Siane Monreal, social media manager for ICRC. Photo by: IFRC

When it comes to humanitarian work, the International Committee of the Red Cross has the largest footprint in the world, supported by millions of volunteers. Its social footprint is also one to be reckoned with: It has over 3 million followers on just the English-speaking channels. To put it in context, ICRC ranks in the top 10 of most followed international organizations

This month, on Behind the Handle, I spoke to Siane Monreal, who is a social media manager at ICRC, working alongside a global communications’ team that drives 100 channels in 33 languages.  We spoke about metrics that matter in 2019, and why more organizations should pay attention and iterate along with audience behavior.

“People follow people, they don't follow brands.”

— Siane Monreal, social media manager, ICRC

Being culturally relevant in 2019

As social media has matured, there’s an expectation for brands and organizations to be authentic and culturally relevant. For ICRC, this means having a global team that understands these nuances.

As a native English speaker, Monreal focuses primarily on English-language channels and has counterparts around the world who write in their native tongues. Outside the six official United Nations languages, ICRC produces social content in seven additional languages, including Bahasa and Hebrew. “Native speakers of the language can understand more about the cultural application of social media in particular contexts [...] and have a better understanding from a cultural or social perspective as well,” Monreal said.

Behind the Handle:




Monreal adds that with existing media saturation, particularly on humanitarian crises, there’s no longer a formula for “cutting through.” For engagement, social media leads are turning to microcommunities of truly engaged followers. These are people who take the time to leave a comment, whether negative or positive and go beyond a double-tap or like.

“What we're trying to do in 2019 is to go smaller scale, to start thinking more about audiences on a very granular level,” she explained.

One metric that matters

Currently, the average daily screen time of adults hovers over five hours. But most of the consumption is passive: We often scroll aimlessly on the timelines of our favorite apps and platforms. So what is a metric that matters in 2019? Monreal says that ICRC is paying more attention to the “quality of comment.”

With this, the ICRC team is able to gauge indicators of active engagement such as “Do people remember that it’s our brand?” or “What do they know about us?” after consuming content.  

Isolating engagement in this way often leads to more meaningful insights. For example, when it was still doing Facebook Live, it quickly became clear that views on Facebook Live were arbitrary once social media managers dug into them. People were not actually getting to the end of the video. The engagement rate was way higher than normal but there was a lot of low engagement such as people chiming in where they were tuning in from, Monreal said.

“It doesn't take much for someone to push the like button. It doesn't take much for someone to say ‘hi.’ It does take a lot for someone to say ‘I disagree with you,’” she added, “Whether it's true or not, whether we agree or not, the person has taken time out of their busy day to write a message.”  

Organic growth is also important. Last year, ICRC’s audience was gaining about 50,000 followers organically each month. But keeping up with growth is about iterating to audience behavior even as the platform largely remains the same. On Twitter, we have seen the shift from heavy video focus in 2017 to a shift back to text, evidenced by whimsical viral questions and the launch of threads.

The focus for 2019

As the “gatekeepers” of the Geneva Conventions, ICRC’s mandate revolves around communicating the rules of war and raising awareness about humanitarian emergencies.

To do this, Monreal believes that getting ICRC staff involved is critical. “People follow people, they don't follow brands. That's part of what 2019 holds for us: trying to humanize ourselves a little more in a way that makes sense online,” she says.

In February, Monreal launched updated social media guidelines for ICRC staff to help build social media literacy across the organization. On the LinkedIn post announcing the new policy, Monreal wrote that the guidelines offer practical tips on how ICRC staff can “tell the important stories of what they see and experience every day — and to do it in their own voice.” Her key tips are on three pillars: common sense, respect, and caution.

“We are all passionate about the work that we do. We’re passionate about what happens in the country we’re from, or the country we live in,” Monreal said.  And these guidelines equip staff to share experiences without endangering themselves or ICRC operations.

Update, April 8, 2019: This Behind the Handle story focuses on the International Committee of the Red Cross.

About the author

  • Carine Umuhumuza

    Carine Umuhumuza is a former associate director of communications at Devex, where she wrote about the latest trends, tips, and insights on media and communications for the global development community. Previously, Carine led digital initiatives at Devex for development agencies, major corporations, NGOs, and social enterprises.