In celebration of Social Media Week we hosted an evening seminar, Is social giving fundraising’s ‘Third Way’? Here Charlotte Beckett, Head of Digital, The Good Agency, talks to a man known only as @DMReporter.
When The Daily Mail sent columnist Liz Jones to cover the East Africa crisis from the field @DMReporter was the creator of the spoof Twitter account @lizjonessomalia. Initially pure satire, the account turned to raising money for the DEC East African Appeal.
You’re known for your acerbic take on all things Daily Mail as @dmreporter. What made you set up the @lizjonessomalia account? Was raising money for DEC always on the cards?
Originally I just wanted to try something as a writer, so I thought it would be fun to give @LizJonesSomalia some redemption at the end of the week. Start her off callous and slowly expose her to the real horrors of the disaster. Then switch to entirely serious tweets where she’s seen the error of her ways. The first day unexpectedly gave me thousands of followers and I got very excited about the prospects. I quickly realized I was going to have to be very careful, and the feed would certainly have to justify itself in a better way than just being jokes.
Then the whole thing just came to me: become a passing zeitgeist feed, harness that sudden burst of popularity and then take all those people who disliked the Daily Mail, or objected to Liz Jones, or felt strongly about that type of journalism and see if we could get them to donate a couple of quid each as some kind of way of balancing out the good and bad. It was very optimistic but I felt I knew how Twitter functioned in these circumstances and that there was a legitimate possibility that it could work. I honestly didn’t even hope it would go as high as it did. That was phenomenal.
Was it tough to be satirical and still remain sensitive to the wider story?
Very much so. The whole feed definitely tailed off at the end because I was beginning to run out of material. It’s very easy to come up with famine jokes but much harder to keep them pointed in the right direction. I never at any point wanted to make fun of disaster. It always had to be about a warped sense of perspective, about someone with such fundamental first world issues they are simply incapable of seeing anything from outside of their own narcissistic bubble.
I think there was probably a couple of times when I misjudged it but it’s hard to get it right every time. I like satire to be as close to the target as possible and I really enjoyed seeing the responses coming in. People got the joke - they were brilliant, they really understood that the target was this flippant form of dismissive journalism that Liz Jones and the Mail represented. If it hadn’t been for such positive comments then I’d probably have quit early. Folks were even explaining it to those who’d not understood the joke immediately. It really felt lovely to have such a high level of engagement.
You raised over £27,000 in a matter of days. What do you think was the secret of your success?
There was a number of reasons why it worked so well, most of which are entirely circumstantial and have absolutely nothing to do with me. Primarily I was lucky: right idea, right time, right place.
Liz Jones’ NHS article and her going to Somalia was definitely ‘the thing that Twitter was mad about this week’. We love our collective outrage on Twitter so it was only a matter of time until somebody set up the account – it just so happened to be me. It also really helped that I had @DMReporter so there was an immediate 8,000 followers who I could access. I didn’t have to start from scratch, as it were, because I was already known.
It certainly helped that in the beginning many were confused as to how legitimate it was – nothing like a bit of controversy to get you followers, and I always saw a spike in attention when people like Graham Lineham, Dave Gorman, Sue Perkins and Annabel Giles retweeted or engaged with me. The right comment from the right person can do absolute wonders.
And also, if I say so myself, it was quite funny too.
The surprise of the announcement did a tremendous amount to begin with – over £20,000 was raised in the first 24 hours. I think most followers were seasoned Twitter users and were happy to see it used in new way – it gets so much negative press, not least from the Mail, that this was a demonstrable form of showing the good it can do.
I really can’t overlook the generosity of the followers, though – their engagement and grasping of the idea amazed me. I sincerely thought we’d raise maybe £1000 if we were lucky, but to see that passed in the first 20 minutes was incredible. And then to see that amount soar after the idea spread across social networks was extremely humbling. People donated serious money to this cause – I think the highest amount was £450 – and without their enthusiasm spurring on others to be enthusiastic we’d have had very little success at all.
Is this scalable – could organisations mirror your success?
I would love this to be scalable, or even repeatable, but I’m not wholly convinced that it can be. To be able to repeat something like that specifically would require another situation where humour could be used as a form of outrage and while they certainly come along once in a while they’re not that common. One man on his iPhone can get away with more. @LizJonesSomalia went to some very dark places at times because that was the character of the account, I don’t think an organisation would be able to get away with that.
The process of engaging the public with a smaller, more relatable campaigns could definitely be implemented by organisations though. Orchestrating more focused drives that allows the public to donate for something in which they can see a demonstrable effect, but feeding into a bigger picture. Social media is still very much in its infancy but as it develops I think we’ll see some new and interesting methods of raising funds.
It’s worth noting that @LizJonesSomalia only had 8,500 followers and they donated nearly £30,000 (including gift aid). While it felt like a very big deal at the time that’s actually a very small percentage of Twitter users who actually knew about the account. Were an organisation able to replicate this model with an event on a global scale then there would be a real possibility for a massive donations drive.
She’s our Head of Digital. Usually found online somewhere, rather fond of the real world too.