Campaigns gone wrong

This week in Melbourne, protesters for animal rights blockaded the main intersection during peak travel hour. It caused mass chaos and disruptions. Every news channel ran multiple pieces about it and everyone has an opinion, including all over twitter. But not all in a positive, supportive way. Not even most. Instead, there has been a massive and quite vehement backlash.

The protesters are even being called ‘terrorists’.

Once the word terrorist is being thrown about, however hyperbolic, your cause is lost.

This is how you get the wrong attention.

The same risks can apply to poorly thought out campaigns for NGOs. Caught up in the swell of excitement and enthusiasm around the conference table, an idea can seem brilliant and you can’t see how it can possibly go wrong! It will surely be another ‘ice bucket’ challenge, that raised over $115 million for ALS research, with celebrities rushing to throw fairy floss at a cat or whatever creative and wacky idea you come up with.

But then it hits the real world. And suddenly, your Twitter feed is overrun with photos of assaults, shootings and  people literally asleep at the job – as happened with the ill-fated 2014 NYPD twitter campaign that saw thousands of tweets of ‘unfavourable’ images of NY police in response to a request for ‘photographs with police officers’.

Development and humanitarian campaigns are far from immune to the risk of campaigns gone wrong. Perhaps even more so, since they are so often starting from a point of having to educate audiences about the very existence issue and tell them why they should support it.  

Kony2012 is an oft-cited example, with the highly publicised downfall of its founder and the resulting criticism of the campaign. However, despite this, it raised $28 million for its cause. Not a small amount of money! Successful to was the 2015 UNWomen HeForShe social media campaign. It resulted in 1.2 billion conversations on social media and mobilised hundreds of thousands of people, including celebrities, to talk about gender equality and get men and boys engaged

So what does a successful advocacy campaign look like?

  1. A successful campaign makes use of emotional appeal. This is critical in getting people to care about your cause. Everyone has a story of a time when they were either a victim of or witness to sexual harassment, leading to the momentous #MeToo movement. For a successful campaign, you need to find a way to get audiences to relate to your story. Why should they care? Why should they be involved? Yes, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a totally valid emotion to play on!
  2. Successful campaigns take advantage of influencers. Celebrities are no longer the only possible influencer available to NGOs, although they are an important one – the presence of websites like Look To The Stars that outlines the charitable pursuits of many celebrities is evidence of that. But for the right cause, there are a whole array of potential influencers – Instagram personalities, online gamers. These people are not without pitfalls though, which need to be accounted for when considering whether or not to incorporate them into a campaign plan. If done well, this can be an incredibly powerful tool – if done badly, it can alienate audiences.
  3. Make use of multiple channels. Don’t just rely on your Facebook page or Twitter to engage audiences, but diversify – incorporate multiple channels, as well as offline and online mediums to share your message. This does mean you need to know where your audience is hanging out (which I’ll talk about in another post), but diversifying gives you maximum chances to reach potential supporters.
  4. Successful campaigns are creative, innovative and interesting. In the sea of voices trying to be heard, it is important to stand out, and creativity is essential. However, it is important not to go so far that you risk your audience not being able to engage with your message. If you are targeting bureaucrats, a Snapchat campaign is not going to make a difference!
  5. Include a call to action. Campaigns that seek to raise awareness are great, but people like to feel that they can do something, get involved, make a difference. This could be anything from sign a petition, write a letter to a political representative or donate to the cause. Without that call to action, people won’t feel as engaged in your message, won’t remember it as long and won’t feel the level of personal commitment that you need for them to become a committed supporter.
  6. Don’t lose sight of your message and your identity. It can be easy when preparing a campaign to get caught up in the moment and the emotion. But you should always make time to step back, make sure the messages and mediums you are using are truly reflective of who you are.

So there are a few tips on running successful advocacy campaigns that shouldn’t end up with you being called a terrorist in mainstream media!

Not sure how to start your next campaign? Get in touch!

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