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Charities and Social Media – “Resistance is Futile”.

After our Start Up Engine: dinner on Thursday evening we were fortunate enough to meet Sea Shepherd – Omar Todd, who is today’s guest post. What an interesting guy, a Film maker and digital security expert, Omar also gives his time to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the environmental activists featured in the TV show ‘Whale Wars’. Omar has started a Sea Shepherd group here on TableCrowd for people who want to support this important work and hear the inside story of their operations. . Interesting fact –  Omar has over 250,000 twitter followers! Join him in Sea Shepherd’s group here:  SeaShepherd – Defending Ocean Wildlife Worldwide

Being a member of the team in the Cyber Division of a Charity, it’s not often that anyone gets to hear about what we do and in fact we rarely publish articles about our work at all.  You see, we are in the back office (or on the road), in the recesses and dark places where cyber conservation is slowly starting to stir, like Sauron awakening in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the stirrings of things to come.

Social Media is changing the way we raise funds and connect with our supporters and it’s happening a lot more quickly than any of us ever anticipated.  Initially, there were the various chat programs, a number of years ago, such as Inter Relay Chat (IRC) and ICQ which were quite popular.  As the Internet matured more, the next big thing was Skype which saved us a fortune in keeping our costs to a minimum when managing our global assets.  But these were not quite mainstream, or at least were in house only.  It was when NetSpace, Facebook, Twitter, G+ started to appear that we really noticed some interesting changes.

Omar Todd - Sea Shepherd

Like others, we set up Netspace first and instantly we had thousands of users following us which surprised us somewhat and then we set up Face Book on which, we now have over a half a million followers and it has actually been Facebook which has been the most successful in terms of numbers.  More recently and more interestingly, the Twitter feed that promotes our causes with live video feeds from around the world has had an influential and fundamental impact on how we as a Charity view and use social media.

With new social media technologies like tablecrowd.com coming into play as new methods to meet possible supporters directly, we are excited of the future prospects.

You see in the past, traditional media was all we had.  It was expensive to buy so often we would have to beg and befriend various reporters who were either interested in the subject matter, or alternatively whom we could offer some news worthy item to.  So the problem was that we also had to focus on the marketability of our goals, rather than simply on our actual goals themselves!  Thankfully, this has changed now.  With Social Media, charities can now solely focus on their goals and directly communicate with their supporters and interested parties!  The news tends to follow and report on the actions, rather than the actions being defined to attract the news. This is a major development in the arenas of Charities and Social Media.

Fund raising is also an important aspect of Social Media.  There have been some excellent examples whereby charities have used Social Media to broadcast an appeal for funds for to assist in a critical area.  And in some cases, the topic has even managed to trend globally, causing enormous amounts of donations to flood in and which also had the welcome knock on effect of increasing public awareness of the Charity’s work at the same time.  As a Charity today, there are more chances than ever before to increase your profile, to raise funds and to achieve your goals without the hassle and expense of hiring the costly services of a PR firm.

An exciting development in the world of social media for charities is that of engaging directly with their supporters in real time about a particular event or issue.  Live Streaming with a Twitter feed combined with supporters asking questions and with the Charity simultaneously providing feedback is one example.  Also, other websites now help you raise funds as a Charity directly from the public.  Once you have joined, filled in your profile and then hit the “Tweet” or “Share” button, it does a lot of the work for you.

However, the most fundamental thing any Charity needs to have is a strong brand and foundation.  Social Media growth is a result of the strength of the brand or alternatively the cause it supports and growth is difficult if the cause is unknown or the brand is weak.  Having said that, the convergence of various Social Media technologies is a critical and cheap way by which a new Charity can reach out in to the world.

An illuminating example of how things have changed is the situation that unfolded when our flagship “The Steve Irwin” was detained in Lerwick in the Scottish Shetland Islands on the orders of a British Court during the afternoon of Friday July 15, 2011. This detention was subject to a civil lawsuit brought against us by a Maltese fishing company, Fish and Fish Limited.  Applying the new technologies discussed above, we managed to raise the substantial bail money which came to hundreds of thousands of British Pounds in only two weeks.  This was mostly thanks to the social media campaigns we initiated in response to this drama and to the resulting actions of our core supporters.  The use of Twitter formed a substantial contribution to our fund raising efforts.

The most apt word that comes to mind to describe these new and exciting developments is “convergence” and whether we like it or not, the cyber world of Social Media and the world of conservation are starting to combine together.

You can follow Omar on twitter @OmarSeaShepherd (verified)

www.omartodd.com

www.whosay.com/omartodd

google.com/+OmarTodd (verified)

www.seashepherd.org

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