We’re a new charity – how do we reach our audience?

An anonymous visitor asks:

We’re a newish charity dealing particularly with chronic health conditions – things that everyone gets eventually, but lack the ‘glamour’ and interest group of a single specific condition. We’re on social media, but just getting follows from big (often private) medical bodies going through the motions, rather than real people. But we believe we can provide really useful thinking and expertise that are relevant to millions. How do we reach more people? I’ve been quite successful building social media following for other organisations, but for this charity I just don’t feel we’ve got onto a roll yet.

Great question!

Probably the first thing to define is what you want to achieve from the engagement you’re doing. For instance, for some organisations, it might be fine to build up relationships with niche media or interest groups, as a complement to other activities. And what are you hoping people will do when you engage with them: give you ideas? help you generate buzz about issues or campaigns? donate money? Finally, who are the most relevant ‘people’ to involve: volunteers, people with conditions, carers, journalists, campaigners, bloggers… who?

Assuming your goal is to reach a broad audience to get them talking about your issues and sharing information about your organisation with their friends and family, then it’s worth thinking about the different channels you might use and the content you might have to get conversations started on those channels. For instance:

  • Twitter is great for media and stakeholder organisations, and is a place where news travels fast and gets shared rapidly. It’s ready made for quick back-and-forth discussions like Q&A sessions, maybe with a medical expert or a weekly chat around a hashtag like #nhssm or #commschat
  • Facebook is the daddy, with a much bigger (and perhaps more mainstream) UK audience. It’s a good place to ask questions, share pictures or videos and join up with other groups and communities talking about similar issues
  • A blog on your own website might give you a more flexible platform to publish interesting material from people affected by the issues you deal with – sites like Health Unlocked, supported by NHS Choices, and the dozens of forums attached to the websites of groups supporting people with specific conditions – show just how much appetite there is for frank discussion and sharing of how people manage their own health and support loved ones
  • An email newsletter or weekly round-up helps people who aren’t tuned into social media on a regular basis to get a digest of your material, and helps extend the lifespan of tweets and Facebook updates

Think creatively about your content: in order to get conversations started (and that’s what will help you build an audience), you need content that is surprising, entertaining or useful in some way. Asking people to share answers to questions, suggestions or tips is always a good idea.  Pictures or how-to videos often get more engagement than text. Tapping into stories in the news, or in TV series, or topical/seasonal trends, is a tried and tested trick of the PR world, which still works online.

Ultimately, digital engagement is about finding ways to get the conversation started with your intended audience, so if you can find out the kinds of questions or interests they have, and find ways to provide content tailored to them, you’ll be onto a winner.

And be shameless. Don’t be shy about promoting your blog through Twitter, or reposting a Twitter Q&A on your Facebook page. There’s so much stuff that happens in social media that even the most avid reader will miss good things. Make sure people can find your stuff easily,  share it quickly and hear about it second time round if they miss it first off.

for more examples and tips