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#keepODopen: notes from the Twitter campaign trail

Our Associate Editor gives a behind-the-scenes look at the #keepODopen campaign. How does a small organisation such as openDemocracy develop an effective social media strategy?

As you know, we need to raise £250,000 by the end of March, or openDemocracy will close.

In 2013, these crowd-funding efforts couldn't possibly not include a social media element. But how can a small publication such as openDemocracy, with its limited resources, develop an effective social media strategy?

Frankly, when I offered to coordinate the social media side of the campaign, I didn't expect this to be too much work – after all, I'm on Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis, and I was already using our Facebook page and Twitter account to promote the articles I publish on our Can Europe make it? project. Certainly I could just send a couple tweets in the morning, and let the social media do its magic to instantly make the crowd-funded monies come in, right?

Boy was I wrong. The truth is that, for all its claim of horizontality and lack of a pre-established hierarchy, gaining people’s attention among the millions of other equally interesting tweeters and Facebook pages is incredibly difficult, and requires almost undivided attention.

Every 60 seconds, 175,000 tweets are sent, and 293,000 Facebook statuses are posted. How do we, then, engage with enough readers to make the small fraction that will actually support us add up to a decent number? One of openDemocracy's problems is that while we are big enough to have a fairly respectable social media followship (18,500 fans on Facebook, 16,500 followers on Twitter), we are too small to afford a full time social media strategist. It is therefore all about making more with what we already have, which is not much. We started by doing some research as, it turns out, social media strategizing is now a big industry, and not something a few hipsters do while sipping flat whites in a café.

For example, did you know that the time at which you tweet has a very direct impact on how read your message will be? I'm not even talking about middle of the night vs end of the day here, but about the huge difference posting at 2pm instead of 1pm makes.


How many of our Twitter followers are actually online (click to enlarge) – graph courtesy of Tweriod

Similarly, did you know that, because of the way Facebook's algorithms work, only a fraction (usually a tenth) of our Facebook fans will actually see our posts in their newsfeed? In other words, even if you 'liked' us - which we assume means you enjoy our articles – the chance that you will hear about what we post on our page will be quite slim. There is, of course, a good reason for that: Facebook offers you the option to 'promote' your post, at a cost varying from a couple quid to 14£ - i.e. to pay to reach people who initially decided to follow us. This practice is not that far away from racket – and so we recommend you check our page regularly to keep up to date with our content.


Thanks, Facebook.

Another thing we soon realized is that each social media outlet requires a different strategy to maximize impact. Until this campaign, our Facebook and Twitter accounts were linked: every article published on our Facebook page would automatically go on Twitter. This did make sense given our small resources, but ended up in an absurd situation where we would use hashtags on our Facebook posts, and publish way too many articles on Facebook (four or five a day when most studies indicate this should be the amount per week). Our impact on Twitter was also reduced, as we simply let the Facebook script tweet on our behalf and called it a day. Above all, we failed to build any meaningful interaction with our followers and readers. In other words, we didn't understand that Twitter and Facebook could, in fact, make openDemocracy more open.

One of the first things we did was therefore to break the automatic link to give each of the two social platforms more tailored attention. But this takes a lot of time, and we haven't taken it as far as we envisioned yet. One of our ideas was to launch the #keepODopen hashtag to keep track of our progress in the social media, and also an attempt to give a more viral spin to our campaign.

Of course, virality is not something you can decree, and #keepODopen is still a fairly confidential trend. But, while we never aimed to compete with #MajorTurnOffs or #ThingsGirlsLike - this week's most popular hashtags - we feel we could do more in terms of keeping #keepODopen alive. So if you have a Twitter account, do send us a tweet with the hashtag, telling us a bit more about why you follow oD, what you think we do well and where we should improve –we will read it, and your words will appear on oD's front page.

Social media for openDemocracy, means using Facebook and Twitter to advertise our articles (many of them, indeed, didn't get the attention they deserve because of a lack of visibility), while keeping a personal tone, to directly engage with readers, and to share other causes and projects we believe in. This campaign has we hope taken us a step in the right direction.

Better at interacting with you, better at establishing a strong presence on Twitter and Facebook and, in fine, better at using all tools available to give you easier and more efficient access to our content.

I'd like to end this blog note by inviting you to like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and, you know, donate to #keepODopen.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more updates from the campaign front!

About the author

David Krivanek is an Associate Editor of openDemocracy, and edits the digitaLiberties debate. He was previously editor of Can Europe Make It?, and currently works for an international organisation in Beirut.

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