NGOnline: What advocacies need to do to harness social media effectively

AT the Technology for Good Forum conducted recently, Cenvisnet, a network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Central Visayas, encouraged the greater use of social media among their fellow organizations. “Having presence in social media will enable you to communicate to a large group of people, which could be your potential supporters and funders. Social media optimizes visibility,” said Jed Adao of TechSoup Asia in the same conference.

If there’s anything social media has taught us in the last few months, it’s that Filipinos care a great deal. We’re not just talking about political issues here. Netizens have been passionately, often infuriatingly, vocal in throwing in their two-centavos on the pressing political issues of the day—but amid the vitriol in your social-media feed, you’ll find these diamonds in the rough: positive advocacy posts on issues, such as the environment, human rights, public health and more.

 “Since a lot of Filipinos have access to social media, in one way or another, it’s a viable tool to reach out to them,” comments Senator-elect Risa Hontiveros, a social activisit who’s a tireless advocate of women’s rights and poverty alleviation. “Social media also allows advocacy campaigns to target directly specific demographics, so youth-related campaigns can reach the youth, gender campaigns can reach women and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender], and so on.”

 The thing is, online passion rarely transforms into real-life action. While users will happily “Like,” share, comment, or retweet these posts, their participation usually ends there. Issues remain conversation topics, instead of points for action.

 However, recent events prove that social-media talk can turn into actual walk: in the last elections, a historic turnout of 40 million out of 54.4 million registered voters, more than 81 percent.

 There is a huge potential for NGOs and other advocacy groups if that exception can become the norm. About 48 million Filipinos are on Facebook, the largest social network in the country by far. The majority of the users are millennials, with approximately 20 million, or 41 percent, who are aged 20-29. And they are very concerned for the future.

 However, their concern stays mostly inside the World Wide Web. NGOs need to broaden, engage and motivate their followers in social media, especially the incoming generation of millennials, who were born in the early 1980s to the mid-90s and grew up with the growth of the Internet. “Unlike previous generations, millennials are drawn to instant gratification so content needs to be short and interesting,” explains Rica Oquias, head of social media and digital operations at M2.0 Communications, a digital-marketing agency based in Quezon City. “They love videos. And most of all, they want their voice to be heard, so it’s crucial to engage them in meaningful dialogues.”

 Some NGOs are already expanding their online endeavors. After using social media to help in relief efforts, the Philippine Red Cross has partnered with influencers to widen their reach, using their blogs to inspire support for the organization. The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) is also expanding their library of punchy, share worthy videos in the internet. Pura Angela Wee, Resilience/Health Systems Strengthening consultant at Unicef, said that the videos made “the issues more concrete and visual.”

 Hontiveros adds, “Among Philippine NGOs and advocacies, I must admit that the advocacy campaigns of the LGBT community, like UP Babaylanes, are always striking and memorable, with their use of humor and knowledge of Philippine culture.”

 As the elections proved, social media has the power to transform the country. It is up to the NGOs to harness this tool to push forward reforms and make meaningful changes in society. The most useful piece of advice Hontiveros can offer? “Speak to your audience in their language. Some NGOs still prefer using their language and  that is not effective at all. Study your market, know their interests, and appeal to their interests, context and passions.”

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