Digital marketing for charities: A matter of trust.

There's a good chance you are reading this on an iPad or smartphone, probably while checking your email, tweeting, doing a spot of online shopping and getting the latest news updates. In other words, we are all living an increasingly digital, increasingly on-the-go world.

Digital marketing presents charities with a huge opportunity to engage audiences with their message and drive fundraising, whether it's through ads, blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, email campaigns or Twitter hashtags. But new research suggests the undoubted potential of digital outreach for non-profits needs to be balanced against some pretty significant risks.

Now there is no shortage of self-proclaimed digital evangelists out there who will make the case for online and social media marketing being not only the best channel for engagement but perhaps the only one that really matters. And, to a certain extent, they have a point. For one thing, getting your story out there and building relationships with potential donors or beneficiaries on social media can be far more cost-effective than traditional marketing or advertising.

For another, embracing digital means going where your audience are already spending much of their time. In 2016, 82% of adults in the UK used the internet on a daily or almost daily basis, according to the Office for National Statistics. Seven out of 10 accessed the web on the go using a phone or tablet, making it the most popular method for going online. It stands to reason that people who can pay their bills, stream their favourite boxsets or order a takeaway almost instantly with just a few taps increasingly expect to be able to do other everyday tasks - such as donating to a charity - using the same channels.

There's no question that a digital marketing strategy, well executed, can reap tremendous rewards in terms of delivering your charity's message and, ultimately, raising the funds vital to carrying out your work.However, in an era of fake news and alternative facts, where social media remains a largely unregulated and unfiltered free-for-all, the risk of your carefully crafted digital marketing content landing next to potentially offensive or even hateful material is very real.

Indeed, a recent report from the CMO Council, How Brands Annoy Fans, found that despite social media being the source of the second highest volume of ads seen by people in the UK and the US, behind television, it is the least trusted of their five main "content spaces". Friends, TV, search engines and newspapers were all seen as more trustworthy sources. In fact, nearly two-thirds said they responded more positively to an ad run in one of their trusted media channels than the same ad in a channel they do not trust. Almost nine out of 10 (86%) expressed some level of concern about how easily they are directed or redirected to hateful or offensive content on social media. Perhaps most worryingly from a marketing point of view, 11% said they would not do business with a brand if their ad appeared near such content, while another 9% would become vocal critics of that brand.

When trust in a charity's "brand" is vital to fundraising, the potential consequences for non-profit organisations, whether they are taking their first tentative steps into the digital world or have been there a while, are clear. Trust is hard won, easily damaged and, once lost, even harder to regain.How, then, can charities do to prepare themselves as best they can for the digital frontier? 

Last year, the Charities Commission published a 12-point guide for trustees looking at making digital work.   The report, which was produced in cooperation with Grant Thornton and Zoe Amar Communications, covers areas such as organisational culture, reputation and fundraising. It poses several questions: How can digital help charities reach new audiences? What digital skills do staff already possess? How should they respond to criticism on social media channels or online forums? These are all important considerations and they all feed into the most important issue to address when setting out on the digital journey - the need for a well-planned strategy.

At its heart, this should set out your goals - whether that's increasing Likes, getting retweets, driving online traffic to your website or increasing donations - and, crucially, how you will measure your progress towards them. This will give you a starting point for engagement and marketing activity, as well as a framework for dealing with the potential pitfalls of the digital world.

It might sound obvious but it is surprising how many organisations, from small non-profits right up to major corporations, overlook the need for a sound plan in the race to become part of the digital revolution.

Don't come to regret your haste. Ultimately, a well-planned digital marketing strategy will give you the best tools for protecting trust in your brand and realising the enormous potential benefits of digital engagement for your work.

Written by Andrew Jowett, Freelance Writing Consultant : andymjowett@gmail.com

Inglis Consulting Group can help you navigate the digital landscape and successfully deliver your vision to online audiences. If you would like to discuss a digital media project with the team, please get in touch: jpi@inglis-cg.com