Top humanitarian agencies on social media

Staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees commemorate World Refugee Day in Armenia. Photo by: UN in Armenia / CC BY

Would you like to donate your Facebook or Twitter profile for one day to help the fight against childhood malnutrition?

Ahead of this year’s World Food Day (Oct. 16), Doctors Without Borders launched an app that enabled supporters to donate their Facebook or Twitter profiles for its initiative to “help rewrite the story of malnutrition.” The app then shared messages about the Starved for Attention campaign on the donated profiles over a period of 24 hours.

“I’m asking @USAID to send nutritious food to kids BEFORE they get severely malnourished. http://bit.ly/195mill #STRVD,” said one of the tweets the app shared to donors’ Twitter profiles.

Twitter, of course, has proven to be very helpful for the renowned humanitarian group. In January 2010, a tweet from one U.S. television host prompted the U.S. Air Force to allow Doctors Without Borders to land its planes inside quake-hit Haiti. Twitter hailed it the most powerful tweet of that year.

Doctors Without Borders and its sister chapter in Spain, Médicos Sin Fronteras, rank among the most successful humanitarian organizations on Facebook and Twitter, based on our research. They join several U.N. agencies, Red Cross chapters and Samaritan’s Purse on our top 10 rankings for the two social media platforms. 

Here’s the complete list:

Top 10 Humanitarian Agencies on Social Media

*as of Oct. 27, 2011

Humanitarian groups — many of which also provide longer-term development assistance — use Facebook and Twitter differently, recognizing that these channels draw different types of audiences.

Samaritan’s Purse, for instance, finds that its fans on Facebook have been supporters of the organization’s ministry for years. On Twitter, many of its followers are interested in technical details of its relief work.

“That highlights that one of the most important things to remember as you’re engaging your audience on social media is to know who your audience is, and to know what they care about, what they’re talking about, what they want from you, and how you can add value to conversations that they’re already having,” Hope Blaylock, integrated marketing manager at Samaritan’s Purse, told Devex.

Doctors Without Borders, meanwhile, differentiates the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels based on its communications objectives.

Jason Cone, communications director for the group, said when it comes to rapidly building attention to a particular issue, Twitter is a much better tool than Facebook, but Facebook is oftentimes more adapted to making calls to action and engaging people.

“Facebook’s value is very different from that of Twitter,” Cone said. “Understanding your objectives for any communication is fundamental to evaluating the appropriate platforms to disseminate those messages and the manner in which to engage supporters and influencers as well as the types of content to disseminate.” 

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    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.