Social media for development: Q&A with a United Nations specialist

Interested in social media for development? Then you need to read a recently published, very informative interview with LeiLei Phyu, Social Media Manager at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). LeiLei covers a range of topics in the context of UNDP’s work, including effective public relations, transparency, capacity building, strategy and corporate leadership.

UNDP has over 800,000 followers on Twitter and over 1 million likes on Facebook.

Read the full interview on the Social Media for Development Blog or read the highlights below.

On public relations:

“Social media gave organizations like UNDP a means to directly connect to the public rather than wait to be noticed. It’s an opportunity to be more approachable and rewrite our own narrative, break down mis-information, and show that for every negative story about those in the UN system, there are 100 undiscovered stories of positive action, and that behind these results, are amazingly talented and committed human beings who work very hard to improve conditions for the world’s most vulnerable. By not responding, by not engaging, because of a culture of risk-aversion, we run the risk of letting the myth or stereotypes and public perceptions of us become bigger and bigger monsters. The best way to address mis-information and chase the monsters away is turn the light on and reveal ourselves, who we are, what we do and how it makes an impact, what the steps look like at different phases of a project, and why you should care.”

On transparency:

“Social media is transforming the culture of communications and transparency in the organization where often, no news comes out of projects until the project reporting cycle comes to term, a very technical status and budget report is sent to donors, and depending on the communications capacity (whether they have a dedicated communications staff in their office or not), we may or may not get a report or story about the project that may or may not sound more or less like a budget report. So social has challenged different parts of the organization to change specific processes so that we’re more accountable and transparent at every step of the process.”

On capacity:

“We are part of a tree and the tree has to be healthy for everything to work right—I cannot tweet without getting quality stories that show impact and has a strong human narrative from fellow communications colleagues. They in turn need capacity, training, dedicated time and the full support and cooperation of their office to communicate, as well as a strong linkage with the project and technical staff who have the expertise, data and access to the communities who participate in our projects.”

On approaches/strategy:

“For global accounts, we try to find that middle ground to tackle the diversity of our social community. Advocacy, education, ensuring accountability and transparency through open.undp.org data and thought leadership are priorities for messaging… We shine the light on local heroes who bring amazing changes to improve their communities through our work.

“Our amazing regional teams across five continents manage separate regional accounts. Our 170+ country offices maintain their own social accounts. They all have different sets of audience who are interested in regional issues or only about particular countries.

“Be social. Be genuine. Engage. Have empathy in your storytelling. Be human. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of our audience. Continue to improve upon what’s working so far but don’t get comfortable. Innovation is vital to social media –just staying relevant doesn’t cut it.”

On the best platform to use:

“I love Twitter for the real-time interaction, behind the scenes feel, the challenge of getting up breaking news as it happens and for rapid information consumption. Twitter also challenges me to write better and think more strategically about key messages I want the audience to walk away with into a single tweet—only 20% of our audience actually clicks on our links for more information so the tweets have to be super tight and informative so they walk away with knowledge.

“My favorite is still Facebook because I can really establish a relationship with our community. Those who engage with us on Twitter may change from day to day. But on Facebook, there’s a very dedicated community who engages daily, takes the time to read and give feedback.”

On engagement with audiences in developing countries:

“The top countries where our audience are based in are India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Egypt… We aren’t seeing a rise in interaction with recipients of our programming but there has always been an organic growth in audience from programme countries—many are members of the general public who want to know if we’re being effective in their countries, want project updates and want to see impact, or want us to do more (sometimes on issues that go beyond our scope and mandate)-others want to learn about job opportunities and NGOs want to explore ways to become implementing partners or receive aid.”

On leadership:

[UNDP Administrator] Helen Clark being an amazing advocate of social media has made all the difference with our strategy. She not only champions social media—she’s an avid champion of strategic and effective communications. This opens up the space for “converting” the skeptics when she leads by example, rather than when a younger, more junior staff like me attempt to go against the “this is how it is” approach to the system and lots and lots of bureaucratic red tape.”

Read the full interview

Communicating the Sustainable Development Goals to the public: why it’s important and how to do it

A European Commission survey in 2013 revealed that only 6% of EU respondents and 4% of UK respondents, had heard of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and had an idea of what they were. The MDGs, a set of goals agreed by all of the world’s countries to meet the needs of the world’s poorest, which range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, have had mixed results. Had there been more global engagement and awareness, it is not implausible that the goals could have had more impact, been higher on the priority list of public and private institutions, or just been generally more prominent in the global landscape.

Qiciao and Qixi, a pair of giant panda twins, inspect a flag to represent Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, raised at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Mr. Yuan Tao and Ms. Yan Lu
Qiciao and Qixi, a pair of giant panda twins, inspect a flag to represent Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, raised at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Mr. Yuan Tao and Ms. Yan Lu

With the MDGs set to expire on 31 December 2015, world leaders convened at the United Nations headquarters to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on 25 September 2015. These 17 goals with a 2030 deadline are even more ambitious than the MDGs, with the inclusion of grand statements such as “to end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. However, like the MDGs, I do truly believe that the world is and will be better off with them.

Why it’s important

Project Everyone, the masterminds behind the successful ‘Global Goals’ SDG awareness raising campaign, put it best when explaining why it is so critical to engage everyone, everywhere:

“In September 2015, the United Nations are launching global goals, a series of ambitious targets to end extreme poverty and tackle climate change for everyone by 2030. If the goals are met, they ensure the health, safety and future of the planet for everyone on it. And their best chance of being met is if everyone on the planet is aware of them.

The more famous these global goals are, and the more widely they are understood by everyone – the more politicians will take them seriously, finance them properly, refer to them frequently and make them work.

Arming everyone with the knowledge of the global goals means that we are able to hold leaders accountable for the future of our planet. It’s the most important long term plan we have for our survival. The United Nation’s success is our success; its failure is our failure. And for the future of everyone on our planet, failure cannot be an option.”

How to do it

The ‘Global Goals’ campaign has been impressive, with celebrities coming out of the woodwork to support them, advertisements in cinemas worldwide, radio programmes and a festival. In fact, Project Everyone claim that information on the goals reached 3 billion people in just 7 days after their adoption. So, how can we ensure that we do not lose momentum and garner true global engagement with the SGDs? Will Tucker, a communications consultant writing for The Guardian, has 4 tips. They are:

  1. Encourage empathy, not pity. Tucker states: “…achieving gender equality and delivering 169 SDG targets will require global collaboration, involving governments, business and the general public. Until people start empathising rather than pitying people across country and continental boarders, these intractable problems will remain.”
  2. Think about the messenger: “The announcement of a new world plan to tackle poverty is an important moment. Charity CEOs attending negotiations in New York are not necessarily the best people to communicate that,” says Tucker.
  3. Don’t be afraid to talk about corruption: Tucker notes that poverty in the development context is often associated with corruption. In fact, he refers to a survey in which “67% of the British public think that government corruption makes donating to reduce poverty “pointless” ”. To counter this, “it is best to engage in discussion and share examples of how organisations are tackling the problem,” he says.
  4. Keep it real: “The first SDG, “to end poverty in all its forms everywhere”, is going to prompt accusations of over-ambition and lack of realism,” says Tucker. With this in mind, it is essential to “give tangible examples of change: what’s happening in one village, for example, not vague promises of billions invested in health in a vaguely defined Africa.”

Read the full article here. Find out more about the Global Goals campaign or the SDG targets.

Advocacy strategy: what broad aspects should you consider?

Continuing my series on advocacy, this post looks at a few broad aspects to consider when building your advocacy strategy. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) advocacy toolkit highlights four important aspects, which are:

Context: In some countries and environments, it may be best to focus on advocacy at the local or international level, as opposed to the national level. Political environments vary, with differing opportunities and constraints. Culture, religion and the level of economic development in a given society can affect its level of tolerance and openness to social change.

Timing: Opportunities and constraints are created during distinct moments in history. Events such as economic changes, elections, international conferences and demonstrations can draw significant attention to an issue.

Organization: It is important to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. The UNICEF toolkit poses a set of question advocacy practitioners should ask at the onset. The questions are aimed at practitioners within UNICEF, but they are still valid for other development and social organizations: How broad and strong is your potential support? Do you have well-placed allies? Is there a strong sense of common purpose among the leadership? Is decision-making efficient and responsive? What resources can you rely on? Are your aims clear and achievable? Can you draw on organizational history for learning and inspiration? Are advocates and participants open to viewing initiatives that didn’t succeed as valued opportunities for learning?

Risk: The UNICEF toolkit reminds practitioners that not all advocacy strategies can be used universally. Certain strategies that may prove effective in one context may be politically dangerous or reduce the potential for long-term change in another. It is important that advocacy practitioners understand and weigh the potential risks associated with their strategy. For example, challenging relationships and cultures that affect power dynamics will likely generate conflict. Advocacy practitioners should therefore find ways to navigate through such opposition and challenges without taking on unnecessary risk. However, sometimes certain risks need to be taken when there are no other options.

Powerful UNICEF music videos raise awareness of humanitarian issues

In my previous post I looked at how music can be used to boost social causes. The United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) recent music video campaign is a prime example. UNICEF’s series of music videos aimed at raising awareness of children’s rights have been viewed by over 300,000 people, according to David Girling’s Social Media for Development blog.

Girling interviewed Nicholas Ledner, Digital Knowledge Coordinator at UNICEF, to find out more about the creative process behind the videos. Featuring the music of critically-acclaimed artists such as Banks and SOJA, the videos cover a range of themes from access to education to ending violence against children and child marriage.

Ledner had this to say about selecting the right artists: “[You need] to ensure you identify an artist that has a significant fan base, that’s critically praised, that is smart, intelligent, passionate and understands your work. This is essential for success and for a mutually beneficial relationship. The team the artist works with is also very important. You need to know they’re willing to help you seed the content with different outlets.”

He added: “Music resonates globally and has helped us provoke conversations around key issues UNICEF advocates for. Music can often touch people in ways other media cannot. It makes them think about their own lives and helps them relate to others because they feel something in the music which is sometimes harder to convey to a general audience.”

Read the full article here and watch the music videos below.


Access the UNICEF YouTube channel here

Music and marketing: a powerful match

It’s no secret that music can be a powerful marketing tool. As Collin Shaw, founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy points out in his LinkedIn article, music has a unique effect on our brain, especially when it comes to memory. Memories, whether good or bad, can be created through the sounds and rhythms associated with music.

In addition, music can raise awareness and engagement through powerful lyrics and messages, mobilizing social action in some cases. Check out these articles – one on how music supported Nelson Mandela’s freedom struggle, and the other on 100 songs that changed history. As Mandela once said, “Music is a great blessing. It has the power to elevate us and liberate us. It sets people free to dream. It can unite us to sing with one voice. Such is the value of music.”

Stay tuned for part two of this post, where I’ll share some ideas for incorporating music into your marketing efforts.