The Be Good Be Social Conference Helps Charities Reach Further with Social Media

Charities, if you are interested in funding, you might want to read this and look up the Third Sector Lab, especially if you’re dabbling in social media or thinking about it. I’ve got some golden tips for you that I learned at the Be Good Be Social conference last month in Glasgow.

The following is a summary of what I took away from each talk an workshop. These were:

Telling Your Story: What Funders Want to See from your Online Presence

John Fellows is the head of communications at the Big Lottery Fund, so I listened VERY carefully. First of all, he says that you don’t NEED social media (phew!).  BUT, it can be a great way to get support, involve users in your service and show your stuff to funders.

So, here’s some wisdom practically straight from the horse’s mouth:

The basic funding formula is need + plan = funding and your social media should show as much of these ingredients as possible. Funding applications, simply speaking, can be thought of as a story: need, plan, execution; beginning, middle and end.

  • Show the need for your project and why your approach is the right one (beginning) 
  • Clearly define outcomes and how you plan to deliver them (middle)
  • Plan to evaluate the impact of your project (end)

Big Lottery Funded projects find Social Media is a great tool to get users connecting with their project and with each other: A charity helping home carers feel less isolated uses Facebook to get users in touch with each other- depending on your service, something like this could be part of your plan! It’s also a great way to get instant feedback (very helpful when you’re still defining and the need and the best approach to fill it). 

Back to Basics: Creating the World’s Quickest Social Media Strategy

While other groups dispersed to find their workshop spaces, I stayed put for Third Sector Lab's Ross McCulloch’s Back to Basics: Creating the World’s Quickest Social Media Strategy. 

In a nutshell, start small and with what you know.

  1. Set yourself goals (beginning): Like John hinted at earlier, your social media should have a purpose. What do you want to achieve? User connectivity? Telling a story? Feedback?
  2. Social Media Audit (beginning, too): Google yourself.  Have a look at what’s being said about you and your cause and where they are saying it. If conversations are happening predominantly on Twitter, for example, think about starting there.
  3. Strategy (middle): So, say you want to get feedback. This happens to be one of the simplest and most effective uses of facebook. Strategy: Build a decent following, Ask the right questions and harvest your feedback. It’s like an enormous focus group!
  4. Measure your success (end): Set aside time to evaluate. Is your social media campaign achieving what you want it to achieve?  Ask where people hear about events, etc. Are they tuning in to facebook, twitter, etc, or is updating these media attention misspent? Have you been getting useful feedback? Are you asking the right questions?

Not so overwhelming, is it? 

User Voices: Using Online Tools to Give Services Users a Voice

Gina Alexander of Patient Opinion asks the group how we are involving users in our service? In particular, how do users give feedback? How do we get involved with the services we use?

Patient Opinion is a social enterprise that collects feedback from medical patients throughout the UK. Many organisations and providers take advantage of its services and it is potentially a very valuable resource for charities concerned with medical illness and disability. 

There are many, MANY different ways of getting feedback and it pays to devote some energy to making sure your feedback mechanisms fit your audience.  Just ask: do people prefer feeding back online? In writing? Drawing (one of Patient Opinion’s feedback forms is simply a blank space for the user to fill however they see fit)? Face to face? In a focus group? On a plane? In a train? On an ipad with keys that make sounds?

Without going to too many extremes, Gina says that people must enjoy feeding back, or at least feel motivated to tell you about their experience. This usually happens when

  • You have the right attitude
  • The user knows that someone is looking at their feedback
  • The user knows something will come of their feedback. That is, the time they spent feeding back was time well spent.

Feedback is a gift. Remembering this might help with the above, especially the attitude. Helpful, since, as James Munro the director of research at Patient Opinion rightly says, “corporate language and defensive postures don’t cut much ice.” 

Some guidelines: 

  • No stock responses; make responses personal
  • Deal with issues and say what you will do
  • Timing is everything (don’t keep them waiting)
  • Use the data
  • Actively engage online (Social Media!)

And you know what feedback’s great for? Funding applications! Need + Plan = Funding.  Solid channels of communication between user and provider will refine your perception of what needs to be done and sharpen your approach. 

What are the Police Doing on Twitter?

Gordon Scobbie, Deputy Chief Constable of the Tayside Police is also the National Social Media Lead for UK Police. Yes, social media. Scobie says he gets flack occasionally from officers who think this aspect of his role is a bit of fluff. At which point he reminds them how proper management of social media would have been a critical tool in last years riots. 

He explained that during the riots of August 2011, some fairly high up police were actually asking “how do we close down facebook!?” Of course you can’t close down Facebook anymore than you can close down the press (and these officers would never even think of seriously suggesting the latter). 

You can, however, turn a little understood and often scary medium into a tool of effective policing. 

Twitter, for example, has come to be the place where news breaks first and, as a news channel, it has very high credibility. Police officers (including officer Scobbie, of course @DCCTayside) are beginning to engage with communities through twitter so that when shit goes down, police become an accurate, trusted and timely source of information. 

Safety issues and legal restrictions must be addressed of course, but the benefits of using social media (properly) far outweigh the drawbacks. Scobbie advocates harnessing the skills of young cops who know about social media and can mentor older cops. It’s important to remember that it’s not always the techie who knows; scour your organisation for unsung engagement talent. 

All this talk about police creating rapport with the public on social media reminded me of an excellent example of police blogging: the Seattle Police Department’s guide to pot use.

which brings me to my next workshop…

Better Blogging: Getting the Most out of Your Blog

Upwards of 80% of regular internet users read blogs on a daily basis, though many are unaware that what they are reading is a blog. This is a medium worth thinking about. 

The key insight of this conference seems to be that your social media must have a purpose; you’ve gotta know why you are doing it. Blogging is no different, so, copywriter and web editor Nicola Balkind started with how blogging differs from Facebook and twitter and why you might consider it a good social media option.

  • Less fleeting and more detailed than other social media, blogs provide an anchor for your web presence that will remain when platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been and gone. 
  • They keep your audience updated with in-depth explanations of key news 
  • SEO: new blog posts on your webpage provide fresh content and key words for search engines, which will improve your search ranking. 
  • Blogs are easier to search, too

So, what’s in a blog? Anything you want, really:

  • News and announcements
  • Research
  • Tips/Lists/Top Tens/How Tos
  • Guest blogs or interviews


The best way to decide how to go about the whole thing is to find other blogs you like and see what they’ve got. Nicola showed us some of her favourites and pointed out their uniting features:

  • Personality: the right tone brings a community home
  • A consistent image: you know what to expect
  • Participation: readers were encouraged to do something or to respond
  • Clear and knowledgeable content.

Try coming up with a catch phrase or pitch that hits the right tone and keeps you loyal to a consistent image or angle.

Concerns and misconceptions: Time

Because blog posts are typically longer than Facebook posts and certainly more than a twitter update, people hesitate because they don’t think they can invest the kind of time it takes to maintain a blog. Never fear! Because, to maintain a blog well, you need to be consistent, not necessarily prolific.  Find small amounts of time that work with your schedule and set them aside for regular blogging. You may not churn out a blog a day, or even a blog a fortnight, but you will be creating content consistently and that is the main thing. 

There’s never a perfect time to start, so just get stuck in: prepare a few posts in advance and get blogging. You’ll figure out a lot of things about yourself and/or your organisation as you go.

A few helpful sites:


Find Nicola at and on twitter @robotnic

Social Reporting: Storytelling with Audio and Video

Emily Dodd is wearing her master blogger hat today.  She is also a freelance screenwriter and film producer, writer, journalist, reader in residence at the Leith Library, and educator to name just a fraction (for a more extensive though definitely not exhaustive list, see her excellent blog.  

At Be Good Be Social, Emily’s workshop focused on getting more media into our blogs (and andy storytelling medium, really) and encouraged us to think about how we can use a mixture of photo, audio and video to present information in differently engaging ways.

Emily is all about developing knowledge people already have, so she got us to choose between video, photos and audio; break up into groups; and then present what we thought was so amazing about our choice. 

The video group said:

  • Video has it all- audio and visuals
  • You get more instant context with a video
  • And Emily pointed out that many people use Youtube as a search engine. People look for videos of places a lot (their hometown, say, or somewhere they’ve travelled) and putting up positive videos of certain places is a great way to promote yourself given that most footage is of drunken punch-ups. 
  • She also said that a drawback is the time it can take to edit clips. Very true.

The photographers said that photography was better because:

  • You can say 1000 word in an instant (and it’s quick to do)
  • It is portable
  • It is good for lazy people who can’t be bothered watching a video or listening to something.
  • More people feel comfortable looking at a picture

The small but resolute audio stronghold reminded us that audio:

  • Is confidential
  • It provokes greater use of the imagination
  • Because you can’t see the speaker, you cannot judge them for how they look.
  • Because the speaker knows they can’t be seen, they may feel more at ease talking and using their own words more confidently. 
  • It’s a good medium for vulnerable people.

With her recent work on the Leith Library blog, Emily demonstrated how she used all three media in different scenarios. I had been on the video bandwagon -it certainly worked great for the Bookbug pirate pack show and tell. Pictures worked well to introduce that blog, too- but I was won over to team audio after hearing a sound recording of a group of elderly Leithers who get a lift into the library once a week.  The sound focused my attention immediately on the main thrust of the blog: the endearing chat of the elderly and the familiar clinking of teacups. To me, those sounds mean friendliness, history, connection and community.  These are the invaluable benefits of a library that offers services like this. 

Parting wisdom

Emily says: 

  • If you plan what you want to get and tell your interviewees what that is, you will save yourself days and days of editing.
  • Have a chat to interviewees beforehand so they feel comfortable with you and the process. 
  • Images help get people clicking on audio and video.
  • Finally, if things go wrong, don’t give up- just keep trying to find a way around it. You may surprise yourself with the results.

My head packed with ideas, I sat down to the final talk, a story of when blogs and social media inexplicably explode for a good cause to the boundless joy of charity workers, supporters and, of course, those in need.

Martha Payne: From School Dinners to Hollywood Offers

Daniel Adams is a communications officer at Mary’s Meals, a charity that provides food and an education for some of Africa’s poorest children. He talked about a social media coup thanks to one of their youngest supporters. 

A little girl called Martha Payne didn’t like her school lunches. So, with the help of her dad, she started the Never Seconds blog to share her experiences, usually with a photo and a rating (health, number of mouthfuls, pieces of hair found etc). Her blog became quite popular and one day someone left a comment saying that she was lucky to have food to eat when so many children her age go without. Fair enough: Martha dedicated her blog to raising money and awareness for Mary’s Meals.  

Never Seconds may have been popular with some people, but the dinner ladies were not having a bar of it and protested. Eventually, the Argyll & Bute council banned the blog.

Then all hell broke loose.

Twitter and Facebook went nuts as celebrities like Stephen Fry raged at the council’s action. The Never Seconds story began to trend and the world media soon caught on, as well. With the help of the communications team at Mary’s meals, Martha and her family began to turn this attention to the charity’s work. 

They raised £22,000 and counting: enough to feed and educate each pupil at one school for an entire year.

You can't plan this sort of publicity, but Daniel pointed out the importance of simplicity.  Mary's Meals is easy to get behind because the idea is simple: food and education for poor children so they have a chance to grow into leaders of a new generation that doesn't need aid to survive.  This was tremendously successful when combined with an extremely common gripe (school lunches) and a young girl who cared about filling the need of those who go without.