The Worst Kept Secret to… using social media to drive charities forward

Social media and the impact on Colalife

I was so pleased to see ColaLife, a ‘kitchen table’ concept now saving children’s lives in Africa, selected by The Design Museum as Product Design of the Year 2013. ColaLife is one of the best examples of entrepreneurship (social or not) that I have seen. Furthermore having recently spoken to the founders, Simon Berry and Jane Berry, I was pleased to understand the impact of social media in helping ColaLife advance as a ‘live pilot programme’ that is gaining much attention and more importantly saving lives in the field. In the paragraphs below, I outline the ColaLife proposition and also what specific social media plans Simon and Jane put in place. Aside from inspiring you, I hope this also illustrates how social media can be used effectively in the not-for-profit and public health sectors – and, in fact, be transferable to any organisation.

What is ColaLife? Well, simply, it is a cause that you must support! I became aware of ColaLife having met Simon at Ravensbourne College about two years ago and was inspired by how he had developed ColaLife. Simply put, ColaLife is working in developing countries to bring Coca-Cola (though this is not an exclusive partner), its bottlers and others together to open up Coca-Cola’s distribution channels to carry ‘social products’ such as oral rehydration salts and zinc supplements to save children’s lives.

The key insight, and very sad fact, here is that ‘you can buy cola or washing powder virtually anywhere in developing countries – even in distant rural areas – but in these very same areas basic healthcare products are not available’. In some of these areas up to 1 in 5 children die before their 5th birthday from simple preventable causes like dehydration from diarrhoea.

The ‘genius and magic’ of ColaLife is that it uses the ‘triangular space’ between the bottles in a typical drinks crate to ensure ‘last mile’ distribution of its social products and attaches a financial value to them so that all those involved at each stage of its distribution realises some value. This solution has the approval and support from UNICEF and a host of other organisations. Simon and Jane have driven ColaLife with limited resource and maintained a relentless focus on success and the impact of a successful roll-out. Aside from being a great case-study into ‘entrepreneurship’ and dedication; ColaLife is also an example of insight-driven social innovation and leveraging assets and competencies – but more importantly of the tragic, but preventable, reality affecting many families in the developing world.

Just quickly, going back to the Design Awards (which are the ‘Oscars of the Design World’ and showcase the most innovative designs from around the world in categories such as: Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Transport and Product) – ColaLife beat off competition such as the Olympic Cauldron. This must be the first time that an anti-diarrhoea kit takes centre stage as a design icon, standing alongside a renovated tower block in Paris, a film on fashion and a UK Government website. The ultimate winner selected on 17 April 2013 from all the individual category winners was Gov.uk (designed by the Government Digital Service as a portal for all of the UK government’s websites).

And so, what of the impact of social media on ColaLife? I had the pleasure of catching up with Simon recently and he informed me that social media allowed ColaLife to build awareness and gain advocacy quickly. It gave him and Jane the ability to engage ‘big players’ such as Coca-Cola and UNICEF in the early days of their campaigning with their community of vocal online supporters.

Another aspect of social media is being able to identify and connect with appropriate ‘contacts’ or resource. In ColaLife’s case they have attracted some of the leading experts in health logistics and global health – who have generously given ColaLife their time, expertise and encouragement.

Social media has also provided ‘open innovation’ for ColaLife – whereby the original concept has been developed and enhanced to a more firm proposition. The community has challenged Simon and the team (and continue to do so) and in responding to these challenges Simon and the team have been able to build upon the original concept. This is an on-going process.

Whilst social media can and does sometimes attract a bad press, generally through its misuse or misapplication –social media has given the ColaLife team a feeling of responsibility and has helped them be transparent. When ColaLife does anything – the team know they have a commitment to report back through their blog/Facebook Page/social media presences to their supporters. Indeed, it is these supporters who have also provided ColaLife with much energy as the ColaLife team can feel that they are part of a ‘movement’ – and not just working hard on a ‘project’.

From an organisational and social media point of view – what does this all mean? At The Worst Kept Secret, we are fortunate to have worked with a number of charities and organisations in the not-for-profit sector. We can demonstrate how having a clear social media strategy with rich content and even supported by crowd-sourcing/crowd funding can help drive: messaging, development, awareness, advocacy and fund-raising amongst corporate and individual target groups. I asked Simon, given ColaLife’s successful use of social media, what would be his five practical ‘top-tips’ that other organisations can use:

1) There is no rush to build a website. You can start by going to the places where your potential supporters are already and focus your energy into establishing yourself in channels like: Facebook; Instagram, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, SoundCloud, commenting on the blogs of others, Delicious, Pinterest, etc.
2) Once these social presences are up and running – then maintain these ‘channels’ effectively with engaging and frequent updates. At this stage a website may be appropriate to capture all traffic and act as a central point.
3) When you do set up a website, then use this as an ‘aggregator’ of the content you have already on these other channels: pull in photos and videos from your social media presences; link to additional blog posts you have; put links to new content (e.g. blog posts) on Facebook and Twitter; and use any widgets that are available to you and place them on your website too.
4) Blog! Tell people what you are up to all the time. Search engines love words, blogs generate words! If you are doing something worthwhile then you should be telling people about it.
5) If possible (and it might not be), try and come up with a unique ‘tag’ or name. The name ‘ColaLife’ is pretty unique and works well. Test the names you come with using a Google search. ColaLife’s channels are: facebook.com/ColaLife, youtube.com/ColaLife, flickr.com/photos/ColaLife/, twitter.com/ColaLife, soundcloud.com/ColaLife – note the pattern!

Many thanks to Simon for sharing those social media ‘top-tips’. I hope you all follow ColaLife’s development, pilot and ‘scale-up’ strategy through the ColaLife Facebook page or blog. And once again congratulations to ColaLife for being the Product Category Winner in the Design Awards 2013 – and more importantly for making such an impact in Public Health and the lives of children in the developing world.

by Dowshan Humzah.

Written By Dowshan Humzah

Dowshan Humzah has delivered profitable business growth via product development, brand innovation and digital channel expansion for blue-chip companies across Financial Services, Internet, Telecoms, Media and FMCG as well as business start-ups. He shows how organisations can benefit from applying a ‘digital and social media lens’ across their core organisational objectives and then answer the ‘so what’ question in order to generate customer and financial value from digital tools. You can find him on LinkedIn and Google+


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