How charities can learn more about supporters from social media

Fundraisers are getting more enthusiastic about social media. They are starting to invest more in the channel as they see ROIs improve and the options for targeting their supporters get simpler. But costs are likely to increase in 2017 as competition intensifies, so charities need to be smarter. It’s a perfect opportunity to widen the way fundraisers think about social media – using it for much more than harvesting supporters on Facebook or Twitter.

Many charities have been doing a fantastic job of interacting with their supporters on social platforms for a long time. Speaking to supporters in this way has engaged thousands of people, who may not have engaged with the charity otherwise. But these conversations are also a valuable source of insight. And having moved up the fundraising agenda, there has never been a better time to use social media in a more strategic way.

Word frequency analysis is a strong starting point – taking all the tweets related to your charity and looking for the words that appear most. It’s a good way to dip your toe into social data to understand how people perceive and talk about your organisation. Joining this insight up with your supporter data to understand what different types of supporters are saying can then add even more understanding to your donors. More importantly it could be used to add clarity to the differences between those financial supporters and others who engage non-financially. A recent piece of work by Wood for Trees found very little overlap between those following and those donating to the same charity. A better understanding of these gaps will encourage charities to nurture their online supporters into a wider relationship with them.

But before that, start with some tweets. As an example, we collected all the tweets over the last two weeks using an R package that mines social media data (R is an open source programming language and software environment for statistical computing and graphics). We looked for any tweets that contained the handle of each of four leading UK cancer charities. We wanted to compare the words used by those engaging with the broader cancer cause through each of those charities to see what differences there were. We used to visualise the results.

Macmillan word cloud

Macmillan’s largest event – its Coffee Morning – happened over four months ago and it’s not something which gets talked about in February. But, ‘Brave the Shave’ is being tweeted about more and gives the charity an event for social media to engage with all year. Analysis suggests conversations are more varied that other charities and on the whole they seem positive. Despite its emphasis on support, however, people’s tweets aren’t focused on this topic.

Marie Curie word cloud

In contrast, care – this charity’s key focus – stands out in those tweets referencing Marie Curie. The Daffodil appeal isn’t yet being talking about despite its proximity. Instead the Swimathon in April is more prominent. There is less evidence of thanks, donations and appeals in the Marie Curie tweets.

Prostate UK word cloud

Prostate stands out but there is less presence of fundraising and giving. The Ed Wood Challenge – his attempt to visit every English football league ground – is being talked about a lot. It appears to be a challenge well joined up with the charity. Random Act of Kindness Day – February 17th – is resonating with some supporters who are linking it with the charity. This stood out for Macmillan too but not with the other charities.

CRUK word cloud

The Cancer Research UK tweets are closely linked to its cause. There are more conversations relating to donations compared to some of the other cancer charities. Its Grand Challenge features clearly. It demonstrates how these strong identities or themes give supporters something to tweet about or get behind on social networks.

Word frequency analysis is a simple first step that demonstrates the value of social data to improve communication and supporter understanding. Linking it to your supporter base is a potential next step that would add more insight to any current supporters and compliment a single supporter view. The perception of different supporter segments can then be looked at through this lens. The techniques aren’t limited to Twitter either, being applicable to all social platforms.

Our work suggests that a charity’s social media supporters may not always be their most financially active, so identifying the issues that different groups are engaging with can help charities to nurture those online supporters towards deeper relationships.

Andrew Sargent  Consultant Analyst

Angelos Xypolias  Junior Analyst

Matt Dent  Junior Analyst