One eighth of the world’s population – 842 million people – are currently living on less than 80p a day.
Last Wednesday, World Hunger Day set out to raise awareness of the scale of the issue. The Global Poverty Project had challenged fundraisers to live on £1 a day for five days in their #BelowTheLine campaign.
Many charities had promoted the initiative by tweeting and posting images of their meals on instagram.
With social media increasingly becoming an integral part of campaigns, how useful is it as a tool for change? Can tweets and facebook “likes” help end world hunger?
Last year, Unicef Sweden released a series of YouTube films showing people in desperate circumstances pleading for a few more “likes” on the organisation’s Facebook page. Under the banner “Likes don’t save lives”, the sardonic films drew attention to the potential hollowness of social media campaigns in global development.
Social media can make a real difference
Social media has been a core component of some high-profile work around hunger and nutrition in recent years, including IF and the #BelowTheLine campaign. Given the scale of the challenge of ending hunger and malnutrition, harnessing social media effectively can make a real difference, but how do we get beyond collecting “likes”?
According to Stephen Brown, UK Country Director at the Global Poverty Project, Live Below the Line’s use of social media works well because it’s a fundraising campaign where people are doing something directly linked to the subject of the campaign, rather than, say, running a marathon to raise money for something unrelated. Participants are challenged to live on £1 a day for five days, experiencing life below the poverty line and getting creative with cheap meals.
“There aren’t many fundraising campaigns that are so closely linked to the issue you’re trying to change or eradicate,” says Brown. “What social media allows us to do is capture people’s experiences and for people taking the challenge to share their thoughts and experiences of living below the line.”
Food: the great leveller
The fact that the topic is food and hunger means the campaign lends itself particularly well to Facebook and Twitter. Food is a leveller – we all have to eat, and there are lots of people who already enjoy documenting and discussing their meals. Live Below the Line taps into that interest and links it to a fundraising objective.
“Lots of people come to the challenge because they’re foodies and want to see how they can eat on that small amount of money, so they take photos of their food, they post recipes, and talk about how hungry they are,” says Brown.
This approach of working with something that people already talk about on social media – rather than trying to push a wholly new subject – has enabled Live Below the Line to draw in people who had not previously supported a development campaign.
“In 2013, 40% of people who took the challenge had never taken action on extreme poverty before. It’s bringing new people to the sector who are interested in these issues but haven’t found the opportunity to engage before. Food and experiential challenges are really appealing to them.”
This is not to say that social media campaigns tackling food, hunger and malnutrition will automatically be a success. Analysis of last year’s IF campaign delivered some valuable lessons for individual organisations on how to make similar campaigns succeed. It revealed, for instance, that bite size infographics were popular for sharing, particularly if they featured a ‘baddie’: an infographic on banker bonuses had 11,000 shares on Facebook.
On the other hand, celebrity content was found to get a lot of “likes” but to generate relatively little action or amplification (through sharing or commenting). YouTube videos featuring an overlay asking people to share the video were more successful than any other call to action, but it was found that the average viewer stopped watching after 1.5 minutes.
Aims of campaign must be clear
Organisations planning a social media campaign around hunger and nutrition also need to be clear about the precise aims of the campaign, says Jenny Ricks, director of policy, advocacy and campaigns at ActionAid UK. With such a huge topic, social media is most effective when it drills down to something specific.
“Social media is very useful and can be very effective as part of a campaign strategy, but it’s normally most effective when integrated with other methods of achieving change as part of your campaign,” she says.
“In our Food Not Fuel campaign the aim was to stop the European biofuels targets which had been driving hunger and land grabs in developing countries. Social media was very good for raising awareness of the arguments we were making about biofuels, engaging our supporter base and enabling them to take political action.”
Organisations working on global hunger and malnutrition may find that these subjects lend themselves particularly well to social media (more traffic came to the IF campaign website from social media than from any other traffic source) but the important lesson is that you can’t expect Twitter to do all the work.
“Social media can’t turn around a bad campaign,” says Brown. “The campaign itself has to have an impact at the end of it, and it has to be engaging and tell a story. Social media is a tool; it’s not the solution to the problem.”
By Caspar Van Vark. Source: The Guardian
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