How social media gave the Poppy a digital facelift

This case study outlines the social media strategy behind the Scottish Poppy Appeal. The charity behind the Appeal, Poppyscotland, sought to make the poppy brand more relevant outside of November.

Executive summary90 years after its inception, the Scottish Poppy Appeal remains Scotland’s biggest charity street collection. However, research highlighted that despite a recent re-branding exercise by Poppyscotland, the charity behind the Appeal, the poppy remained a symbol of the World Wars era. A lack of current day relevance, together with a profile limited to the November Remembrance period, meant that the charity needed to try something new. Taking a structured, strategic approach, Poppyscotland has used social media to overcome these challenges. By using the strength of the Scottish Poppy Appeal to engage a wide online audience in November, Poppyscotland has utilised a range of digital platforms to present a very contemporary, relevant and appealing message. This has clearly resonated with the public during traditionally fallow months outside of the Appeal, attracting over 6400 Facebook followers and a reach via its Twitter network of over 1.5 million. BackgroundThe poppy is one of the most iconic brands in the UK, however it faces a considerable challenge to remain relevant 90 years after its inception as the symbol of remembrance. The charity behind the Scottish Poppy Appeal, the Earl Haig Fund Scotland, recognised the need to modernise and in 2006 rebranded to Poppyscotland and adopted a new fundraising strategy. Focus group research conducted by Poppyscotland in 2008, and repeated in 2010, highlighted that the changes introduced since the rebrand had been well-received but that Poppyscotland still needed to shift core perceptions. As one respondent commented: “The poppy is for the World Wars - Help for Heroes is about guys injured in Afghanistan.” This most recent round of research drew three conclusions:
  1. The charity lacks relevance out with November
  2. The poppy is still more commonly associated with the World Wars than recent conflicts
  3. There is little understanding as to where donations go
The strategyIn early 2010 Poppyscotland embarked on developing a new digital strategy aimed at giving year round relevance to the charity and the charity recognised that social media could play a key role to help achieve this. Social media would enable the charity to engage with the public when interest was at its highest in November, and build a long term, meaningful relationship with them throughout the rest of the year. These digital platforms would also enable the charity to project a very modern image and showcase the life-changing work it undertakes. Redevelop the websiteBefore considering any tactical social media activity, a complete overhaul of the Poppy Appeal website was required. The previous site was around five years old, difficult to navigate, visually uninteresting by current standards and offered little in the way of an online resource for beneficiaries. The back-end system for updating the site was also cumbersome and time consuming to use. Poppyscotland therefore set out four objectives in rebuilding the site:
  1. Redesign the site in line with the brand strategy
  2. Incorporate social media content at the heart of the new site
  3. Simplify the home page with clear entry points for the two user types (beneficiaries and supporters)
  4. Develop a content management system to reinforce the strategy of users taking responsibility for generating and maintaining content

Poppyscotland website

Social media auditWhile website rebuilding was underway, the charity turned its attention to developing its social media strategy. As with many organisations, Poppyscotland had jumped on the social media bandwagon some time ago, setting up various profiles, groups and pages on a number of platforms. Typically these had been established in isolation, were used to “sell” fundraising opportunities and did little to engage with the online community. The social media audit quickly established that Poppyscotland was represented in more than 20 places online with little or no coordination between them. The charity concluded that it should have a single presence on each of the key consumer social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, as well as having the re-launched website in place. It created one new page on each platform and began the lengthy task of personally contacting individuals connected to the old sites. This campaign proved very successful, with around 70% of existing supporters migrating to these new sites. Social media policyPoppyscotland recognised that the success of its digital strategy rested on a cultural change within the organisation, so it developed a policy document which included an introduction to social media, an outline of the strategy and rationale for using it, along with clear guidelines on how it should be used. Five individuals representing key functional areas in the charity were invited to establish a social media working group, meaning strategy and policy would be shaped further by those who would ultimately be responsible for embedding it within the organisation. Members of the working group were given administrator access to the various platforms and would be responsible for managing and developing content going forward. A calendar of social media activity was developed by the group to ensure a variety of regular and relevant material is posted every day. A monitoring service was also set up so interactions on any of the sites automatically generated an email to the group. This ensured that comments were actioned immediately by the relevant department. Going liveHaving consolidated its social media presence and rebuilt the website, the Scottish Poppy Appeal was finally ready to go live. Key to this phase of the digital strategy was generating quality content that would not only engage but encourage followers to interact with the cause. The appeal has received over 4500 post feedbacks and more than 1 million post views, confirming that its blend of news, pictures, videos, blogs, polls and links has been well received. Within a matter of weeks of the re-launch the charity had recruited over 5000 new followers. In addition to the daily updates, the following initiatives really captured the imagination of the pubic:
  • A Twitter campaign saw a host of Scottish celebrities re-tweet messages for the charity during the Appeal. These included high profile Tweeters Lorraine Kelly, Gordon Ramsay and Sarah Brown.
  • The charity overcame the limitations of a small advertising budget by using the footage and audio from its TV and radio ads virally to extend the reach of its Small Things, Big Difference and And On We Fight campaigns
  • Live updates from the many media events during the Appeal meant supporters could interact with the Appeal in real time

Virtual Poppy website

  • The Virtual Poppy allowed supporters to plant a digital poppy in one of three virtual landscapes. This proved extremely popular both during the Appeal but importantly, throughout the rest of the year
  • Poppies on SPL team shirts generated a huge, but not entirely positive response. Rather than remove controversial posts, the charity engaged with the users very openly to address the misconceptions of some
The FuturePoppyscotland has made a lot of progress over the past year, but the charity is determined to do more. The Virtual Poppy will be a key component of its fundraising activity during this November’s Appeal and beyond. The blog continues to pick up momentum and the charity will shortly launch a weekly Poppyscotland Podcast, featuring interviews with Scottish Servicemen and women in Afghanistan and other overseas locations. To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 2011 Scottish Poppy Appeal, Poppyscotland will be launching a campaign which will encourage the public to share their poppy stories via social media. Continued measurement of the impact of its activities is critical but already the results demonstrate quite clearly that Poppyscotland’s digital strategy has been a success in making the poppy relevant all year round.Key results from 2011 appeal
  • Over 2 million page views and 20,000 post feedbacks (likes, comments, shares, etc)
  • By the end of the Poppy Appeal the charity had over 5500 followers, but this subsequently grew to over 6400, and then from 6500 to 42000 in a month, due to a combination of Facebook advertising, sponsored stories and organic growth
  • Website traffic increased by 20% following the re-launch and the charity has seen over 400 Virtual Poppies planted.
  • Website traffic up by 100% year-on-year (17,000 unique visitors during 2010 appeal vs 34,000 this year)
  • The appeal’s YouTube videos have had 12,000 downloads and the celebrity Twitter campaign reached more than 1.5 million Twitter users
  • Now one of the largest UK charities on Facebook and, as far as it is aware, the largest Scottish charity on the platform
  • Demonstrating the fundraising potential of social media was a story which arose from the Appeal. A follower of Poppyscotland on Twitter, with no previous connection to the charity, decided to fundraise for the charity exclusively through Twitter. Campbell Urquhart set out to raise £1111.11 by 11:11am on 11/11/11 in support of the cause. He reached his total with minutes to spare
  • The Appeal was the charity’s most successful ever, raising a record £2.34 million, and the digital strategy played a central role in achieving that success
This case study received a Commendation in the category of Best Charity/Not for Profit Social Media Strategy at the 2011 Social Buzz Awards