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How and why certain development social media campaigns went viral

By 21 April 2017

I recently attended the 2017 BOND Conference in London (21-22 March). BOND is a membership network of NGOs, charities, and organisations working on international development in the UK. The conference explored the future of development funding and policy, and how the ever-changing geopolitical system might disrupt and iterate how the development sector functions.

Research to Action provided social media coverage of the ‘Impact’ strand of the conference, which explored topics including strategic communications, social media, and digital innovation amongst others. This Storify summary collects pictures and soundbites from the impact-related events if you missed any of the action.

On Tuesday I attended a very popular session, ‘4 social media campaigns I wish I’d run’, and which, unsurprisingly, sparked a small Twitter storm. The session was facilitated by Mayur Paul, Head of Communications at Care International UK, and panelists included Lliana Bird, Co-founder of Help Refugees, Caitlin Ryan, Migration Campaign Manager at MSF, Richard Wilson, Founder of the Stop Funding Hate campaign, and Hratche Koundarjian, Global Media Manager at VSO International. The session gathered the lessons learned from surprising successes and the innovative tactics used by some of the most salient social media campaigns of the last year.

Lliana Bird from Help Refugees began by describing how the hashtag #HelpCalais garnered support and enough donations to start a charity to disburse aid in the refugee camp in Calais. The rather clever hashtag #Refugenes aimed to speak to audiences with refugee heritage, and attracted a wide range of both celebrity and popular support. Lliana reflected on the hashtag and its success, positing that it worked so well because of the emphasis it placed on asking people to share their own stories in support of others.

Next, Hratche Koundarjian from VSO International spoke about a collaboration across the sector and the BOND media group which spread the hashtag #proudofaid in response to a newspaper calling for cuts to the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of the national budget on aid. The campaign was simple and effective, enabling individuals to participate themselves by printing off materials available online and taking photos to add to the picture campaign. Participants were also encouraged to tweet photos to their MPs to pressure policymakers. Hratche finished his presentation with a call to action, asking the development sector to think about who it is reaching online via social media and reflecting on the need to delve further into the analytics and, importantly, about filling the gaps that might enhance further online reach.

Richard Wilson from the Stop Funding Hate campaign spoke about his experiences founding a volunteer movement that used social media pressure to call out advertisers promoting hate speech and spreading misinformation. Richard spoke about the power of consumer choices to invalidate media messages and harmful misinformation. He noted that the power of the campaign lay in the idea of individuals’ wanting to align their values across the advertising they consume.

Finally, Caitlyn Ryan from MSF spoke about the strategy behind setting up the Twitter account @MSF_Sea, which charted the movements of rescue boats in the Mediterranean. Caitlyn spoke about the importance of her work on the MSF migration dossier, allowing her to accurately communicate research messages and updates via social media, giving more context to the online debates. Caitlyn also offered three tactics for dealing with trolls and stopping the spread of misinformation or ‘alternative facts’ around the refugee crisis. They included: 1) correcting alternative facts, 2) humanising the troll, and 3) using humour.

Molly Anders, a journalist from the development news website Devex, has written an in-depth summary of the session which you can read online for free.