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What Nonprofits Need to Know About Social TV

    What Nonprofits Need to Know About Social TV


    How the world experiences TV has fundamentally changed as traditional media consumption has become disrupted by new technologies. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has created an audience that is simultaneously watching television and accessing the Internet through these devices. We no longer watch TV as a silent participant, rather as an active voice, sharing the experience as events unfold with people across the globe.

    While TV has always been a social medium, social media tools have created a new dynamic between audiences and programming, transforming TV viewing from a solitary experience to one shared with millions of other viewers communicating online. A recent Viacom survey found that Social TV viewers engage in up to seven different types of social TV activities, with 85% watching TV with others, and 56% using social media applications to interact online during broadcasts. Simply put, consumers’ TV viewing behaviors have been changed by social media.

    Twitter has been the driving force behind this phenomenon, sometimes referred to as Social TV or the second screen, providing the perfect bridge between TV, digital and mobile, due, in part, to the immediacy, partly due to the measurability and largely because it is an open platform that allows people to communicate freely and without constraint making it perfect for connecting people. As Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, said “Twitter is the social soundtrack for TV.” But are you listening?

    While broadcasters, content producers, and corporate brands work to leverage technology to build interaction, the question for us must be how can we as non-profits use this knowledge to raise awareness, encourage debate and facilitate change.

    Most networks today create and promote TV-related hashtags that viewers can use to discuss shows they love. This gives non-profits a powerful opportunity to connect with people who are passionate about what you do.

    Documentaries, news, relevant storylines in soap operas and TV programmes, and films are filled with content that relates to the work we do as non-profits. After all, our work is about transforming society, it is mostly about the struggles that people face and the problems that exist within society and trying to resolve those.

    By using Twitter we can become a part of that conversation, we can connect TV content back to our work, to our messages, our solutions and our impact and educate the public about the problems we face and the opportunities that exist and show them what they too can do if they wish. This provides non-profits with opportunities to reach huge audiences, depending not on advertising spend, but our passions, our stories, experiences and our knowledge.

    What TV often does better than charities is know how to tell a good story. We can use those stories to share the experiences of the people we help in a way that others can connect to by starting conversations about the challenges people face and what it means to live with illness, hunger, family violence, homelessness, disability or the many other causes that charities represent. It allows us to show the human faces behind our charities through characters that people are connected with on their favourite TV shows.

    By joining the conversation with viewers on Twitter we can provide supplementary information about the program by sharing links to our websites where viewers can find more information, answer questions viewers might have, or talk about the challenges and opportunities and how they can get involved with your organisation.

    Richard Hudson, director of communications and digital at the Meningitis Trust, explained how they received over a thousand mentions by using Twitter. During one episode of Hollyoaks University student, Ash Kane, suddenly collapsed in her student halls, and she was later diagnosed with meningitis. This provided the Meningitis Trust charity with an opportunity to share information about the condition as the storyline evolved.


    “We prepared tweets ahead of the episode going out, allowing us more time to react to the action unfolding,” said Richard. “By providing relevant links and content, marked with the #hollyoaks hashtag we managed to send a strong message out.

    Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is a charity that was established to support people affected by cervical cancer. When the popular soap opera EastEnders decided to run a cervical cancer storyline they used Twitter to raise awareness of cervical cancer and also help the public to be more informed about this issue. They were able to provide information to the millions of people watching the show.

    The British Heart Foundation benefitted from increased brand awareness when the TV show Coronation Street featured a storyline around heart disease. The charity built an entire campaign around the story and actively tweeting during the show with information about heart disease in a way that that was incorporated into the plot.

    News, documentaries and lifestyle shows also provide important opportunities for nonprofits. When Jon Hastie, a young campaigner with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, appeared on the television show embarrassing bodies to talk about his experiences living with a muscle wasting disease, the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign shared information, answered questions about the condition, and included the official program hashtag to connect with the TV audience on Twitter and raise awareness of the disease.

    When the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign tweeted about the show they included the presenter’s @username. When the host retweeted them to his 8,671 followers during the show their website traffic increased by 243%.

    In May 2012 Channel 4 aired an episode of The Secret Millionaire, which saw a property developer travel to North Manchester with a Channel 4 production team. Having had his leg amputated as a teenager following a motorbike accident, Matthew had his eyes opened to the challenges facing local and national communities surrounding disability. Forced out of his comfort zone, he had the chance to reflect on his own struggles and explore how others cope with disability.

    Matthew spent time meeting with different nonprofits and community groups but the most powerful story to come from the show was meeting Alex Williams, an ambassador of The Meningitis Trust. Alex had contracted meningitis at the age of 7 resulting in his confinement to a wheelchair. Meningitis Trust capitalised on their strong relationship with Alex during and after the Secret Millionaire coverage by providing links to stories about Alex on their website and his role as an Ambassador for the charity.



    TV can be a force for social good, it can help highlight and address social issues and raise awareness of charities that support the most vulnerable people in our society. Connecting to viewers through Twitter provides charities with the opportunity to reach millions of people, who are connected to the causes we represent using channels with established audiences to reach supporters and share our own stories.




    […] with people who are passionate about what you do. Connecting to viewers using these hashtags provides charities with the opportunity to reach millions of people, who are connected to the causes we represent using media channels with established audiences to […]

    It’s so great to see nonprofits being savvy & leveraging social media and current ‘events’ like TV shows. I worked in the nonprofit sphere for over a decade (1st half in museums, 2nd half in cancer research) and there was a definite resistance to technology & pop culture. Working in development for a cancer foundation, I ran into a lot of walls trying to get the higher ups to make use of these things.

    It is so refreshing to see organizations making the most of social media. I know nonprofits struggle with their budgets and this kind of ‘hashtag jacking’ is an excellent way to get some exposure…. and possibly some sponsors/event tie-ins out of the tv show producers.

    So true. Unfortunately many charities still have a long way to go in taking advantage of social media in this way. I wrote this to highlight some of the possibilities and show some real examples of how charities have used social TV in the hope that it would encourage others to get more involved in this area.

    It is such a great opportunity for them as there is such a strong relationship between the powerful stories being told and the charities working in those ares.

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