of ‘likes’, ‘follows’ and subscribers gathered by the top 100 charities in our Index has gone up by 193% on Twitter, 83% on Facebook, 356% on LinkedIn, 293% on YouTube and 289% on Google+. That is staggering, and far outweighs any increases of engagement created by conventional media.

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Our Top 100 social charities this year collectively have a combined income of £9.1bn between them. This is a drop in income of 26% from 2011. Social sharing has bucked that trend, however, and the amount of social sharing on Facebook has increased by 152% over the last year.

Small charities have emerged out of this study as having something of an edge. Digital media creates a more level playing field and they have developed an advantage through the social relationships they have that come from a personal touch. We’ve found in our study that smaller charities also tend to have higher levels of authenticity amongst their social followings, and a tighter relationship between the amount of supporters to revenue raised, what we are calling ‘networked power’.

The White Ribbon Alliance and Animal Aid in fact now have one follower on Twitter and Facebook for every £1 of revenue they raise. With social media now generating nearly 20 million follows and likes for our top 100 charities just on Twitter and Facebook alone, there’s good reason to pay attention to this.

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Does this suggest a tipping point for the charity industrial complex? Only time will tell, but evidencing the journey from the five pound note in the supporter’s pocket to making a difference on the ground makes a difference to credibility, supporters seem to be connecting to charities that can offer this level of transparency and involvement in the overall experience through the engaging stories they can tell, and data strategies and shorter lines of management makes that possible.

The majority of charities have been quick to incorporate user generated content into their promotional material but less so in developing more collaborative relationships with supporters. There has not been much of a shift this year in integrating social media with crm. Only 27% of the 60 charities that participated in our survey are using social business to innovate around working processes or reduce costs.

The majority of charities are still reporting on the impact they’re making primarily through the Annual Report. Only 4% of them have at the moment an open data strategy and only 16% are describing themselves as ‘mobile by default’. There has been only a moderate shift in how much HR departments have a strategy for social business or in how much networking technology is being adopted internally.

Commercial partnerships have become increasingly vital, and they offer the opportunity to take a fresh look at how philanthropy and charitable giving gets embedded into everyday life. Data strategies and networked information flows can open up innovation opportunities and new business models here.

Social media has generated a greater emphasis on experiential marketing during the last year. Charities are increasingly telling their stories through a new narrative – a more hieroglyphic language, made of links, hashtags, infographics and visual media, with the rise of Vine, Instagram and Storify, for example. The whole social brand now includes networked opportunities both internally and externally, and new business processes, working together as part of a coherent strategy.

Looking at the websites of the 280 charities we studied provides a fascinating insight into what the potential supporter sees, and makes the case for more compelling a bolder use of digital real estates.

Charities to need to adapt to social and digital media in more ambitious ways. Our YouGov poll suggests 61% of people we spoke to are likely to give to charities in the next year but even with the rapid rise of the smartphone, there is some indifference in terms of whether charities’ use social media is particularly effective.

Given the nature of organisation itself is becoming more dispersed, both across supporters and partners, it is crucial charities can articulate the very essence of what they’re about with absolute clarity, making it possible to stand out in a crowded digital market.

Save the Children takes over the top spot as the No 1 Social Charity this year. Overall, there has been a significant amount of mobility in this year’s Index, reflecting perhaps the more dynamic nature of social business.

As ever, I will be keen to your your thoughts on the report. You can download the full 2013 Social Charity study here.

Thanks to JustGiving who have been involved in the report again this year, and to Blackbaud for their support on data wrangling via their Apprenticeship programme and by supporting the YouGov poll.

For anyone interested, there will be a Twitter chat around #SocCharity13 on 25th Sepetmber at 1:00pm to discuss some of these themes, and if you can make it I’d love to have your company.

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