Hearing someone’s story firsthand can build empathy, a sense of community and crush stereotypes or assumptions. But in a noisy world, how can we as charities get those voices heard?
Finding ways for people to engage with real experience is key. More charities are trying rocur (rotation curation) or media take overs. Find out how they could work for you.
Hearing lived experience
We’ve talked before about empathy and the power of stories (following Jude Habib’s amazing Being the Story event in 2016). Last week at the Social Media Exchange Lemn Sissay argued that charities shouldn’t be working to ‘give children a voice’ as they have voices already. Rather we should be working to find ways for their voices to be heard.
This idea was explored more deeply by Gemma Pettman in her blog post following the event in which she included reflections about the Expert Citizens programme.
We may feel like we are working hard to get the voices out there but your case study or a video probably isn’t doing this. As editors we are applying our own filters and key messages to these stories. Of course as comms professionals, we might feel like we know what makes a good story and we want to streamline the story so it ticks our boxes (we don’t want any other causes or issues getting in the way). But this isn’t the way people work.
It might feel scary or dangerous but how can we create a platform which we can hand over to the people we represent? Some charities are doing this through their blog or vlog. For example Mind invites anyone to contribute. Others are using social media to share user-generated content. For example read about Anthony Nolan’s Facebook content strategy.
To actually hand the keys over to the channels is another level, with no editorial control! Here we look at some examples.
Rocur (or rotation curation)
According to wikipedia, rotation curation started on Twitter in 2011 with the @sweden account. Rocur accounts are usually managed on a weekly basis with each new person sharing details of their lives. An administrator manages the account, ensuring every week is covered.
The Sweden account (which itself says it started in 2009) is still going strong and has 104k followers. There are now many other location-based accounts including @LondonisYours, @WeAreXPats and HI_Voices.
In October 2016, the nhs account launched with Richard who shared his experience of living with cancer. The account is ‘manned’ by staff, trainees and patients and already has 10.6k followers. It is used from 8am-8pm, Monday to Thursday and from 8am-6pm on Friday.
This account works so well because it is well curated with different voices each week. The weekly host tends to share a lot of personal information and they respond to questions and treat it as a conversation. It feels like followers are genuinely learning about someone’s job or condition from reading the tweets. Read more about the @nhs account.
In a similar vein, @Parkinsons52 is used by people who have experience of Parkinson’s. The account has been live since February 2016. It has been hosted by patients experiencing varying stages of the disease from across the world as well as health care professionals and staff from Parkinson’s UK including CEO Steve Ford. It was set up by David Sangster who saw it as a way to connect the Parkinson’s community, raise awareness and to show how the disease can affect people of all ages and backgrounds.
Less of a committment is to host a social media take over, where someone outside of the comms team uses the account for a short time. This is generally less about lived experience and more about giving an alternative insight or perspective. Museums are good at doing this such as with their ask the curator sessions.
Kids in Museums drive an annual day where museums let children take over. Some organisations do this by letting young people use their social media accounts to share their experiences of the museum. The Teen Twitter Takeover is in August and there are useful factsheets about how to let teenagers tweet from the museum account. The guide says that the biggest benefit is that the teenagers feel really trusted to be allowed to do this. Read more about Take Over Day.
Each year local government joins in with #OurDay. This is more managed than a take over but gives an opportuity for councils to share the stories of employees and locals who use services. Through the social media activity they can show the detail and breadth of what they do. See this Moment of #OurDay in 2016 for some examples.
Could it work for you?
If one of your goals is to raise awareness, then somewhere within your comms strategy should be a way to show rather than tell. Finding simple ways to build understanding and empathy is key.
These examples are all about showing the detail of something, the everyday impact of a condition or situation. It is the detail which connects us. And it is the detail which is often missed in our corporate comms where we are often trying to show the bigger picture to make a point.
Giving a platform in this way can be daunting. Some of the barriers could be:
- “it sounds too time consuming to administer and monitor”
- “we don’t have access to a big bank of potential people who could contribute”
- “we have a duty of care for children or vulnerable people – what if people ask probing questions or they get trolled?”
- “is it really worth it – will people listen or engage? Will it actually change anyone’s minds?”
- “our community has low IT skills or limited access to tech.”
A good plan, policy and support are key. Be realistic about what you can take on. You don’t have to sign yourself up to a year-long stint of weekly hosts. It is ok to take a pause. Why not start small, an hour on the first Friday of every month or a pilot project?
Of course, this method will not work for every cause and will be out of reach for many small charities. But as the examples show, they don’t have to be owned by a charity. Parkinsons52 works so well because it is about the disease rather than about the charity. PUK are occasionally involved but they don’t own or manage it.
For contributors it can be a real opportunity to share their experience and feel like they are helping other people to understand. It can be empowering. It can be a way of connecting with others in a similar situation.
If there are accounts out there related to your cause why not support them, promote them and even contribute to them?
Tips for recruiting and managing contributors
- Recruit a good mix of volunteers to help you get started. This will also help to establish the tone. Think about people who have interesting stories or ideas and who are used to using social media. Once the account gets going, think about how you’ll find new people to contribute. Make it easy for them to sign up and keep good records of who has contributed and who is to come to make sure you have a good mix.
- Produce tips and guidelines to give to contributors. Include an idea about how often to tweet (5 times a day is achievable for most) and best times of day to get a conversation. Be very clear about your posting guidelines (eg no obscene, offensive or self-promoting material) and what contributors can do (such as unfollowing or DMing people).
- Provide instructions for the practicalities of using the account such as the handover between people and logging in. Will you change the password each time a new person uses the account?
- Help your next contributor to prepare for their time. Ask them to think about what they do and don’t want to tweet about, what questions they will ask to prompt conversations and how they’ll deal with people they disagree with. Help them to think about a ‘message’ they’d like people to go away with at the end of their week if this is relevant. It is also useful to help them prepare for the lull days in the middle of their stint. Polls can be a good way to drive interaction. As can photos.
- Be ready to step in if they need support. It can take a brave person to put themselves out there (especially on mega accounts like @nhs). You should also do some thinking about the things that could go wrong and have strategies in place to deal with these.
- At the end of their time, think about how to support them – it can be hard to get used to normal life after having so many people listening and talking to you!
Tips for getting the most out of the content
- Pin a welcome message for the new account holder so your followers can understand what is going on.
- Personalise the avatar and username – the nhs account do this really well.
- Curate the best tweets from the event or week. For example take a look at the @nhs Moment from Yvonne’s week and the full list of @nhs Moments. Think about how to showcase these on other channels.
- Prime some friends, colleagues or family to ask questions to get the conversation going, especially as the account gets established.
Share your examples
Have you seen any other good (or bad) examples of rocur or take overs? Are there any other charity or public sector examples? Do share them here.
If you are looking to experience a take over firsthand to get a feel for how it works, accounts like @LondonIsYours are always looking for new contributors. Why not see if there is an account you can contribute to?
Big thanks to rocur users Leah Williams Veazey and David Sangster who shared their experiences for this post.