Author Archives: John

From the Horse’s Mouth – HorseWorld’s winning way with Social Media

This blog post first appeared on my business’s website but is worth sharing here as it is a great example of a charity making a success of social media with limited capacity and budget.

patty the donkey painting

Patty - HorseWorld's painting donkey - was a Facebook hit

We’re delighted to see our client HorseWorld shortlisted for the Communicator of the Year award at the prestigious Bristol Post Business Awards next week.

It’s particularly pleasing for us as we’ve followed them through their journey with social media, from tentative first steps to it being a key part of their communications strategy.

We advise a lot of clients on social media strategy, but HorseWorld are one of those who have really grabbed the reins (pun intended!) and created something that we now use as an example in our social media workshops.

Like most clients, HorseWorld were a little unsure of how to approach social media when we first met them – and even whether to do it!

With a strong marketing team already getting results through existing channels and working flat out, there was the question of capacity – who would actually do it? – and also understandable caution at opening up public communication channels without the experience of managing it.

High percentages

They needn’t have worried – after taking the plunge, HorseWorld’s team have delivered a level of social engagement that puts many bigger organisations to shame.

As we tell all our clients, it’s not about the numbers – in two years they have gathered close to 4,500 Likes on Facebook, a good number but still plenty of room for growth.

What they are great at is turning those likes into conversations and actions that benefit the charity. The level of interaction is remarkable – at any one time, as many as a quarter of those Likers are actually active: talking to HorseWorld, sharing posts, having a conversation.

To put that in perspective – HorseWorld’s usual interaction rate is between 15-25%, compared with the Facebook average for even well-known brands (with huge social media budgets) of 1.4%.

In fact, while a rival horse charity has 5 times as many Likes, the level of active users they have is no higher than HorseWorld’s – and active users are really all that matters.

Managing conversations

Social media is not about marketing, it’s about managing conversations and turning those conversations into actions.

HorseWorld’s Facebook page has seen them re-home horses, increase visits to the point that they are almost at capacity, generate national press coverage – and even get one of their animals on Britain’s Got Talent!

They’ve done this with the same limited social media capacity that most charities have – and they’ve done it by not thinking about the technology or trying to come up with gimmicky ideas, but rather just by having that winning formula all conversations need in order to flow – “be interesting, be interested”.

They know their audience and share their passions, and they talk to them – it is simply people talking to people about stuff that interests them both. Sounds easy, but it takes a certain talent to pull it off as effectively as HorseWorld.

Their online community feels listened to, and knows their opinion is important and that the people at HorseWorld genuinely enjoy interacting with them.

HorseWorld MD Mark Owen told us: “Social media has helped HorseWorld establish a real-time two-way communications dialogue with our supporters from all over the world at extremely low-cost.

“We have been able to truly engage with the public and involve them in every step associated with our Charitable work of Rescuing, Rehabilitating and Rehoming Horses in need.

“We are also able to quickly garner options from our visitors, supporters and Equestrian enthusiasts about our work and the Equine Welfare sector in general – which is invaluable feedback when planning for the future.”

The Bristol Post Business Awards are being held on Wednesday 27th June.

Want to find the perfect donation response? Look in Wikipedia

I like Wikipedia – its just about the best example of the power of crowd-sourcing information on the web.

An organisation like that should be good with words, and they’ve just given me one of the best examples of a “thank you” for donations that I’ve seen. Simple, clear and pushes all the right buttons.

Thanking your donors is a no-brainer, but pitching the thank you is an art in itself. That’s why I like this so much:

“You are amazing, thank you so much for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation!

This is how we pay our bills — it’s people like you, giving five dollars, twenty dollars, a hundred dollars.

My favourite donation last year was five pounds from a little girl in England, who had persuaded her parents to let her donate her allowance.

It’s people like you, joining with that girl, who make it possible for Wikipedia to continue providing free, easy access to unbiased information, for everyone around the world.

For everyone who helps pay for it, and for those who can’t afford to help. Thank you so much.

I know it’s easy to ignore our appeals, and I’m glad that you didn’t. From me, and from the tens of thousands of volunteers who write Wikipedia: thank you for helping us make the world a better place. We will use your money carefully, and I thank you for your trust in us.


Sue Gardner
Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director”

This is just about the perfect donation response. I’m not suggesting you copy it direct, but copy the structure and you won’t go far wrong.

To illustrate, I’ll annotate:

You are amazing, thank you so much for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation! (Remind them who they donated to, and say something nice and informal)

This is how we pay our bills — it’s people like you, giving five dollars, twenty dollars, a hundred dollars. (Then tell them how their donation makes a difference. NB – the only thing they fall down on is the use of “dollars” instead of “pounds” – more user-based personalisation would have made it feel more personally written to me.)

My favourite donation last year was five pounds from a little girl in England, who had persuaded her parents to let her donate her allowance. It’s people like you, joining with that girl, who make it possible for Wikipedia to continue providing free, easy access to unbiased information, for everyone around the world. (The little girl is a really human touch – she is clearly and ideal role model donor. You have just made the donor feel like they are just like her. They now feel good about themselves! And have they sussed the personalisation thing here? – “England”)

For everyone who helps pay for it, and for those who can’t afford to help. Thank you so much. (They may not have donated much, but you understand why and appreciate it as much as a big donation)

I know it’s easy to ignore our appeals, and I’m glad that you didn’t. (They thought about ignoring it, but didn’t. You’re making them feel good about that choice so that when they think about ignoring you next time, they don’t)

From me, and from the tens of thousands of volunteers who write Wikipedia: thank you for helping us make the world a better place. We will use your money carefully, and I thank you for your trust in us. (You won’t waste their money – they have bought something reliable and there’s no need for buyer’s regret. Notice how the tone suggests that you are doing this because you personally owe them for their sacrifice. Perfect!)


Sue Gardner
Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director (I am a human being not an organisation, I actually feel the things I just said)

If you are writing a thank you, you could do a lot worse than follow this template.

Cookies law – making sense of it all

A government web expert today

I wrote last month on the farce that is the new cookie law for websites. Since then, there has finally been some clarity on what it actually all means for people running websites.

As this very useful article points out, the advice has not – unsurprisingly – come from the ICO – the official body responsible for overseeing the cock-up new regulations, but from a business organisation, the International Chambers of Commerce.

Its well worth reading the articles above and downloading the advice from the ICC, but in a nutshell here are some of the things that are now a lot clearer.

For most cookies on your site, all you will need to do is make sure that you include information on your cookies in your privacy information and terms and conditions.

Thankfully, this covers things like essential analytics tracking and many e-commerce functions that require cookies.

So far so good.


However, there is one category of cookies that will still require you to explicitly ask users to consent to – targeting and advertising cookies. And here it gets a bit confusing.

Its not explicitly clear who is responsible for asking permission to instal these. Is it your website or the advertiser?

And how does this apply to social media plug-ins, like buttons, social share etc? Online engagement is about your content across all platforms, not just your website, so anything that impacts the ability for users to easily share and engage with your content on their preferred platforms could have a significant effect on your web strategy. But who knows what’s going on with this? If the ICO do, they’re not telling anyone.

That fact is – that is still unclear.

It remains farcical that the ICO are unable to give any clarity on this law, and that it has taken a third party to produce a relatively coherent guide.

The ICO have “welcomed” the guide but not said it is correct, or contradicted any of it.

So there is still a considerable lack of clarity around this law, and my advice would remain the same. It is practically unenforceable and my personal approach would be to wait and see before doing anything other than adding information to terms and conditions.

The worst thing about this law, and how it has been implemented, is that lack of information and clarity – and a seeming lack of understanding in the ICO – is causing confusion and worry and, frankly, wasting everyone’s time.

The law will achieve nothing – the bad boys will continue to track you as much as they like while the law-abiding majority are inconvenienced or simply confused.

A word of advice to anyone in government responsible for implementing laws that have anything to do with the net – you don’t know what you are doing, so talk to people who do before you touch anything you might break. The ICC would be a good start.

The Cookie law – a cunning plan for charities

"The law makes perfect sense to me"

A new law is coming into force next month that has big implications for any organisation that has a website – and that means you.

The law deals with cookies – those little snippets of code that download themselves and track user behaviour on a website.

From 26 May, every website will be required to inform its users that they are being tracked with cookies, and to ask users for their consent. Sites which do not comply with the new rules face fines of up to £500,000.

Does this affect your site? Almost certainly yes, as you will have them.

Cookies are what make the web go round – they remember your movements on a site, help you resume where you left off, remember your login, manage your shopping cart etc. They enable tracking of visitors for analytics – all in all, they are pretty essential elements of the web experience.

They are also used by advertisers, Google etc – as well as more unscrupulous people  - to track user behaviour in order to sell them things.

If you’ve ever seen an advert pop up on an unrelated site for something you were searching for the day before – that’s tracking cookies in action.

A Cunning Plan

The law is designed to protect privacy – to allow people to opt out of this sort of tracking.

But, as Blackadder said, there is one tiny flaw in the plan – it’s bollocks.

Advertisers will find a million and one ways to track you without cookies – HTML5 web storage for example – and as so often around technology the law will miss its target and impact on – well, everyone who uses the web and doesn’t want that experience to be a PITA.

For charities, it means trouble.

It means you have to ask permission of every user before you are able to use cookies on your site. The problem is, they won’t know what the hell you are talking about and will just see something that looks like its asking to track them.

They’ll say no, and your site won’t work anymore.

Not only that, they’ll say no – but because you can’t then track them, your site will have no way of knowing they said no, so will ask them again every time they go back to the site!

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes*

If you look at the site for the people who are enforcing this – the Information Commissioner’s Office – you’ll see two things.

Firstly – there is a horrible, confusing message about cookies at the top that no-one will understand. This may be one of the few times you ever see this on a site.

Secondly – and actually you won’t see this – they aren’t even following their own rules. Even if you don’t accept cookies, they are actually tracking you with a session cookie, which strictly speaking they shouldn’t. Why? Because they know the site won’t work if they don’t and the know the law is unworkable without substantial helpings of fudge.

The list of things wrong with this law would fill the rest of the internet, so I’ll drill down to what you can do about it.

I’m not going to recommend you ignore the law. But most people will.

Most people will adopt a wait-and-see attitude. The ICO know the law is unworkable – that’s why it was delayed for a year. With any luck, it will just go the way of other unworkable laws and die an unmourned death.

However, it is possible that that the ICO might want to enforce this and make an example of someone.

It’s just a hunch, but from a PR point of view I can’t imagine that someone being a charity, particularly a smaller one.

So, while I’m not going to tell you to break the law, all I would say is that if I was running a charity’s web presence, I’d wait a while to see how the land lies before potentially driving away a huge number of users, slashing online donation and losing the ability to track KPI on my site.

*this is Latin for “not even those responsible for it know what the hell you’re meant to do with this law”

Lessons from Auntie – web design for fingers

Many moons ago, I used to work for the BBC on their websites. Opinion is divided on the BBC’s web empire (a free-enterprise crushing monolith fueled by TV licence tax, or a hugely important catalyst for web engagement).

I happen, perhaps unsurprisingly, to fall into the latter camp. There are a number of things Auntie Beeb has got wrong with its web presence – it took far, far too long to make its content work with the social web for instance.

But on one thing it has always been pioneering and industry-leading – working with how people use the web.

The BBC site is a bellwether for usability and user engagement – where it leads, most eventually follow.

For that reason, it is extremely important that anyone involved in web design, or commissioning websites, for their charity looks at the new BBC Homepage

Why? Because that is how your website is going to look.

Big content, slide-to views, no fiddly little links or complex nav, no drop-downs. This is webdesign for the touchscreen age.*

The traditional design of a website is based around navigation using a mouse or touch-pad, floating a cursor around and making it interact with content.

The modern web replaces the cursor with a finger. It is for poking and prodding, pushing and pulling. It is for small or large screens, smartphones, tablets – and desktop computers which will – are – moving to touchscreen too.

Touchscreen technology has already (finally) killed monsters like drop-down menus and Flash as a web development platform. It is now killing all previously held notions of usability. You can use your old copies of Steve Krug and Jakob Nielsen to insulate your lap when using a MacBook. (Only joking – particularly about Steve Krug, whose beautifully explained overall principals still apply)

The most relevant of the old usability advice out there is that written for children’s websites. Usability for children has always been based around big, colourful links, buttons and graphics – stuff that looked like you’d want to poke it even before poke-phones came along.

With the inexorable rise in touch-screen technology, you shouldn’t even be thinking about updating your website’s design without giving consideration to touch-screen, otherwise you’ll risk investing in redundancy.

Listen to your Auntie!

*Funnily enough, this version of the site is not the one served up on your smartphone – and the desktop version doesn’t work that well on a small screen. However, the motivation behind the design is in large part to work with touch-screen, the implementation is simply lagging behind the design.

How to set up a Google+ Brand Page for your charity

Google + now allows you to create a “brand page” for your non-profit. Here’s a quick guide to how to do it.

1: Log-in to your organisation’s main Google+ account. At the moment, you can only have one account associated with your Brand Page – it’s a big failing that will be fixed.

2: Go to and select Company, Institution or Organisation

3: Enter your details, selecting Non-Profit in the drop-down menu, and click Create

4: You can now customise your page, adding images, headings etc. Your tagline is important, as it should describe your mission in a compelling and clear way.

5: You’re done! Just click finish and share the page with your Circles and elsewhere. Your page will include links to post on your page, add a badge on your website for the page and a link to share anywhere online.

There are a number of benefits to using Google + – not least the fact that, funnily enough, if you use their proprietary social media platform you might well be more visible on their search engine than you are for your Facebook or Twitter presence.

Don’t shoot the platform – why charities are wrong about Facebook

Research presented to the International Fundraising Conference today suggests charities are not finding Facebook very useful when it comes to fundraising.

According to Third Sector Magazine, Roland Csaki, from the WWF International’s fundraising development department said one of the problems was the lack of an inbuilt payment method on Facebook. This meant charities had to take people to another web page, such as their own website, to get donations.

“Just having a big Facebook fan base means nothing,” he said. ‘You have to build a strategy to drive them to your site.”

But here’s the thing – there’s not really an inbuilt method of anything on Facebook. That’s not the point.

Do It Yourself

Facebook’s success is based on the fact that it is a pretty neutral platform. It doesn’t do much itself, but it allows other people to do great stuff with it.

Stuff like (sorry Roland) JustGiving’s Facebook app that allows people to donate on a Facebook page without going off to your site. Not to mention all the fun stuff you can do using iFrames.

In fact, if you want Facebook to do something – do it yourself.

It’s not Facebook’s job to make it work as a fundraising tool – it’s our job.

Businesses are making money on Facebook – if charities aren’t its because they are staring at it and saying: “go and make me some money” rather than being imaginative in the way they use it or the applications they develop for it.

Don’t shoot the platform – if Facebook isn’t doing what you need it to, make it do it. If there isn’t an app for that, commission one, or get together to collectively commission one.

Facebook is what you want it to be, and what you make it. If those of us in the charity sector can’t make something of it – it’s not Facebook, its us.

Facebook changes – the fundraising stuff

With Google+ going fully open this week, Facebook has hit back immediately with some of the most radical changes to the platform so far.

If you want to know more about the details changes – you can read it all here. The reaction to the changes has been “mixed” (a common newspaper euphemism for rabidly antagonistic).

The idea of making Facebook more complicated when its biggest USP against Google+ could be its simplicity is an odd one, but users will get used to it and Facebook will continue to grow (500m active daily users at the last count).

However for charities and fundraisers, there is a change that has potential to impact on your engagement via Facebook – and Facebook has been very conscious of fundraising in making the changes.

The Timeline

Put very simply, one of the key changes is The Timeline – which is essentially a fancier, more customisable profile page which is supposed to give a more representative picture of your activities over time, so the more important stuff you do via Facebook gets greater prominence than the trivial.

For instance, the fact that you’ve been actively fundraising over the last year for your favourite charity will get more prominence than the fact that you’ve just harvested turnips in Farmville.

This will be particularly the case with people using the Facebook Causes application – which currently has 140 million users.

People’s charity activities – the causes they support – will become a much more important part of their online identity on Facebook than they were in the past.

This, potentially, makes the individual impact of your Facebook followers more powerful as their support for your cause becomes a more visible part of their Facebook identity when they interact with friends and followers.

Also, with profiles drawing on what people are actually doing online, there’s a part of all of us that wants to be seen in particular light – and I’d rather my Timeline showed I engaged with a worthy cause than spent all my time biting chumps.

Facebook says

Here’s what Facebook themselves have to say about the changes and their affect on fundraising, under the in-no-way bombastic title of Facebook Changes Will Help You Change The World :

“Facebook is making it easier for people to share the action they take on Causes and get their friends involved in real-time. Second, Facebook is launching Timeline, which will allow people to curate all of the information on their profiles to better share the moments in life that matter most.

Because taking action and then sharing it with friends is the core of what people do on Causes, we think that these changes will have profoundly positive effects on people trying to help the world by using Causes…

Until now, Facebook profiles have been dominated by recent information, such as a friend’s posts on your wall, or relatively static information, such as your hometown), but Timeline now offers an important middle ground for people to feature and curate lower frequency, but highly meaningful information that changes and builds over time.

My mom, for example, can join the Arts in Education cause, which supports her favorite nonprofit, choose it to be her featured cause, recruit friends to join it, and donate. Currently, all of these actions can be published to my mom’s friends in real-time, but there is not a good way for her to showcase this cause and the work she has done to support it on her profile, which ideally should be the most complete representation of who she is.

The reality is that my mom’s involvement with the Arts cause may be less frequent than playing a game on Facebook, but she may care more deeply about the Arts organization and its mission. Frequency and recency don’t necessarily correlate with quality or “coreness” with respect to her personal identity.”

So there you go – if you want to change the World, or just raise money for play equipment for your local nursery, Facebook will now let the world know what you care about.

Google+ So what does it mean for Charities?

Google’s much trumpeted rival to Facebook, Google+, is now open to all after an extensive period of Beta testing among the select invited hundreds of thousands few.

For a lot of charities who have just started to get their head around the possibilities of Facebook and Twitter, another Big Boy in the social media playground might be a little intimidating.

So does Google+ mean rethinking your social media strategy? Is it really going to rival Facebook? And if so, what do you need to know?

First off, I’m not going to go into tips on how to use functions in  Google+ – it’s been done really well here and elsewhere, and I’m not going to add to the sum of that knowledge.

But there are some interesting issues from a strategic point of view:


Google+ USP is a direct assault on Facebook’s less than perfect record on security and privacy. From that point of view, Circles is a means by which users can ring-fence their comments and activity so that only certain people see certain things. It stops stuff like this happening.

That’s great – you don’t post something when drunk/teenaged/forgetful that comes back to haunt you, and you can separate work, social, family and other lives neatly.

The downside is that you separate work, social, family and other lives neatly. One of the great things about Facebook is that if you can engage a person, you engage their whole wide circle of contacts. With Google+ Circles, you engage much smaller circles.

You’re a charity, you’re not a friend. So if they talk to you, or about you, which circle gets to know? They might have 1,000 friends on Google+ but you might be in a circle of 3.

The downside of Facebook – its one-size fits all simplicity – is also probably one of the reasons for its huge popularity. For the casual, non-geek who just wants to chat online, organising your contacts into Circles and working out what to say to which circle is a lot of hassle.

As a result, circles will probably be ill-formed and random – your charity might well simply get chucked in “Other” along with a motley collection of businesses, other charities and people you spoke to once at a conference who contacted you out of the blue months later just to have more contacts on Google+. Again, not great for connecting in a meaningful way.

Google+ or Facebook?

So what’s the difference between Google+ and Facebook? And are they competing or complimentary? Do you need to choose one or the other?

It’s early days, but Facebook is still likely to remain the much bigger of the two for some time. But also – while Google+ is being seen as a rival to Facebook, it probably isn’t a direct competitor.

Google+ seems to be continuing the philosophy of the late, ignored, Google Wave – just doing it better.

Facebook is the big open room – an eclectic and chaotic party to which everyone is invited. Google+ is more about managing your relationships online. Facebook is the more fluid and social of the two, it’s disorganisation is its strength.

Google+ – with its circles and video Hangout and Integration – looks more like a rival to email and Skype than to Facebook.

Google+ is likely to be used by – for the time being- more tech-savvy people to organise their daily engagement with friends, relatives,  work colleagues etc.

This doesn’t mean its not a place for charities to engage, but it does mean that the engagement is in many ways more like your traditional engagement with supporters – less viral, more about genuine relationships.

Google+ is very much in its infancy, but will grow up quick  – no-one really knows how it will take off, but its certainly one to be aware of.

The new rules of engagement: How charities embrace the “real” Big Society

Last week I suggested major social change driven by the web is fundamentally changing the ground rules for how charities need to engage with their supporters. In this article, I look at how some charities are already rising to the challenge.

The boundaries between charities and their supporters are becoming increasingly blurred as the relationship between ordinary people and bodies acting on their behalf goes through a sea change brought on by the web-driven communication revolution.

Donors and supporters increasingly want to feel as though they are at the heart of decision making at charities, and see their chosen charity as a part of their own activity in support of a particular cause rather than as a dislocated body acting for them.

This is the “real” Big Society – and the charities, and other public bodies, that thrive in it will be those that most quickly grasp its opportunities and tackle its threats.

Ahead of the game

Some charities are already ahead of the game in this respect – either because of awareness that society is changing or simply because their ethos has always been for maximum accountability.

For some, it is a fundamental part of their vision of themselves, for others toes are being dipped in the water.

One charity that has successfully put this level of engagement at the heart of its idea of itself is mental health charity Rethink.

Much of the policy decision, on-the-ground engagement, media work, fundraising and strategy direction comes from their team of Rethink Activists – ordinary people directly affected by mental illness or who care about the issue.

These are their supporters, donors and volunteers, not just being asked to raise money, work for the charity or donate – but actively being involved in the direction of the charity.

Rather than asking supporters to join them, they are joining supporters on an equal footing – bringing with them the resources to help support a common interest, but importantly acting with them, not for them.

The structure of the organisation, with local and national committees of supporters and people directly effected by the issues they tackle, is based around openness. This is backed up by a highly active online presence which creates a network of mutual support with supporters and charity staff talking on an equal footing – the blogs and forums “belong” to the users not the charity.

Paul Jenkins, chief executive, Rethink Mental Illness, told this blog:  “Rethink Mental Illness exists to help people affected by mental illness as much as we possibly can. It is essential that they are involved at the heart of our organisation to ensure that everything we do, from the services we provide to the issues we campaign on, are the issues that directly impact on the lives of the people we exist to serve.”

Breaking down barriers

People are increasingly more interested in causes, not individual charities. They are also interested in openness and accountability.

Charities like Rethink have made the important leap of imagination from being an arms-length champion of an interest group to being just another member of that interest group – albeit one with a lot to bring to the table.

Of course for many charities, breaking down the barriers to that extent is not something that can happen overnight. But inclusion in decision making can begin at campaign level and in stages.

The same social platforms that have been the catalyst for societal change are also some of the best tools for embracing it.

Oxfam’s Oxjam is a crowdsourcing exercise that engages hundreds of people to organise local events. It’s a classic example of a charity empowering “street-level” activism by lending its brand and resources in support of ordinary people who want to do something for themselves in support of causes they care about.

‘Networked non-profit’

They are – importantly – not getting people to support Oxfam, they are helping people who care about the same issues as Oxfam. That is a fundamental part of the new mindset.

On a local level, charities are making empowerment of local activism a major part of their remit. An example on my doorstep is Bristol’s Knowle West Media centre which recently helped a group of OAPs save their vital  lifeline – a bus route on their estate – by providing the platform of a voice and technology to enable them to be heard

Beth Kanter, who has written some pioneering articles on this new kind of engagement, calls it “networked non-profit”, describing it as “a big charity that breaks down its fortress walls to encourage loosely-connected supporters to do what they do best”.

I would change that only slightly to say “encourage loosely connected individuals who share the same concerns”. The, subtle, difference being that you don’t just need to engage supporters of your charity, but of your cause. They don’t need to care about who you are, just what you do and how you can help them make a difference. You are all working together to the same ends and you’re just a part of the team.

Perhaps most importantly, they care how you do things. You are no longer asking them to support you, they are inviting you to join them. With that change in the relationship comes the need to accept that your organisation – if it is to be relevant in the 21st century – no longer belongs to you but to the people who support you, with all the implications for transparency and engagement that brings.

In the last article I said your supporters must now be seen as your trustees. Perhaps even beyond that, your supporters are the charity.