Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter: A necessary evil?

5 December, 2012 - 14:14 -- John Burton
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter: A necessary evil?

I am far too old to get enthusiastic about 'social networking'.

After all, I grew up at a time when the telephone was still not universal, and it took a year or more to get connected. And when I first travelled abroad, sending postcards was the only way of communicating back home; phone calls were far too expensive. But now, that’s worlds away, and everyone uses mobile phones, and social networking has replaced letter-writing.

I resisted this phenomenon for a long time, and although World Land Trust (WLT) tried using SMS (short message service or texting) for small donations a year or two ago, it wasn’t very successful, and I could never see how social networking could be turned into donations.

And then last week I had my Damascene experience; I had a training session with an expert on social networking, who convinced me that I was looking at it the wrong way.

I was probably right, it would be very difficult to ‘monetise’ social networking for the WLT (not emotive like disaster relief or children in need), but I should be looking at it in terms of increasing ‘brand awareness’. All horrible jargon, but actually spot on.

WLT, as so many of our supporters have told us, is doing a good job. It’s cost effective, and it’s breaking new ground. But we are not well enough known. Even though we have recently had features in The Independent newspaper, as well as in The Times, where Simon Barnes regularly writes about our projects, we are still a relatively unknown organisation.

Our endorsements by Sir David Attenborough give people confidence, once they have found our website, but they still have to find us. And that is where social networking comes into play.

We have accounts with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and we do have significant numbers of followers, but at present, we do not have an overall strategy of communicating with them, or of integrating our news stories, or even this blog.

So now having becoming a convert, I have to work out how to tweet, blog the right things and communicate with a whole new audience.

What do you think is the message that is going to resonate with our potential audience? I don’t want to communicate randomly with everyone, I want to communicate with those who will take the future of wildlife and natural habitats seriously.

All suggestions on the proverbial post card please, or below.


Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

But are Facebook and Twitter really the most effective means of communicating to WLT's potential supporters?
To me, they have all the hallmarks of a passing fad - they are fundamentally shallow, fashion driven and have become stupendously popular in very very short order. This usually indicates an equally fast decline when the technology moves on; as it must.

The act of "Twittering" says everything you need to know about this phenomenon; it's a burst of high pitched sound designed to precipitate a corresponding burst of equally transitory noise. Honestly - does ANYONE seriously believe that people in the future will give a monkeys what this luvvie or that 'B List' celeb twittered about ooh, something or other, love? But always "passionately, love, passionately"....

I advocate the 'Field Of Dreams' maxim: "If you build it, they will come." If there persist still, after all the development growth-based madness, tracts of reasonably healthy wilderness / wild habitat / ecologically vibrant spaces, people (even YOUNG people !!) will find them, become mesmerised by them, will get deliriously enthused by them, and then want to protect and nurture them... Want to see more of them.

To allow WLT to get embroiled in and beguiled by twitter or facebooks is to get distracted by passing fashions, to then get pathetically left behind when those fashions change as they inevitably must. We must remember that we are the LEADERS here, not the followers!

Submitted by John Burton on

While I am 98% in agreement with Dominic, this year has been very difficult for fundraising, and the commonest comment has been that WLT is not well enough known. Twitter may well be a passing fad, but provided we don't expect it to directly raise funds, I am prepared to give it a go as a way of spreading our name a bit wider. I'll give it a couple of months trial, and if we see results....

Certainly some aspects of social neworking do work. LinkedIn was definitely important when we recruited a new web person. And a lot more cost effective than any other recruitment route.

But very much a watch this space at present.

Submitted by Julia on

Having been alerted to this blog via Facebook I have to disagree with Dominic. I believe social networking is an excellent way to regularly communicate with some supporters of the WLT as they have become part of many people's daily routines (although I appreciate this may not be a large fraction of your supporters, at least not yet). A platform such as Facebook for example also allows followers to share important posts with their friends, so the message gets further and hopefully more people become aware of the WLT. You only have to look at how some YouTube videos etc. have "trended" to see how fast items can spread to a vast international audience. Organisations such as Avaaz have expanded their audience to over 10 million people internationally with the aid of social networking, but this has largely been through a series of highly emotive campaigns.
John's point about the role of emotion in the more successful social networking campaigns is very valid. Unfortunately people don't know what they've lost until it's gone so there is a lot of complacency around conservation which does inhibit the impact of utilising social media. However, if you can get people's attention via social networking etc. then you may be able to draw them in enough to show them the overwhelming pressures the species of the world are facing and gain a new supporter. Perhaps more publication of camera trap results along with the subject's status and need, and more links to conservation articles and programmes in the media? Maybe encourage people to 'like'/share posts if they agree with the subject matter?

Submitted by David Sargan on

Although I don't use twitter myself, I think the social media are the only affordable way to reach large numbers of younger people, and nowadays a very good way of reaching other generations too. But I also think that actually you are putting too many entries on Facebook, and its too difficult to find those that are of consequence. You will find people filtering you out if you occupy too much of their wall.

I'm afraid "build it and they will come" is wishful thinking - if it were not, the World Land Trust, now 23 years old, would already be known to all, as it has been building very special things for all of that time.

Submitted by Daniel on

I am working for a German science magazine, and my company uses Twitter and Facebook to enhance our popularity and brand awareness, too. And in our opinion, it works: Many people do no longer search for information on the internet, they are waiting for the information to reach them - via social networks. Our most popular stories are those, that have been twittered or divided among FB users many times. That doesn't monetise, immediately, either. But through a growing community we could sell more subscriptions, enlarge ad income etc.

Furthermore, as a journalist I use Twitter as a way to get information, as a kind of source. I don't visit the WLT pages, daily (I supported WLT several times, already), but whenever I stumble across a WLT or WLT US tweet I follow the link to the news, that is provided. And I share this news with others or I promote WLT, because I appreciate their work. It is a cheap and easy way for supporters to spread the word!

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

Fair comments from the contributors above. I'm taking a polemical position here.

But Daniel - you're a journalist working for a science magazine and your information is coming from social networks ?!! What DO you publish? Even the Internet should never be relied upon... Reassure us that you do get about and about and meet real live people now'n' again .

And as for WLT getting through to those lovely young people facebooking etc, well let's hope the messages manage to jostle for space in amongst the naked photographs they're sending each other. And THAT'S the point here... Forgive my cynicism, but social networks are surely only for the superficial stuff, between bored house-bound or office-bound individuals (atomised by the technology) who have little else to do.

WLT has a Handle on The Real Thing. Important, essential, valuable, inspirational, powerful and trenchant. Not to be wasted on bored kiddies who won't stick around for long on anything anyway.

Submitted by John Burton on

Thanks for all the feedback. It's all, and I mean ALL, very useful indeed and will influence our way forward. There is nothing in the correspondence that does not fit with our overall thinking, so it's nice to have our thoughts and our prejudices confirmed. Thank you all for taking the time to write to us

Submitted by Daniel on

Dominic, of course, I do not rely solely on information given through social media. As I mentioned, I follow links tweeted by WLT for example. I read the information there and get in contact with people mentioned in the articles. You need to follow the right people and the right organizations on Twitter - I am not interested in Lady Gaga, but in birdlife, WLT US/UK, save_spoony, saving_rhinos and things like that.

Submitted by Helena Akerlund on

Dominic, I think you may have been following the wrong people and Pages on Facebook! Yes, it is true that Facebook started out as a very superficial way to network (after all, its target audience was college students), but it has evolved very rapidly indeed, and many people are now using it as a search engine, meaning that if your organisation or business doesn't have a presence on Facebook, you may as well not exist. It is absolutely about following the right people and organisations (and block or unlike those who clutter up your news stream with irrelevant rubbish) and my guess is that the generation who has grown up with Facebook is very good at doing this.  If you compare Facebook with email communication you get an idea of how many people use it: Don't like this story or Page? Block it and you won't need to read anything like it again (which is actually a huge advantage over spam, which keeps coming, however much you try to block senders and mark emails as junk). By continuing to refine what you 'allow' to be shown in your Facebook news stream in this way, you can very quickly tailor Facebook to be incredibly useful - if that is what you want it to be.

WLT's target audience does use Facebook: About half of Facebook users are now in their 30s or 40s - and don't forget the silver surfers!  Apparently 42% of Facebook users earn £30,000-£49,999 and 22% earn £50k or more (, so if only the Trust can manage to find those users who are interested in the future of our planet (or get them to find WLT, rather), then using Facebook could potentially be a highly cost-effective way of raising awareness and ultimately money.

However, as David says above, it is important to limit the amount of posts on a Facebook Page, and to balance asks for donations with information and more light-hearted content. Now, the amount of posts and the content of those posts obviously depends on the purpose of having a Facebook Page in the first place, but I suspect the light-hearted, "awwww" or "wow" posts are likely to be shared more widely (and tolerated more often) and therefore reach a larger audience than the direct asks for donations. Granted, having a large audience doesn't necessarily equate with more funds raised, but if we agree that the best way for WLT to use social networks is to make the Trust more well-known, then you can't go far wrong with stunning photos, poignant quotes and short snippets of useful, wildlife-related information.

Social networking is mainstream and to *not* use social media would, in my opinion, be a huge mistake.

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on


Fair do's.

You're the pro's in the business here. I accept that I'm the one out on a limb.

But I still wonder how much these trends are acting to restrict peoples' perspectives, and to ghetto-ise peoples' outlooks (to the benefit of supra-large, tax-haven based corporations of course) while everyone convinces themselves that this is the bright shining future. Data streams always have to be carefully managed whatever form they come in.

Just make sure that YOU are the master here and not the slave. And that's difficult to do if you follow a stampeding herd.

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