The H&M Foundation Use Social Media to Support UN Refugees

The growth of social media has been a boon to many groups, including nonprofit organizations. It has given them an important new venue to promote their causes. In order for them to get the most out of the various platforms their social campaigns need to be well laid out.

To nonprofit foundations recently teamed up: H&M Group, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They took the time and effort to develop their latest social media campaigns together. Read how the two organizations used social media to raise awareness, and generate support, for the educational needs of refugee children. See how your own organization’s cause can also learn from this.

How H&M Foundation used social media to build support for the UN Refugee Agency

The H&M Foundation is a nonprofit foundation that is funded by clothing company H&M. For its latest advocacy campaign, the organization teamed up with the UN Refugee Agency to highlight efforts to provide for the educational needs of children displaced from their homes by war, unrest, and calamities.

Developing the message

Education has been one of the major advocacies of the foundation with one of its goals being to help underprivileged children get access to it. The foundation notes that there are still over 200 million children under the age of 5 who still do not have access to education as well as early childhood care. With the situation of refugees becoming a significant global issue in the last few years, the organization decided to focus on the plight of refugee children this time around.

H&M’s campaign, which was launched in November of 2016, encouraged people to donate by purchasing gift cards. For every gift card that the company was able to sell from Nov. 3 to Dec. 31, the foundation provided school supplies to refugee children residing in countries like:

  • Ethiopia
  • Egypt
  • Syria
  • Pakistan
  • Malaysia
  • South Sudan

The campaign was run in over 4,000 H&M stores around the globe.

With the goal of the campaign clearly defined, developing the message to be sent out for it was straightforward. H&M brought in director Jess English and studio Blonde + Co to create the video shorts that would be at the core of the campaign. The 60-second clips feature Sudanese-British model Alek Wek and emphasize the quality education needs of refugee children. She encourages the audience to make donations in support of the cause.

The two videos were posted on both H&M’s and UNHCR’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts with each video having a designated platform.

Choosing the campaign spokesperson

One of the important aspects of creating a campaign on social media for nonprofits is to have the right spokesperson to serve as its voice. The speaker needs to not only be recognized by the target audience, but must also have a close affinity to the cause so as to serve as a better voice for it.

With that in mind, H&M and the UNHCR chose Wek as the face and voice of their campaign. Wek herself was a former refugee who fled from South Sudan at the age of fourteen to escape the then ongoing civil war. Upon moving to London, she finished her studies before embarking on a career as a model for clothing brands like H&M. Owing to her experience as a refugee, Wek has since been a constant speaker on various topics related to the issue and is currently a goodwill ambassador for the UNHCR.

Wek’s personal experiences as a refugee also lent itself to the message being conveyed by the shorts. Each video opens with her narrating how her father taught her the importance of education. Video director Jess English also put the focus on Wek’s rise to her current status by featuring snippets from her modeling stints. He used them to emphasize the importance of education for refugee children to attain a better future. This creates a stronger message, as the audiences are able to relate to Wek’s story in the campaign’s call.

Promoting the campaign on various social media

To increase the visibility of the videos, H&M and the UNHCR decided to distribute them on several different social media sites. Each video was uploaded on specific sites, as is indicated in their titles above.

The main difference between the two videos is on the technical side, according to H&M Foundation Global Manager Diana Amini. Each video takes into account the specific screen formats that their respective platforms allow:

  • Facebook and Instagram takes advantage of the longer video length allowed by both platforms.
  • The version created for Twitter is shorter to better fit into the fast-paced turnaround of tweets.

The videos were published on both H&M’s and UNHCR’s social media accounts, including their respective regional and local chapters.

They were also shown in the more than 4,000 participating physical stores, with each store taking its own initiative in promoting the videos to customers coming in.

Amini says that the local units of their respective organizations were the frontlines for engaging the audience. This goes for both online and offline promotions, with the main offices providing support as needed. She adds that the strategy allowed them to connect better with their target audiences as these local units had a better understanding of their specific audience sets.

Measuring the success of the campaign

According to Amini, as the campaign’s main goal was to raise funds. The biggest metric of success was the amount that they were able to generate. With more than $3.3 million being raised, she said that their efforts were definitely a success. She points out that the amount would let them buy plenty of school supplies to distribute to refugee children.

Beyond the amount, though, Amini noted, the social media aspect of the campaign also proved to be successful even if it was the first time they had incorporated such a component. She added that while the physical stores were the main venue for engaging people, the level of engagement they gained on social media also helped in persuading them to make donations.

What H&M’s campaign can tell other nonprofits about using social media

Despite it being the first time they included social media in their advocacy campaigns, H&M has shown the platforms’ effective contribution towards their efforts. Their experience has also given a lot of insights into how nonprofit organizations can make the most out of the medium.

Understanding what social media can do for your cause

Amini admits that before doing the campaign, they had no idea about what the social media platforms could do for their campaign. But she agrees that they have brought so many benefits that they are willing to utilize them more.

Here are some of the benefits that a nonprofit organization can gain from social media:

No large funding needed

While H&M did spent a significant amount in the creation of the video content, promoting them through social media channels proved to be inexpensive. This is of particular importance to nonprofits where every bit of saving made can be used to further fulfill the goals of the organization.

Video content can be leveraged further

Because of the high ad rates, broadcasting video infomercials was an expensive affair. This discouraged nonprofits from making full use of video contents. With social media, organizations can publish their video content in a less costly manner. The global nature of the platforms also means they can reach more audiences than before.

Establishing relations with donors

With H&M’s campaign the main goal was to generate donations. But Amini says the platforms have also allowed them to better connect with, and engage, the donors. This, she adds, has let them gain more support for the advocacy campaign.

Getting stakeholders involved

Apart from simply handing out donations, stakeholders want to get further involved with the causes they support. Social media gives them that opportunity by letting them join in the promotion of the causes by sharing and posting them on their own accounts. This helps spread the word and attract the attention of more potential donors.

These benefits make social media platforms indispensable channels for organizations to promote their advocacies.

H&M foundation un refugees

Overcoming the challenges posed by social media

With the benefits we have seen above come a variety of challenges. For first-timers like H&M, overcoming these challenges was important if their efforts were to pay off. Here are a few  challenges and how they can be dealt with:

Too many social media channels

Trying to get into as many social media channels as possible is a useful strategy for increasing the visibility of an advocacy campaign. But it can also become a problem, as the organization’s social media team can become swamped with too many engagements coming from different directions.

It is important to narrow down and identify which of these channels to focus on to deliver your message effectively. H&M and UNHCR chose to focus on just four sites:

  1. Facebook
  2. Instagram
  3. Twitter
  4. Youtube.

They believed that they were the ones that would give the videos the most visibility.

A diluted message

Another difficulty with social media for nonprofits is the lack of continuity between the messages being sent out by its social media accounts. This can lead to confusion among your audiences. Be consistent by releasing the same content in all your social channels. In the case of H&M, they used the same video but created different versions tailored for the specific sites they would be posted on.

Disorganized social media accounts

For large organizations like H&M and UNHCR, trying to run a social media campaign involving different regions can be a nightmare with so many accounts to manage. Make this easier by identifying which accounts will be the main channels for engagement.

For the two companies’ campaigns, both determined that their local social media accounts were best-suited to take the lead as they were the ones that were most accessible to the target audiences. This allowed them to better organize the campaign and deliver the message more effectively.

Note that these are not the only challenges you will encounter. Identifying them and solving them early will help you steer your campaign more effectively.

Increasing your organization’s social media presence

With the success of H&M’s first foray into promoting their cause through social media, Amini says that they are now more willing to incorporate the platforms in their future campaigns. This serves as an encouragement for other nonprofits to increase their presence on social media platforms. Here are some tips that can help you boost your organization’s visibility on social media:

  • Put the focus on the people, not the organization: In H&M’s and the UNHCR’s campaign, the conversation is directly between Alek Wek, a former refugee, and the audience. The two organizations serve only as facilitators rather than taking center stage. This draws more attention to the donors themselves and the people they are helping.
  • Get your people involved: The two organizations made a wise choice in letting their local units be at the forefront of the campaign. This allowed every member of the organizations to help out in increasing awareness for the cause.
  • Create evangelists: Going local also allowed the two organizations to connect with their audiences on a more personal level. This creates a group of supporters who will passionately share your cause.
  • Go beyond the numbers: With $3.3 million raised, H&M and the UNHCR definitely reached their mark. But the two organizations gained a lot more by creating a significant presence on social media.
  • Be passionate: It is not enough to have a good social media campaign. You also need to show genuine passion. H&M’s choice for its campaign ambassador is a testament to its passion. Alek Wek is well-known for being a passionate advocate for the cause.

Use these tips to help guide you in building upon your initial entry into the platforms.

Use social media to effectively drive support for your cause

H&M’s and UNHCR’s successful initial use of social media for their campaign demonstrates how the platforms can benefit nonprofits and their causes. But it also requires an organization to develop an effective strategy for their social campaigns.

  • Develop your campaign message fully: Consider not only the message you want to say but also how it should be delivered in the social media channels you choose.
  • Get an effective campaign spokesperson: Your campaign ambassador should not only be easily recognized by your audience, but also be someone who can effectively convey your cause. This is your big chance to do some influencer marketing, take full advantage!
  • Promote and engage strategically: Identify which social media channels to focus on and mobilize everyone in your organization to further propagate your message.
  • Have well-defined metrics: Measure the success of your campaign based on the goals you set out. Use clearly laid out metrics to better assess its outcome.

Follow this strategy to bring more awareness for a worthy cause using social media platforms.