Charities need better links with brands as part of their social strategy – The Social Charity 100 Index

The relationship between brand awareness and revenue has always been a fascinating one, especially so when social participation and the support of charities in a cash-strapped age is the subject of the conversation.

The Charity Social 100 Index is the result of six months of study looking at how charities in the UK are using social media. It sheds some interesting light on how charities are developing as social brands.

The research is a compilation of financial, brand and social media rankings based on two snapshots taken of 300 charities, at the end of May and again at the end of August, 2011.

The Social Charity 100 Index reflects the top 100 of those. Charities have been assessed by their strength of income, brand and social performance across social networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, as well as general social media behaviour, looking at things like responsiveness of communication and how charities are demonstrating social leadership and engagement as part of their corporate communications style.

What really started our research was the discovery that, as were gathering the early data, only in 32 charities in our Social Charity 100 is there a correlation between tangible and intangible value in terms of financial strength and as a brand. We used the data provided by Charities Direct to measure annual charitable income and that of the Charity Brand Index 2010 to measure the impact of charities by brand awareness.

Charities interested in developing participation through social media have to have a social media strategy that builds on both to make it pay. Social media communication produced by charities is peppered with calls to action from every angle, but with the risk of social media fatigue that comes with that.

There’s an opportunity for charities to develop causal loyalties, support and advocacy as long term relationships using social media. We’ve discovered that the top 100 charities in the Index collectively receive £12.4 bn in income, have nearly 2m followers on Twitter and 3.5m likes on Facebook between them. Yet our study suggests that charities may be neglecting social culture as an element of their brand and the development of communities as part of their social media mix.

The study has revealed that the average number of followers on Twitter a charity in the 100 Index has is currently 18,929; the average number of Likes of a Facebook page is 35,360; the average number of followers for a charity organization on LinkedIn is 165, and the average number of subscribers to a YouTube channel is 809.

But behind the numbers, it’s possible to discern some trends and realities that cast doubt on whether charities are using social media to its full potential.

For instance, the results suggest that whilst the majority of charities are now actively engaged in social media, charities’ involvement with users is being kept mainly at arm’s length. Only 21% of the charities in the top 100% have a their own hosted community.

There’s an argument that a community isn’t necessary or appropriate in some cases, the policy adopted by many charities is that they should ‘swim where the fish are’. If they want to develop in-depth interest, a sense of belonging, support and long-term loyalty however, charities do need to connect with the kind of people that are active social contributors and that care about the charity as stakeholders too maybe more deeply.

Charities using social media to raise their levels of share of mind, fundraising support and engagement are fighting shy of recognising the more compelling relationships that are also a part of that picture.

Inbound communication is a big missing factor in the conversation at the moment, as is social CRM as way of linking all the dots together. The opportunity exists for far greater social involvement with people as part of a strategy that encourages the organisations themselves to become more communal and human.

The study also raises deeper questions for charities in terms of how they factor social media into the workings of the organisation. We’re at the stage now where identifying where the talent is within their organisation as a community of interest, both inside and outside the walls of the building, and creating long lasting relationships and partnerships, is becoming more valuable in a cash-strapped age.

Some charities are aware that a social brand is a devolved brand, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be an unstructured one. The architecture of these emergent networks is something charities must think about developing, and soon, if social media is to deliver a viable payback.

The strength of cultural charities in the Index shows how compelling experiences and content is, in terms of social appeal. Charities that want to connect with supporters using social media do need to think about how they develop their communication and bring out their personality as part of the user experience. The temptation is for charities to outsource their social voice, when really the value of network effects comes from many voices, real voices, all connected together so charities can organise for effect, socially.

The real question for the future is how charities can do more with social media? It delivers a great level of connection and buy-in than conventional media, but many charities aren’t ready to fully tap into and develop it beyond having a presence.

The question about the relationship to income, attention, and the ability to make change, is coming into sharp focus in austere times. A greater level of supporter expectation will inevitably come into play as a part of that.

A full copy of the Social Charity 100 report is available as a free downloaded from http://www.visceralbusiness.com.