The Power of Diversity and Authenticity: 8 Social Media Lessons

Reflections from things we’ve tested and learned about how activists can ensure good reach on their social media channels.

View the presentation here.

It’s a constant struggle with behemoth tech companies to ensure that the work of nonprofits get seen. At 350.org, we’ve been testing over the past couple months various ways we can reach our audiences, engage them, and also use our social media channels to direct people to action.

350.org’s main social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter and to some extent Instagram. We have our primary global accounts, and many of our regional and country teams also manage their own profiles. It’s a pretty wide distributed network, and not all our teams (staff and volunteers) have access to large budgets. We wanted to find solutions that could be used across the movement, we have been trying social media and storytelling strategies with a few of our teams. Here are some things we learned, especially using the examples of 350 Pacific, 350 Canada, our global page as well as some insight from other regions.

1. Share the content creation burden

I know many organizations who have all their social media content go through a select group of people (or person). Something 350 Pacific has tried is to train up all their country coordinators to have some basic digital skills.

At a regional retreat in April, we ran a full day digital storytelling T4T (training for trainers) with 15 Pacific Climate Warriors (and they have incorporated digital storytelling into previous retreats). As 350 Pacific Campaigner Joseph Zane Sikulu said:

“We wanted to get away from just posting news links and memes on our page and instead show the real work of our teams. We saw some really positive results from when we did a lot of on the ground digital reporting at COP23, so we wanted to carry this forward into our new campaign Pacific Pawa.”

Now their Facebook and Instagram feeds are much more full of content coming directly from all their teams — mobile phone videos of communities in Kiribati — sailing on a traditional canoe powered by wind, Instagram stories of art builds in Fiji, photo albums of marches in Vanuatu and more. And they’re seeing some huge results.

Zane reports, “Since the launch of our #PacificPawa work, we’ve been really intentional about ensuring we were sharing stories of the amazing organising work happening across the Pacific.” Since the launch in July, they have seen an 565% increase in the reach of their Facebook posts, a 316% increase in post engagement, and a 194% increase in page likes.

Sharing mobile created content at the Pacific Climate Warrior Retreat

350 Canada has also shown some really great teamwork. They are spread out across the country and depending on location and relationships, each of them contributes in various ways to the digital work. It could be a livestream of an action, a blog written from a personal perspective or more. Having a diverse team feeding content also leads to some other positive results. As Katie Rae Perfitt, the 350 Canada Divestment Organiser said recently, this also matters because:

“Each one of us is brings our own unique identities and lived experiences to this movement. Where we live, which communities we belong to, our race, gender, motivations for action, our personal style, class background, and other elements of ourselves are pathways for our audience to see themselves in the climate movement and have our message land.”

2. Create a diversity of content

It’s great to mix it up. Share livestreams, produced videos, articles, photo albums and more. Host a webinar or live Q&A that provides a space for people to have an in depth conversation. Do quick updates and analysis. Whatever you do, just mix it up. Give your audience different elements of the stories in a variety of ways.

For example, several months ago, Alberta’s premier called for a boycott of British Columbia wine because of the province’s position on tar sands pipelines. So the team in Ottawa organised a ‘buycott’ and called on people to come buy British Columbia wine in support. A volunteer helped run the livestream of the action. And then we used an easy tool called Animoto to take snippets of the livestream and turn into a short video that explained the action some more and could be easily shared. It got over 111,000 views.

Climate change impacts everyone differently. It’s so important to share a variety of perspectives on this work. There shouldn’t just be a single voice explaining it.

3. Be authentic

We believe that it’s important for our audience to feel connected to us and the collective work. ‘Authenticity’ in a social media sense can mean many different things, but at the end of the day I think it comes down to can people see the humanity in your content? As Zane says:

“In the Pacific authentic content is content centred around our truths. It’s raw and not overly produced. It’s storytelling in its simplest form, just being honest. It works well in the Pacific because people connect and resonate with that. I feel like it’s what our people yearn for and they gravitate towards it.”

The majority of our top-performing Facebook posts are generally related to some extreme weather headline or other key breaking news. That’s just the nature of lots of social media. However, a great deal of our top performing content is authentic, real stories. Sometimes, just simple interviews with activists on the ground do really well. This video from the Hambach forest got over 67,000 views (with no paid boosts). Another key fact is that our highest performing piece of content from COP23 last year was a raw mobile video of Pacific Climate Warriors on the edge of a massive mine in Germany speaking their truths.

Furthermore, sometimes it can be detrimental to be too fancy. It’s good to have visually powerful and well-made content, but you don’t want to go so far that you seem out of touch and just another big INGO trying to spend a budget. Chris Kif, 350.org Africa Digital Campaigner says:

“The value of visually powerful and well produced content lies in an openness to the diverse, culturally relative stories and imagery that comes from our global network. The key to effective visual storytelling is strong content — not necessarily “high quality content” always! By sharing inspiring content, we also want to show our audience that they can produce content using what they have. They don’t always have to have the latest video camera to produce content.”

I’m not saying to never hire professional videographers and photographers. It can be absolutely crucial at times to bring in professionals to help your message shine.

4. Relationships matter

You can have the most stunning content in the world, but at the end of the day, relationships matter — especially if you’re trying to not just build followers, but build a movement as well. During escalated actions to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Atiya Jaffar, said:

“There is a coalition of orgs and grassroots groups working collaboratively on this project — and the digital organizers from these groups worked very closely. We tried to make it so that we were tagging each other on and off for live streams — which meant we could take rest breaks and days during 8 days of action and also that we weren’t competing for airwaves — when one of us went live we shared it on the other pages immediately to draw a bigger crowd and a few times we actually ended the livestream by letting folks know where they could go next for more coverage”

On a global level, I’ve found it useful to build relationships with people who have similar positions at other organizations. I’m more likely to share a video from another group if I get a personal email from someone I know versus just seeing something in my feed. This is something I want to continue to cultivate.

Relationships also matter with doing digital storytelling. At 350.org we’re committed to trying our best to do non-extractive storytelling. That means honouring people’s stories, and through the whole process, we are respecting people’s experiences, feedback and ownership. It’s not about grabbing some talking points and racing out, but taking time to build relationships. Digital storytelling at its heart should be about more than just views, but creating real transformations in people — in both the storyteller and the audience. Never forget that a video isn’t a victory if it damages your relationship with partners and communities (no matter how viral the video goes).

Powerful new video from the Philippines. Example of working to respect relationships with impacted communities

It makes a big difference to work with professional videographers and photographers who already have some frame of reference to the authentic stories you want to tell and have relationships in the movement. Chuck Baclagon, 350.org East Asia Digital Campaigner says:

“Our goal is to put the audience in the shoes of the people being featured in the video. Only documentarists who are already involved in the local struggle can bring that out, because it exhibits empathy. Their solidarity with their fight sends a message to the communities that we’re not only after getting a good story — we are there for the long haul, and we care as much as them about the outcome of their local campaigns.”

5. Find your niche

It’s so important to be aware of the specific role your organization/social media channel plays. What can you share and offer that no other group can? During the past few months, when the movement to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline has been peaking, I’ve always known I could go to the 350 Canada channels to find out what the latest news was. And I also really appreciated that 350 Canada didn’t just share their own content, but really worked to amplify from other teams, and especially from the indigenous communities leading the campaign. So think about how your page can be a go-to hub of information for people in a unique way. 350 Canada’s efforts have really paid off. Even though they have under 10,000 Facebook followers, they regularly reach over 100,000 people each week.

Pop up action in Montreal in May. Had high reach and engagement.

6. Prioritize

Not every piece of content you post on social media should have the same levels of your attention. I always think of the big rock, little rock and sand analogy. For the content that will really matter, make sure you’re engaging and planning well in advance. Make sure your campaign teams know to loop in digital staff and volunteers from the get go.

When we heard that the announcement was about to happen around Ireland divesting from fossil fuels, we made sure to prepare some content — including this video which had over 767,000 views. We knew it would be great news and we wanted to ensure we got it right. (The Ireland video also worked well because we had built a relationship with NowThis. Another sign that taking time to build relationships and do proper distribution work matters.)

For high priority content like videos, make sure you prioritize capacity/strategy for production as well as distribution. You should allocate ample time to making sure your video gets seen and has an impact.

7. Breaking news and hot topics

Social Media algorithms are still geared to support content that is connected to whatever the hot topics are. It’s useful to keep the latest news on your radar and think about what you can add that can support those conversations. In the climate change world, this often means sharing about recent extreme weather. However, don’t get too stuck in constant response mode. Be on the offensive also and balance the latest news with the ongoing stories that people need to hear (that will hopefully help get them out of the continuous problems in news cycles). It’s good to prepare some video templates and other plans ahead of time so that your team knows how to respond. Don’t get too caught up in creating a whole new plan from scratch.

Recently, there was a new climate study about the fate of our planet that was getting a lot of sensational coverage. We decided to ask our then Programme Director Payal Parekh to record a short mobile video with her talking about a recent climate study, climate despair, and the hope that stillexists. It was a candid and simple video. We just added some simple text and released it, and it performed very well (especially given the limited time and budget that was put in).

8. Keep on testing and trying new things

Social media algorithms are a finicky thing. So it’s important to just keep on testing things and learning as you go. Every Monday take time to look back over your past week and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. If you aren’t sure if something will work, well just test it out and see how it goes.

There are some good analytics tools out there (like Tint and Keyhole amongst others), but you can also just use the analytics tools built into Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Also experiment with new kinds of actions, events and ways that people can engage. In the Philippines, they wanted people to safely be able to engage in social action, and do more than just tweet or sign a petition. They gathered 500 photos from frontline communities, activists, students, artists, churchgoers, and other advocates and then held a virtual march using Pixelsticks.

In the Philippines they recently tested out a virtual march.

Additional Resources

Digital coverage tips. How people can use their phones to report from events, actions. Also tips on taking photos and videos. >>

Social media campaign strategy. A 2 part worksheet that teams can do to help them plan ahead for their campaigns. Part 1 >> Part 2 >>

Digital platform planning. To help teams decide on which digital platforms they should be prioritizing in their work & what it would take in order to maintain them in an effective way. >>

Social media for action recruitment & storytelling: A presentation and training >>

Digital storytelling in the age of climate change: A set of cards you can download and print which walk you through how to do a digital storytelling project. >>


Some of the questions we still have and want to explore more:

— If Facebook is prioritizing personal and local content, then what is the role of a global level page? We’re still sorting out and learning the best content that goes on there — and also exactly what a global page should sound like, feel like, and look like. There’s also a lot of complex things to take into account like language, humour, measurements and more.

— We want to build up more content creation capacity on a regional/national level so teams can better create content that works for their audience. How to best do that when teams already have limited capacity?

— How much is it driving people to act? We can look at some of our website statistics and see how many people went to an RSVP page from social media. We can see how many people clicked on a link. However, we still need to implement some new data practices that will help us better measure how much all the content actually adds up to real change. Though I do think it’s important to recognize that some of it can’t be quantified. There was an old woman who took action in March to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and she told the person next to her that’s she’s doing it because she heard the stories from the Pacific Climate Warriors when they came last year. There are ways we may never know how far our stories really go.

— The role and possibilities of boosts and ads. When to do it? How to spend? This is again a tricky issue that’s going to take a lot more focus and energy. (Though we now have a good team working on it)

— What do to do if you don’t have a campaign? It’s easier to create lots of great content when you have an active campaign going. But what can you do when you’re in a lull? How do you keep engagement up?

— We want to try IGTV and Facebook Stories and see how those work. We’ve been testing out more Instagram Stories, but still need to nail our strategies on how best to use these new tools.

— How can we develop better social listening practices so we can better understand audiences and trends?