A Picture Can Be Worth 1,000 Donors

December 15, 2015       Andy Segedin      

Before the T-shirts, the book, the based-on-real-events movie or the nonprofit organization, To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) in Melbourne, Fla., was a Myspace post. Born out of social media, TWLOHA has adjusted with the times during the past decade and ventured into photo and video-based platforms to bolster support for the cause, to aid those struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury and thoughts of suicide.

“We use social media more than anything else because our mission is so wrapped up in communication,” said TWLOHA Founder Jamie Tworkowski. He launched the nonprofit nearly a decade ago with a blog post entitled “To Write Love on Her Arms” about a young woman he befriended and the days they spent together before she entered treatment.

TWLOHA still puts an emphasis on the written word but uses tools such as Instagram and Tumblr to help expand influence. TWLOHA participated in World Suicide Prevention Day this past September with the campaign “We’ll See You Tomorrow.” The campaign encouraged followers to take to Instagram and Twitter to post pictures of themselves filling in the blank “You’ll see me tomorrow because…” TWLOHA drew 5,000 new Instagram followers with the campaign and the #Tomorrow15 hashtag drew 6,500 associated posts. On Tumblr, TWLOHA added 800 followers and had nearly 30,000 comments, likes and shares associated with the campaign. On Twitter, TWLOHA picked up 3,000 followers and had posts retweeted 13,000 times.

TWLOHA is not the only organization where pictures are used to tell a story or promote a campaign. In an arena in which engagement is often the link to advocacy, funding and volunteerism, organizations are bolstering social media strategies using photo- and video-based platforms in an effort to spur visceral reactions. TWLOHA depends on its small staff to be flexible enough to wear multiple hats and word of mouth to get its message out. Supplemental services such as Buffer, Emma email marketing and Vimeo Plus have been used to help at a combined cost of less than $1,000 per year.

Through donations and the sale of merchandise, TWLOHA was able to raise $75,000 to fund various counseling and treatment channels through the campaign, Tworkowski said. TWLOHA periodically hosts similar campaigns through social media in an effort to share stories and de-stigmatize addiction and depression. “We use it in a variety of ways,” Tworkowski said of social media. “At the top of the list is we want to encourage people. We want to use social media as a means of bringing hope. Sometimes, we use it to highlight a product or a blog post. Our hope is when people come across our Instagram, we really want it to be a reflection of what we’re about.”

Another example of pictures telling a story is (RED), a division of The ONE Campaign. It was the first nonprofit to exceed 1 million followers on both Facebook and Twitter. Staff has since set sights on exploring the realm of photo- and video-based platforms. “A picture is worth a thousand words. Every tweet, post or snap lets us tell the story in a new, engaging and creative way,” said Colleen Donnelly, social media manager via an email. “We want to be authentic, relevant and visual.”

(RED) last year incorporated Snapchat into its social-media arsenal to go along with other platforms, including Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Tumblr. Meerkat and Periscope have been brought into the fold this year, according to Donnelly.

(RED)’s message, the fight against AIDS, remains consistent, Donnelly said, but the medium might not. For example, Instagram and Snapchat are both venues to post videos and pictures. They are used by (RED) staff in different ways. Instagram might be used to post an inspirational photo with a particular message in the caption. The 10-second time limit of Snapchat, on the other hand, is leveraged to create a sense of urgency and reach new audiences, Donnelly said.

To date, (RED) has raised $320 million to fight AIDS. Social media campaigns have emerged as a cornerstone to those efforts. For example, in 2014 (RED) and Bank of America ran a Super Bowl commercial that Bank of America would donate $1 for each download of U2’s “Invisible.” Within 36 hours, the campaign raised $3.1 million with the help of social media posts and shares.

The lone criteria informing whether (RED) will post a particular piece of content on one of its platforms is its likelihood to inspire someone, Donnelly said. If the answer is “no,” the video or image isn’t used. Determining which content and platforms work best in terms of engagement is an ongoing process. “Engaging people is key,” Donnelly said. “We make sure we ask questions, involve the community and recognize people for participating.”

Oceana, based in Washington, D.C., uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and Vimeo, according to Digital Media Associate Kristin Foringer. Staff there recently started looking into the use of Snapchat and Periscope. Photos and videos tend to work well regardless of platform, Foringer said. As Facebook users become an older demographic, Oceana is turning to Instagram and Snapchat to attract younger supporters.

Oceana’s Instagram account has taken off on its own, Foringer said, as complementing images from Oceana expeditions with appropriate hashtags has become a branding tool. With Snapchat, Oceana might consider producing stories such as a day in the life of a coral reef or marine animal, she said. Oceana’s social media posts have predominately been focused on education and advocacy, with social fundraising just picking up, said Lauren Parks, director of digital engagement.

The success of Oceana’s social media presence is judged by engagement, clicks and shares, according to Parks. “The ultimate goal is to get these people in our wheel house,” she said. “We really want them to sign up and be ‘wavemakers.’ If this is the first experience they have with us, we want to make it as pleasant as possible.”

Foringer fields content from a variety of branches within Oceana, the challenge being to prioritize and determine which story or piece of content would perform best on what platform. “It takes a little bit of balancing, but it’s nice because you always have new and different content coming to you,” Foringer said.