ByClaire Rosling
6 min read

Social media – The campaigner’s new best friend

Love it or hate it, Social Media is now King of reaching the masses. We take a look at how Public Awareness Campaigns increasingly ‘like it’.

Times have changed. People are now spending more time online than watching TV, and many even manage to do both at the same time.1 Over 22% of worldwide internet time now spent surfing social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter.2

pie chart showing time spent on social media

There are now a whopping 750 million Facebook users worldwide3 who spend more time on Facebook than on Google, Amazon, Yahoo, YouTube, Microsoft/Bing and Wikipedia put together!4 Twitter has also seen a huge expansion with over 106 million accounts now sending 200 million tweets per day!5 YouTube is also very much worth mentioning with over 2 billion YouTube videos being viewed per day.6

Social media is undisputedly a fantastic method of reaching the masses and grasping their attention and its increasing popularity has revolutionised the way public awareness campaigns go about targeting the public. We’ve picked out 5 of the most effective recent campaigns7 below and have looked into how social media has influenced their success.

Some campaigns we ‘Liked’

‘I like it on …’

Visit campaign website

image of bra facebook campaign
This is a brilliant example of how a low budget campaign can raise widespread awareness with a little creativity. In 2009, Breast Cancer Awareness started a campaign purely on Facebook, inviting girls to post the colour of their bras on their wall. It may sound simple but it spread like wildfire, resulting in not only internet coverage but also in the print media7. As a result of this huge success, the charity launched a similar campaign in Oct 2010 where women updated their Facebook status, revealing their favourite handbag location, for example, ‘I like it on the floor’. The innuendo helped to catch peoples’ attention resulting in millions of status updates worldwide, far exceeding Breast Cancer Awareness’s expectations.


Visit campaign website

movember image
Now one for the boys. This is a campaign that I’m sure many of you will know about and have perhaps even taken part in yourselves. In the name of raising awareness for men’s’ health, specifically Prostate Cancer, men around the world can be seen sporting fine examples of moustaches for the whole month of November. This campaign has now been running for 7 years now and is still going strong – Movember 2010, raised £48.6 million for men’s health charities. Why has this campaign been so successful? Firstly, it doesn’t generally take men a lot of persuasion to grow humorous facial hair, especially if it’s for a great cause. Secondly, websites and posters featuring some of the finest moustaches have compelled many of the population to give it a go. A large amount of credit is due to the integration of social networks in this campaign. Through sharing photos of their facial hair creations with their many Facebook friends, Movember participants (also known as Mo-Bro’s) have enabled this campaign to spread worldwide as each year more and more men take to the fuzzy-upper-lip-November-look.

Unfriend Coal

Visit campaign website

screen grab of you tube campaign video
In February 2010 Greenpeace launched a campaign on Facebook encouraging Facebook to ‘Unfriend’ Coal and switch to renewable energy sources. By campaigning on the very network it was campaigning about, this got maximum attention with over 700,000 people now having signed the petition via the facebook group and Facebook Apps. On top of this, Greenpeace gained further attention for this campaign through a fun video animation featuring Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s creator, which was posted on YouTube which has now had over 490,705 views.

It Gets Better

Visit campaign website

it gets better logo
Launched in September 2010 by Dan Savage, a journalist and gay rights activist, this campaign was prompted by the large number of gay teenage boys committing suicide. It started as a positive message on YouTube (, directed to anyone who has been bullied as a result of their sexuality, reassuring them that ‘It Gets Better’. This video quickly turned viral and has now had over 1,553,552 views! The campaign also inspired thousands of others to upload their own blog posts and videos (200 videos were uploaded in the first week!), including the likes of Lady Gaga and Barack Obama and it also inspired a similar campaign in the UK – ‘It Gets Better Today’ launched by Stonewall, the lesbian, Gay and Bisexual charity. Social Networks Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and Digg have all been used to share the video, contributing to its widespread success.

To Mama with Love

Visit campaign website

image of map from to mama with love site
This is a great example of a very low budget campaign which had a huge impact with the help of social media. The campaign, launched on Mother’s Day 2010 by US non-profit organisation Epic Change, has the clear aim of raising money to support ‘mamas’ in their efforts to help under-privilaged people across the globe by giving hope, strength and instilling self-belief through education.
The website makes use of a virtual scrapbook that the donor can customise using photos, videos and messages which can then be sent as an e-card for mother’s day. Through allowing donors to share their virtual scrapbook with friends and family via Facebook and Twitter widespread exposure ensued. The campaign’s blog gives updates on the progress and development of the projects whilst YouTube and Flikr were used to upload videos and photos of the children involved, each telling their story. The campaign has also created a Twitter list called TwitterKids through which the children involved can tweet to the rest of the world.8
To put it all in perspective, this week-long campaign was run by only two people and yet they managed to raise nearly $17,000 and provide a safe home for 17 children in Tanzania. It just shows how a little creativity combined with clever social media integration can go a long way.

So what is it that makes a campaign successful?

We’ve highlighted the key elements that make a successful public awareness campaign.9

illustration of what makes an effective campaign

Now, the goal of the campaign is often clear, but frequently that is as far as many unsuccessful campaigns get on this list. It is important to know your target audience since this will not only help you to determine which channels you should use to target them but it will also help you to design a campaign which grasps their attention. The campaign should also have a clear message – leave a positive impression in just a few words, after all it’s not quantity that matters but quality. To get noticed, a campaign needs to be innovative and have humour. Take the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign for example…a little bit of cheekiness goes a long way. Lastly, it is important to constantly measure how well your campaign is fulfilling the initial goal and determine what works and doesn’t work.

How can Social Media benefit your campaign?

As we’ve seen from the examples above, many campaigns are moving away from the more traditional marketing methods of publishing, TV, radio and events and are putting more effort into targeting social media channels. Social media allows you to reach out to your target audience in a way that is much easier than any other traditional marketing method. By using a little creativity with your campaign you can get noticed, and if people ‘like it’ they can let the rest of their friends know at the click of a button.

As we’ve discovered from the examples of campaigns above, YouTube is being used very effectively for grasping people’s attention. Video can make the message personal. The ‘It Gets Better’ campaign is a fine example of this. Rather than being a set of words on a screen, video allows the message to have a face and tone of voice and so can become that much more meaningful. The ‘Unfriend Coal’ campaign is an example of video being used in a different manner. Here, a fun animation is used to get people’s attention. People are much more likely to want to watch a video than read a page of text. If the video is enjoyable/worth sharing, YouTube has handy links to Facebook and Twitter, enabling the message to spread quickly among the masses.

Whilst it’s all very well keeping on top of your Tweeting and Facebooking, it’s important to remember it’s your website that does the real talking – social networks are just the teaser. Keeping a blog on your campaign site is particularly useful since you can draw attention to these posts by Tweeting about it for example. Your 140 character Twitter teaser is used to grasp the attention of the reader, encouraging them to click the link to your blog. The blog then serves to cultivate their attention, drawing the reader in to the ‘call-to-action’ which could be for example signing a petition, ‘Like’ it on Facebook or re-Tweet on Twitter.10

So we’ve established that Social Media is a very powerful contribution to public awareness campaigns but how can we quantify its effectiveness?

Measuring a campaign’s effectiveness

Successful campaigns are those which evaluate, determining what is and isn’t working and which then move forward using that information.

This is where Google Analytics (or any other web-based analytics) becomes a God send. Not only can you track the number of people visiting your site and see where they spend their time, but you can see how many click-throughs you get from social media channels such as Twitter. You can see which individual Tweets work and which don’t or if Facebook is actually more effective after all. This feedback can then direct your future social media efforts.10


There’s a real art to public awareness campaigns. The real test comes in how you get people’s attention. In this digital age we are spending more and more time on the internet, a lot of which is spent on social networking sites. Since 45% of us are Facebooking whilst ‘watching’ our favourite TV program,1 it makes sense to target people where they’re really looking. With a little creativity in your campaign to grab the public’s attention, they can then do the hard work for you and market your message by sharing it through the many, many different social networks out there.


1    syncapse
2    ansonolex
3    browser media
4    ansonolex
5    twitter
6    ansonolex
7    behind the spin
8    digiwhirl
9    oecd
10   social media explorer