Social media for social marketing: Can hashtags, viral content and online networks influence behaviour?

In the age of hashtags and viral videos, can social media be a powerful tool for social marketing? As a digital communications specialist I’m keen on finding examples and best practices.

First thing’s first though – it’s worthwhile to clarify the distinctions between social marketing and social media marketing, as people often confuse the two.

Social marketing, as defined by the International Social Marketing Association, “seeks to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviours that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good.” Social media marketing on the other hand utilizes social networking websites specifically as a marketing tool, to build brands, market products and services and broaden stakeholder reach. But it’s worth noting that the two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Different combinations of these approaches can be used in an organization’s marketing strategy.

Here, I’m concerned with social media as a tool supporting social marketing. With that said, I’d like to share the first of three examples that I believe exemplify this link in very creative ways.

The 2014 #LikeAGirl campaign, run by the feminine hygiene company Always, used a powerful video and social media to show that this phrase – which had become an insult – could be empowering. The campaign included elements of both social marketing and social media marketing, as described above.

Using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, people were encouraged to comment on and share the video, as well as the #LikeAGirl hashtag, together with examples of how the phrase can mean amazing things. A range of social media influencers – including celebrities and government leaders – participated. By the official end of the campaign, the #LikeAGirl video was viewed more than 90 million times, becoming the number two viral video globally. And there were 177,000 #LikeAGirl tweets in the first three months of the campaign. #LikeAGirl generated significant global awareness and changed the way people think about the phrase. Positive perceptions of the phrase increased from 19 to 76 percent among the youth surveyed. What’s more, two out of three men who participated in the campaign said they’d now think twice before using ‘like a girl’ as an insult. Read a case study on the campaign

Look out for two more social media for social marketing examples in a future post.

Video is important, but not the (only) future of media

Image: Tsahi Levent-Levi, Flickr

There’s been a lot of hype lately around video being “the future of media”. If you go by this interview with Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for EMEA, or Contently’s recent interactive infographic, marketing and communications departments should be scrambling to jump on the video bandwagon.

With all the hype around video, this article by Joshua Lasky for Medium is a welcome and nuanced perspective on the trend. As witnessed on social media, video is certainly on the rise and will be increasingly important and relevant in the future. But it certainly will not be the golden ticket or panacea for every context. Organizations should not be quick to jump on the bandwagon, but instead utilize appropriate strategies and channels that are suitable for their audiences and contexts.

Says Lasky: “Great digital strategies are a mix of formats optimized for how audiences actually want to read, listen, and watch what you have to say. Before you publish on a subject, ask yourself if it would be easier for your audience to watch or read what you’re trying to communicate. Ask yourself whether a video should be the focus of, or a supplement to, your editorial coverage.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

#MeWeSyria: Youth-led storytelling for social change

The innovative programme, #MeWeSyria, empowers young Syrian refugees to share their narratives, voices and vision for change through storytelling and communications.

As highlighted in an article on the UNHCR Innovation website, the programme integrates therapeutic, artistic, and communications frameworks to develop self-awareness, promote recovery and wellbeing, and restore some control and hope in a world of chaos. Through collaborative storytelling exercises, these young people practice working in creative teams, leadership, and creative problem-solving skills, while honing their role as agents of change.

For example, youth in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey are given video cameras to share their stories in creative ways. In the video below, young people film conversations between their future and present selves.

#MeWeSyria is so important for two key reasons. Firstly, by enabling young Syrian refugees to take the lead and tell their story through collaborative and creative ways, these young people can focus on hope, innovation and positive change. Furthermore, they help move the narrative on Syria away from extremism, loss, and helplessness towards healing, empathy, and resilience.

#MeWeSyria’s director, Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, powerfully expands on this in an Al Jezeera feature story: “In the process of storytelling we find the ingredients of peace and of change-making and sustainable development. Because without empathy, without pluralism, without self-expression – without these things being taught and exercised by Syria’s youth – then you’re just going to have a camp filled with young children that are going further and further into isolation, and further and further into extremism.

When we look at the world right now, we see a world on fire. We see the failures promoted. We see those that have the microphone and yell the loudest, they have the control of the stage. And if we let this continue to happen – if we let those with evil intentions have the microphone, have control of the video – we’re going to lose and miss out on supporting and valuing young change-makers and the creative enterprise that exists among Syria’s youth.” Watch the video below.

In addition, the programme creates a platform and avenue for the rest of the world to empathize with, hear and share the stories of hope and peace from these young people. In the UNHCR article, the authors – Mohsin Mohi Ud Din and Michael Niconchuk – expand on this point quite eloquently: “Just as we pay special attention to tragedy, we, as their audience, should learn to listen better, nurture and value their hope, and take their successes, and not their sufferings, as a rallying cry to protect, support, and value their change-making lives.”

Indeed, as the authors note, “Youth are not just consumers or containers. They too are the creators and curators.”

Learn more about #MeWeSyria via the following links:




Communications strategies: What’s right for your organization?

Photo: Gisela Giardino, Flickr

It goes without saying that strategic communications is essential to organizational and professional effectiveness and impact.

Without strategy, your communications will lack focus and direction and may be perceived as inconsistent and unreliable. Non-strategic communications may even end up undermining or contradicting an organization’s overall mission and vision.

Communications strategies are fundamental for every organization, entity and brand – large or small, for- or non-profit.

However, I contend that not all types of communications strategies are essential for every organization and brand. For example, larger organizations working across the globe will have more communications needs than smaller organizations, and may therefore require not only an overall communications strategy, but strategies for internal communications, social media, content, etc. The communications strategies your organization needs will depend on its size, budget and overall mission, vision and objectives.

The must-have strategy for all organizations

An overall communications strategy is an absolute requirement for all organizations, entities and brands aiming for success and impact. Your overall communications strategy lays out exactly how your communications will be used to accomplish organizational and professional goals. It sets out your communications mission and vision and clarifies your audiences and niche, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, the communications resources you need, governance mechanisms, the communications channels you will use, and other important aspects. This strategy should also address all of the important communications functions and needs in your organizations, such as promotion, stakeholder engagement and fundraising, public and press relations, internal and crisis communications, digital and social media, and content strategy. Non-profits: Click here for an excellent resource for developing a communications strategy and workplan.

Additional strategies: Must-haves for medium-sized and large organizations

In my view, organizations that are defined as ‘medium-sized’ or above should be those with dozens or more employees, substantial budgets and investments that are five figures or more, and large stakeholder bases spanning sectors, nations and/or continents.

In this context, the stakes are higher than for smaller organizations. Working at this scale means that media and public scrutiny is likely higher. And if your organization is working at this level, ensuring your stakeholders and partners deliver your message in a unified and consistent way is a bigger challenge. As such, medium-sized and large organizations need to go beyond the overall communications strategy and develop more detailed strategies on specific communications focus areas. The overall communications strategy should be the foundation and reference point, and any new strategy should always link back to the overall communications strategy. With that said, I recommend developing additional strategies for:

It’s worth noting that smaller organizations can also reap substantial benefits from public relations and social media strategies.

Supplemental strategies to boost effectiveness

Lastly, all organizations can benefit from more focused and specialized strategies covering:

  • Press/media relations
  • Content
  • Digital communications
  • Marketing communications
  • Stakeholder communications
  • Fundraising communications 
  • Departmental communications

I don’t consider these strategies essential, but if you want to take your communications game up a notch and really deliver impact, I’d recommend developing them. But do keep this in mind that most of these strategies are interlinked. Some objectives will overlap, so be careful not to duplicate efforts.

Bringing it all together

Developing most or all of these strategies might seem daunting, and getting caught up in developing ill-informed strategies for months on end is just procrastination and not at all effective. Your strategy development process should be systematic and efficient, and the final product should not be a long-winded dissertation. Simple one-pagers or short PowerPoint presentations can suffice for specialized strategies, as long as the work to develop a clear strategy has been done, and the strategy document itself is clear, tangible and actionable.

I would recommend having one master document linking all the strategies, with the overall communications strategy as the foundation and main reference point. In fact, specialized/specific communications strategies can be sections within a 10-page communications strategy document.

Look out for future blog posts where I’ll be exploring each of the additional communications strategies mentioned above.