A ‘guest post’ from Steve Taylor, Director of Marketing & Communications at Sue Ryder Care.
Amid the ballyhoo of financial melt down in the city, pay freezes, job losses in the private sector and the prospect of a long-haul to recovery, it’s hardly surprising that so many marketing and communications people are seeking solace in the ether. The answer, my friend, is blowing through cyberspace…or so we are led to believe.
Not surprisingly one group seeking digital redemption for the likely downturn in income is the Third Sector which covers voluntary organisations, charities, the broad scope of not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises, of which there are anything up to 300,000 in the UK alone.
The potential for online marketing and ‘stakeholder engagement’ (don’t we professionals just love making up phrases for keeping in touch with people?) is now buzzing round the charity sector. Marketing strategies are being ‘realigned’ to take account of the ‘changing needs and attitudes of the online constituency’ and to encourage people to engage with charities in differing ways.
While a modest number of charities, both large and small, have been using their web pages to interact with supporters for some time and, particularly, to campaign for their cause, the bulk of the rest are late-comers. And herein lies the problem: There is a danger of the perception from board level that the bright young things in the IT/Comms team will provide a plug-and-play, quick fix (or is that click fix?) via the likes Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
Clearly there are opportunities to use social networking platforms to broaden the delivery of any organisation, but they must be integrated into the overall marketing and communications activities. One cannot replace the other and they must be allowed to work in their own, unique ‘new media’ way if they are to derive a mutuality of benefit.
The great thing is that by truly understanding the communication channel and working in the context of the medium, you can begin to see the advantages as a supplementary route to supporters. Taking traditional, tried-and-tested activities and simply placing them online won’t work.
Times are tough for charities and generating cash is critical to survival . However the value of support is now also being gauged increasingly in terms of number of hours of volunteering, professional advice, pro bono contributions and the breadth and depth of networks. It is through online contact, by building these digital constituencies and integrating them with other marketing and communications activities that many charities will weather the recession.
The potential to effect changes in attitudes and behaviours towards charities is huge and many more charities will develop their online offerings as the more cost-effective solution to traditional routes. The classic pathway of raising awareness, generating interest, creating desire with a clear call-to-action action still applies and remains a decent enough framework for planning.
Does it work? Just take a look at the trail of excellent support generated on Twitter by Bletchley Park for instance to see how you can engage a large group for no cost. That’s another ‘code’ they’ve cracked.