Mobilizing the masses: WWF’s social media strategy

A screen capture of World Wildlife Fund's 24 Hours in the Life of WWF online event. Photo by: WWF

Good job. Great news. A rare victory.

Congratulatory messages flooded WWF International’s Facebook wall Oct. 19 after the environmental group informed supporters that no investor had expressed interest in a tender for the construction of multiple hydropower plants on Montenegro’s Morača river. WWF, along with its partner association in Montenegro, campaigned against the project, arguing it would pose huge environmental and economic risks.

Facebook, in particular, played a key role in the success of the campaign.

“We need help: sign our petition ( to ask the Montenegro government to rethink the plan of building a dam in the Morača river,” WWFsaid in its Facebook wall on March 29, 2010.

Less than three weeks later, the conservation group collected nearly 15,000 signatures for its petition. In August of the same year, the government called off its original plans for four dams and announced a public debate on the issue, amid pressure from civil society groups and European Union institutions. WWF now hopes that the latest development – a lack of investor interest – will be a strong enough signal for the government to fully scrap its plan for the river.

This case illustrates, among other things, the power of social media. As of Oct. 29, WWF International had 738,000+ Facebook likes and 475,000+ Twitter followers – a sizable number of foot soldiers in the group’s campaign to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

The group is likewise on YouTube, Vimeo, LinkedIn and Tumblr, and uses websites and products that aggregate and curate content from other social networking sites, according to Nigel Allan, WWF’s content and social media manager. It is also exploring and Storify.

“We’re interested in watching what’s coming up and looking at ways we can use some of these new tools,” Allan said.

In this exclusive interview, Allan discusses the benefits of using social media for WWF’s campaigns. He also emphasizes the importance of integrating social media throughout an organization and encouraging all its staff members, not just communications and marketing people, to use it in their work.

In less than 140 characters, describe your social media strategy or vision.

To make it easy for people to connect with WWF and support our work to protect the planet’s biodiversity.

What has your social media presence allowed you to do that you may not have been able to achieve otherwise?

It’s made it a lot easier for people to get involved in our work. So for example, when we track what people are interested in and what they click on social media, what we see is that people really want to take action.

So, if they’re following us on Twitter, Facebook or wherever, it’s usually because they’re already passionate about protecting the planet. So whenever we give them an opportunity to do so, we always see a huge spike in activity on our social media channels and also on our websites. So I think making it easier for people to connect with the issues and making it easier for them to take action has been a great thing for us on social media. We’re always looking for ways to improve on that and do it more.

It has also helped us to create better content for our website. Ultimately, what we want people to do on social media is to come back to our website. So we want to create content and create tasks for people that are relevant to them and useful for them. So I think social media really helps to reinforce that need for us to work on creating good content, because without good content, you really don’t have a lot to talk about in social media.

Give an example or anecdote for how you’ve used social media in an innovative way.

A couple of years ago, we had a project called “24 Hours in the Life of WWF.” We had an interactive map so that over a period of a single day, anyone in WWF when they post something on Twitter, it appeared on the map. So you could see these 140 character updates popping up all over the world. I think it helped to give people a really good idea of the breadth of WWF’s work around the world. We also set it up so other people could participate in it as well if they used the hashtag #wwf24. They could talk about what they were doing to help the planet in their area.

So that was a really good project. And it was also good for us internally because it really got us internally thinking about how we can use social media to not only to talk to other people about what we do, but also talk with each other because it was just great to see what your colleagues are working on around the planet as well.

What do development organizations, whether bilateral and multilateral, nonprofit or corporate, need to know about social media and how it can help them?

I think it is really important for organizations to work to integrate social media throughout the organization and to encourage many staff to be using these tools, and not just the communications or the marketing staff, but people doing all kinds of different work in the organization. Throughout WWF, there are many people using Twitter to talk about their own work, whether its climate change, species or forest work or tiger conservation. And I think that really helps to add a personal touch and it gives people a stronger sense of connection because they can really see that the organization is made up of real people.

Social media also starts to blur that line between the personal and professional. So someone is tweeting say as themselves but they’re talking about the work they’re doing but they may also be talking a little bit about their own life and the kids, or whatever. So these are real people doing this work, and I think that connection is really important, especially in the new, social media landscape today.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.