Social Sciences

The science behind selling social campaigns

Written by Mamie M. Arndt
  • In the last decade, the way audiences globally especially millennials consume and relate to social content has completely transformed.
  • They expect a higher purpose and more impact from what they professionally do, which basically translates to them being far more involved in global issues than their predecessors.
  • Abhik Choudhury, Chief strategist and Founder, Salt and Paper Consulting decodes the science that goes behind creating impactful social campaigns that work with the younger audience.

Much before a pandemic forced the world to go virtual, the biggest social movements of the present generation were already happening in the digital space. Yet for most NGOs and brands the outreach content is still stuck in an 80s time loop. In the last decade though, the way audiences globally especially millennials consume and relate to social content has completely transformed. They expect a higher purpose and more impact from what they professionally do, which basically translates to them being far more involved in global issues than their predecessors.

The first realization social workers around the world need to have is that generating sympathy and CSR does not always need to be the same. You can be bold without discounting fun. Engaging without ever crossing the line of rash. In the digital generation, it is never about the what – always how. The same eighty-year-old story of Batman when told in the right tone by Christopher Nolan elevates the original content itself.

1. Optimistic visuals

a group of people in different poses for the camera

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“Millennials are the nation’s most dogged optimists,” when an NYT article quoted this Pew report a few years ago, the world was already starting to get shaped by them. Yet, poverty porn a phenomenon made infamous in the 80s, still remains an unfortunate reality that needs to be demolished; your content across causes needs to instill empathy not forced pity. Millenials want dignity to be a fundamental right and promoting people at their worst doesn’t make the cut. The social campaign should stay away from becoming look at this – feel sorry – pay – go. Treat them with respect and make them a part of the narrative and conversation. Some exceptions like US based Charity Water who affirm making clean water available to 11 million people lead the way with their fresh approach of putting the water crisis across in a positive and pleasantly bright way. Photoshoots right out of a lifestyle magazine; African women adorning beautiful local attire with a contagious smile. Does that picture make water conservation efforts less serious or the positivity disregard the compassion we should feel towards the less privileged? On the contrary, theirs might be the only water conservation poster millennials would share on social media tagging their friends.

2. Participative text

graphical user interface, website

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There is a certain indifference that seeps in when you command people to help. Relatability and passion are the key to modern social text. Think posts of Humans of New York while writing about social causes. Just because something is painful, it does not mean that it cannot be motivating and bring people together. In a small tweak between ‘Give money for books’ vs ‘Pay forward your childhood stories’, the same content instantly starts looking very different. The trick is to let go of the shock value of your headlines and ask yourself how can I sprinkle more kindness in it. ‘1 out of 3 local kids remain uneducated. Donate here’ can very well also be framed as ‘Matt wants to win a Nobel prize for finding a cure for cancer one day. Support him.’

3. Let them follow the money


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Most non-profits agree that fiscal responsibility and transparency are imperative yet one has to scroll through their website to find them in finer details. In the 2020s, your woke audiences are looking for shared accountability and in the digital space know of a hundred sources to find it if you won’t give it to them. They want to be involved in the full circle of how exactly their hard earned money will be used to make a difference. So either you can tell them to pay $100 to educate a school kid like eight out of ten Facebook ads you yourself see or you can look at them like equal partners and clarify the details while asking for money.

The lesson here is earn the trust and respect, don’t demand it and expect others to blindly abide. You would have heard the phrase, follow the money. Let them.

4. Data mine industry leaders

graphical user interface, application, website

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graphical user interface, website

© Provided by Business Insider India

Possibly one of the only good things coming from the Cambridge Analytica uproar was Facebook being forced to be more transparent with their ads. So now below the About us section of the company profile, you can see the page transparency box. By clicking on see more, the rabbit hole takes you to a new pop up with details like when the page was made, which countries the admins operate from and most importantly the ad library. Once you click on the ad library you can see every ad run by that brand or NGO across the world including the post creative, ad budget, reach detail and target audience segregation. Basically everything you would want to perfect for your digital ad funnel but usually can’t because of the paucity of funds being a smaller NGO or a startup.

But when it comes to the collective goodness of the society there is no wrong way to get valuable insight as everyone is on the same team. Use these data points to understand what kind of content people actually are emotive to and relate to in comparison. While making posts in regional languages what kind of communication works better?

If you are not a global charity organisation supported by billionaires it might really help to do this research before working on promoting your project after understanding where your campaign plan stands in accordance with the best global industry standards. It’s an absolutely free goldmine of data if you know where and how to look.

5. Kill the gimmicks

In a world of overnight trends it is very easy to fall in the trap of force fitting oneself to it just to stay in the limelight of conversations. And while for a product to be surrogated like this can still pass, a cause immediately looks too desperate with an innate lack of genuineness. Your audience is smart and understands how the media works, they won’t wait to call you out if you make your cause ride a topical wave without any likely association with it.

Stay away from gimmicks with millennials, period. They are looking for passionate cause custodians not advertising opportunists. The crisis communication costs during such fallouts can be pretty steep. Look at how in the midst of #blacklivesmatter movement last year, Microsoft had found itself under fire for asking Artist Shantell Martin to make a Black Lives Matter mural while it’s ‘still relevant’. There is no substitute for sincerity.

In the end, the trick is to find the simultaneously delicate balance between the topical issues that need immediate attending without discounting the tenacity of holding on to the long term goals of making this world a better place. With kindness, dollops and dollops of it.

About the author

Mamie M. Arndt