The Social Content Evolution That’s Changing The Game For Cause Communicators

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Typically, we think of evolution as moving from a simple state to one that’s more complex.

But, really, evolution is about survival. It moves us toward what works, in whatever form that takes.

Over the past 18 months, we’ve witnessed a quiet, counterintuitive evolution of the content within our social feeds. And in few domains is the dividing line between old- and new-school players as stark as among cause organizations. You’ve likely recognized this transformation--it looks something like this:

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Indeed, today’s savviest cause communicators have gradually shifted away from highly-polished creative fixtures such as the long, anthemic brand video and the celebrity PSA, and toward short, low-fi, iterative, and abundantly simple creative that lets a clear, compelling message shine through.

The reason why lies in the data.

In the absence of real-time measures of engagement, we’ve traditionally operated under the assumption that “bigger” creative = better creative. And a linear relationship emerged between production cost and perceived effectiveness. We’ve strived to work with ever more sophisticated, more expensive creators to garner--in theory--more attention around our messages.

But now, creative effectiveness is laid bare in real-time by social engagement data.

And by that we don’t simply mean clicks. Rather, in measuring effectiveness we look to data such as social engagement (likes, comments, shares, RT’s, etc), click rate, video starts, average video view time, video completion rate, attention time within an ad unit, and subsequent actions taken (e.g., petition signed) and/or site-side engagement measures such as time on site and pages per visit.

And this data has led us to a near universal realization, across thousands of social ads on every major platform: A clear, strategic message--executed simply--routinely outperforms highly polished, ad-like creative executions in delivering meaningful campaign outcomes.

This quiet but massive reshaping of the content that populates our social feeds is great news for cause communicators. Production budgets are no longer a barrier to telling your story in compelling way, and marketing teams can quickly generate, test, and amplify low-cost content that delivers outsized impact.

Moreover, cause messages are inherently more compelling than other messages--branded or otherwise--vying for attention within the social feed. So with a leveling of the budget playing field, and a clear storytelling advantage, we’re in a transformational moment in which cause-related content is not just striving to compete for share of voice, but is positioned to truly dominate it.

The 3 New-School Rules of Social Content for Cause Organizations

With that, let’s get into it. Here’s what you need to know about creating effective content for today’s social, mobile environment.

New-school social content follows these three rules:

#1 - Put Your Message In Motion

If you’ve noticed a lot more video in your social feeds this year, it’s no accident. Users are engaging with video content at higher rates, and platforms are rewarding organizations who create more of it with greater reach and lower costs. But, as in the World Economic Forum example above, “video” doesn’t necessarily mean director, producer, film crew, and fancy snacks at the post-production studio. Video simply means that the message moves. Creative social marketers are turning static images into moving slideshows, making animated gifs, roaming the office or the streets with an iPhone or a GoPro, and much more. This faster, cheaper, more iterative approach to video production allows you to create much more content, and thereby get a better understanding of what truly works and what doesn’t, empowering your team to create more of the former.

Bright Pink didn’t let a lean production budget prevent them from having a big impact during this September’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. We collaborated on this simple gif, hand-drawn on Post-It Notes. The short, quirky rundown of ovarian cancer symptoms delivered the best performance we’ve ever seen on a social video.

Bright Pink didn’t let a lean production budget prevent them from having a big impact during this September’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. We collaborated on this simple gif, hand-drawn on Post-It Notes. The short, quirky rundown of ovarian cancer symptoms delivered the best performance we’ve ever seen on a social video.

#2 - Be “Thumb-Stopping”

Mobile use dominates social. A user’s thumb--scrolling at lightspeed through new updates on their mobile device--is the gatekeeper of attention in 2017 and beyond. “Thumb-stopping” social content quickly captures your audience’s attention through arresting visuals and text, effectively halting the scroll.

We collaborated with MIG to deploy a series of thumb-stopping gifs across social in support of SFMTA’s Vision Zero traffic safety campaign. A “point of view” perspective moments before an accident helped stop San Francisco drivers in their tracks, figuratively speaking.

We collaborated with MIG to deploy a series of thumb-stopping gifs across social in support of SFMTA’s Vision Zero traffic safety campaign. A “point of view” perspective moments before an accident helped stop San Francisco drivers in their tracks, figuratively speaking.

#3 - Get To The Point Already

Wait Wait.... Don’t Tell Me! host Peter Sagal recently cut a caller short after several seconds, joking, “I’m sorry, but with today’s attention spans that’s all we can do.” Which brings us to our final creative imperative: Deliver your key messages clearly and quickly. Don’t expect modern audiences to bear with you through a slow build or a clever reveal.

To push back against the erasure of the elder LGBT community from federal health allocations, we teamed with SAGE and Siegelvision to create the #WeRefuseToBeInvisible campaign, delivering a pointed call-to-action to the community and its allies, ultimately generating a groundswell of support that led to the reversal of this anti-LGBT position. 

To push back against the erasure of the elder LGBT community from federal health allocations, we teamed with SAGE and Siegelvision to create the #WeRefuseToBeInvisible campaign, delivering a pointed call-to-action to the community and its allies, ultimately generating a groundswell of support that led to the reversal of this anti-LGBT position.