Social media and development: Four examples to get you started


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Most Shocking Second A Day video by Save The Children

Watch the above video. It’s from a Save the Children campaign about what can happen to children living in a country caught in conflict, and raising questions about whether the child will see her next birthday.

The video has been viewed by more than 50 million people. Save the Children wanted to deliver a message that the war in Syria, as in all wars, is really not so distant from our lives — that we all care about our children.

This shows the power of social media in the world of international development. The World Bank Group has extensive experience in taking advantage of social media channels to bring new audiences to critical issues affecting the poor. As part of the social media team, focusing mainly on keeping you, our audience, engaged — I would like to share some of my personal takeaways from these experiences, both in-house and from other organizations.

And I would like to hear from you — more on that at the end of the blog.

Amir Hatem Ali does a great job in a research paper laying out for policymakers and development organizations the best ways to build a social media base. He makes a compelling case that social media can contribute to promoting basic ICT skills and fostering participation and democratization in developing nations. I agree with him.

At the World Bank Group, our creative teams are running campaigns, trying different digital approaches, and opening new channels on social media to reach large numbers of people across the world.

One of the blogs I would recommend is People, Spaces, Deliberation, where we talk a lot about social media and how different countries and organizations are using it to promote development. And we’ve run campaigns to help build a movement to end extreme poverty by 2030, which is our goal. Such campaigns include Each Day I See, End Energy Poverty, Get2Equal, #Music4Dev, and several others.

Now to the fun part. Take a look at some other examples of creative approaches and campaigns that I find inspiring — maybe they can inspire you too.

Charity Water, the first charity organization to have 1 million followers on Twitter, are experts at using positive messaging to grow huge audiences. I noticed that they have cultivated the use of smiling faces combined with access to clean water. And who doesn’t like a smiling face? I certainly do! And I can see why this works so well as a social media campaign. For one, they use innovative and quality photography. I also like their design which couples compelling stories from people donating toward clean water. This is perhaps why I have made them one of my go-to organizations for creative ideas in social media.

Since our work covers various topics within international development, I wanted to see how others have mobilized support around health. I came across this Art of Saving a Life campaign about vaccinating children created by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Convincing people to care about international development can sometimes be challenging. But through this campaign, I learned that if you create an emotional appeal (making the case for why you think people should care) and use news coverage to widen the impact of your message, you can get the attention. You don’t have to be or have the same “klout” as big organizations. Whatever reputation and name your organization has, leverage it. And don’t forget to always be thinking about how to share your content!

If you are looking for a welcome break from daily routine tweeting, I would suggest you check out Periscope. The tool is intuitive and easy to use. I thought DFID had a brilliant idea to use Periscope to cover Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech about the Global Goals. The platform’s unique capability to provide immediacy and interactivity for the users ensured that thousands of people were able to follow along as the prime minister spoke.

Periscope is quickly becoming very popular and can be a useful tool if your organization is looking to engage their audience and have live viewers — especially during events. We used the tool during a panel discussion with National Geographic and with an Action 2015 event in April last year. I wish I knew then that you can save a recording of the video stream and upload to YouTube or Facebook and promote the post-event follow-up content later. Well, now you know.

My last inspiration is from WWF. They developed #Lastselfie, a campaign on Snapchat which introduced the platform as one organization can seriously consider if they want to widen their audience. Here’s my quick translation of Snapchat — think about it as a mini-billboard where you can advertise your message for a short time with the potential of developing into a bigger story.

Do you have great examples on how organizations are using social media for development?

What are some of your favorite social media campaigns? What did you like about them? We want to learn from you! Share your creative projects in the comments below.


Join the Conversation

Kimbowa Richard
February 22, 2016

As Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development / East African SusWatch Network, we are proud of the campaign: Invoke the laws and policies to deter car washing in Lake Victoria:… that raised the profile of the problem within the media and CSOs we work with.

Zubedah Nanfuka
May 23, 2019

Thanks for your comment Richard. We published a blog post on protecting Lake Victoria, which you may be interested in. Here it is:

David Girling
February 23, 2016

Interesting blog post, Zubedah. You might be interested in my blog about Social Media and International Development - - it has lots of examples from around the world from grassroots organisations to interviews with DFID and UNDP. I also tweet about issues @socialmedia4D

Zubedah Nanfuka
May 23, 2019

Thanks David for your comment. I bookmarked your blog and will reference it in the future.

Nilofar Haja
February 23, 2016

Zubedah, thank you shining the spotlight on important campaigns that have been created by non-profits and foundations with a global reach. I find some of the email campaigns by US-based Accion International, a global nonprofit that supports microfinance institutions in their work to provide financial services to low-income clients, quite innovative and heartwarming in how they highlight the everyday stories of success of their "clients" (poor women from the Global South who take loans to buy cookstoves to start a food-based business) and allowing the reader to be part of this success story by say, buying a recipe book put together by Accion and the women.
However, I do find your article problematic on some counts, chiefly because it purports a skewed idea that digital and social media communications and campaigns can be easily set up and rake in millions of views. These are only the success stories and there are thousands of campaigns that don't take off or receive much traction despite a lot of effort, time and resources being spent on these. Big organizations can afford trial and error, and pull down ads that just don't work. I am not sure small non-profits can afford that kind of experimentation.
It takes a social media team comprising designers, marketing and digital communications professionals to come up with such campaigns. You need a skilled photographer, the resources to travel to meet the stakeholders and community, and also access to audio-video equipment to take videos. Small non-profits and social enterprise organizations simply don't have access to that kind of budget or staff.
What compounds the dependence on social media is this fallacy that it's all free. There was a time when setting up a Facebook page would have been enough to invite your supporters and disseminate news through one or two platforms. Today, non-profits have to be present on multiple channels, ranging from YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, apart from email newsletter services such as Vertical Response and data collection services such as SurveyGizmo because our user base is diverse and the demography, ever changing. And to keep track of our audience, measure impact, work on SEO and Analytics requires a dedicated monthly budget - a budget that gets split evenly between print resources (flyer, brochures, reports, event promotional materials) and overall technology costs (computers, servers, equipment). This is the case of most non-profit start-ups working not just in India, Africa and South America, but in the smaller towns and cities of the Global North.
So, I think, there's more pressure than ever, on small organizations, to compete for attention against big, sustained, beautifully-put together, advertisement-like digital campaigns created by the likes of the biggies (the UN, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Amnesty International) who come from the charity-development-and enterprise sector but are in a different league altogether.
One positive aspect of having access to all these campaigns and ideas is that smaller organizations can adapt and adopt ideas that fit within their resources and budgets, targeting very specific audience and supporters (either based in geography or age group or issue) using the very tools of social media (Facebook and Twitter advertisements, for instance, allow for granular categorization when selecting demography).
It would be wonderful to speak to smaller organizations and enterprises to collate stories of success and failures for a toolkit of best practices in the field.

Zubedah Nanfuka
May 23, 2019

Thanks for your comment Nilofar. You raise incredibly valid points. Indeed, the growth in social media has meant that smaller non profits are going to compete with bigger ones -- for the online audience.
We would like to highlight success stories of smaller non profits so if you have any in mind, please do share and we will follow up. Thanks once again.