Social Media in International Development - New Findings

Last month the International Broadcasting Trust released a report I co-authored with Helen Magee. 'Social Media - Making Your Voice Heard', is an analysis of how International Development organisations in the UK are using social media in their campaigning and field work, based on interviews with 11 digital professionals and freelancers working for and with leading aid and development organisations.

The most exciting finding and area for future growth that we investigate is the potential for connecting communities in the countries NGOs operate in with supporters and advocates in the UK through social media.

As connectivity and social media use increases globally, an understanding of how people are using technology can lead to new opportunities for dialogue, reporting and storytelling - benefitting programmes in the field as well as the work of campaigning and fundraising teams.

Here are the key findings:

  • Online communication is widely used by NGOs, but the full potential of social media is not always realised.
  • The most effective use of online communications requires an organisational culture that values social media as central to its overall strategy. However, there is frequently a lack of integration of digital technologies within NGOs.
  • The social media landscape is fast-moving and changeable and demands creative management. There is a danger that NGOs think too much about the platform and not enough about the message and the audience.
  • NGOs need to move away from a predominantly broadcast model to a more dialogical model that encourages two-way communication.
  • Measurement is essential to build an evidence base for future decision-making and the increasing availability of analytical tools facilitates this. But NGOs should be wary of simply aiming to gain followers or likes. “Going viral” raises awareness, but does not necessarily lead to sustained commitment.
  • Listening has been undervalued and is vitally important in order to understand supporters and monitor public debate about development issues.
  • There are NGOs who are leading the field and embracing the full potential of social media. This is reflected in a series of high profile campaigns that tap into cultural trends, work across online and traditional media, and provide a platform for seldom-heard voices.
  • The future will present further possibilities for building greater engagement via social media as access to the internet and mobile technology continues to grow.