Organization: WITNESS
Organization Size: 29 staff members
Marianna Moneymaker
Online Outreach and Production
Mission: WITNESS uses video to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations.

1. What was the very first social media tool your organization utilized, and when?

In February 2006, WITNESS first social media tool was the launch of its YouTube Channel.

2. What social media tools are you currently utilizing? Which tool has been surprisingly useful in getting out the word about your organization and its programs? The least?

WITNESS currently utilizes the following social media tools: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and “Video for Change” (blog).

Our most useful social media tool is our blog site, especially for discussing WITNESS’ campaigns and sharing many of our and others videos. The blog has been the key standardized staple that helps to regularly generate content for readers, which then is further shared via Twitter and Facebook. This helps to amplify discussions and messaging.

YouTube is also a key part of our social media strategy, it is the platform we rely on for sharing our videos. However, it’s underutilized by us (not the same as “least useful” but there aren’t really any social media platforms we’re using now that aren’t useful) and we are currently developing a plan for how to use to its fullest potential.

3. Who maintains your social media campaigns? Are they paid, full-time, part-time?

Since September 2009, I have been responsible for maintaining WITNESS’ social media platforms (paid, full-time). My responsibilities include creating/updating information, coding and maintaining all available online content so that information can be shared across all our social media platforms from our blog and website.

4. Are you tracking Return on Investment (ROI), and how? Please summarize your ROI.

Currently, WITNESS’ ROI tracking is measured by way of increase in awareness and donations. Awareness includes whether funders are more aware of campaigns/programs. Donations include whether fundraising goals are met, especially with our Spring Drives.

We monitor the numbers from the various platforms via an excel spreadsheet that we do calculations to get percentages of increase in followers, click-throughs, comments, referrers and more.

5. Of all the mass communications tools your organization is using (website e-newsletters, social networking sites, mobile), which is resulting in the most online dollars being raised (directly or indirectly)?

Currently WITNESS’ e-newsletter helps raise the most online dollars. We have just over 30,000 subscribers to our e-newsletter, which we use to communicate fundraising needs, especially for WITNESS’ annual Spring Drive, annual Gala (which occurs in the late fall), and an End-of-Year Fundraising Drive. Each of these fundraising events is anchored by sending communications about our fundraiser with a link to the landing page via our email list. A good example is Then we further promote the fundraiser via our website, Facebook (via our Cause and Page) and to lesser degree via Twitter.

6. Did you experience resistance from higher ups in the organization initially utilizing about social media, or were they supportive?

WITNESS jumped in feet first wanting to be a part of and ahead of the pack amongst nonprofits using social media. Admittedly, we started without a strong strategy in place, but it also gave WITNESS the opportunity to assess and evaluate better usage for these platforms.

One unique consideration WITNESS has as a human rights organization is how much does an online platform provide for context as it is allowing for easy sharing of content. So while WITNESS is very enthusiastic to use social media, we also aim to be caution and responsible.

Some questions we tackle with include: What happens when our content is taken out of context or context is simply ignored? An example was the opportunity to feature a video about the lack of treatment available for those living with HIV in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on YouTube’s homepage. It was great to see the views of the video increase exponentially on and after World AIDS Day one year. However, an alarming proportion of those views were accompanied by vitriolic, hateful and ignorant comments. Eventually, WITNESS had to moderate the comments by approving comments that followed our stated guidelines on our channel. In general, views were great, the conversations were not.

WITNESS also weighs the pros and cons of sharing material online. Again, in a human rights context the ability to share imagery widely and raise awareness about a human rights violation must be weighed and balanced against any harm that might result for the creators of, and those depicted in, the photos and/or video.

Through experience, WITNESS gained a better understanding on how to negotiate these platforms to work to our strengths and build our online communications and engagement more effectively and responsibly.

7. What the best piece of advice you could offer nonprofits about social media, and online communications in general?

From WITNESS’ social media experience, the best advice we can provide is to be concise, direct and consistent about your nonprofit’s story. “Story” is the key term.

The best way to focus your online communications is to see it as building a story that is based on your nonprofit’s mission. Think of it as writing a novel, each chapter consists of scenes, which are the building blocks that help tell the bigger story of an organization’s mission. Each scene is a shorter story that can consist of the nonprofit’s campaigns, videos or discussions that have their own beginnings, middles and ends, but they all tell the full mission of the nonprofit.

If online communications can be viewed from this standpoint, then I think strategy is almost inherent; because content and context is consistent and scenes that are part of a chapter come together to tell the story of the bigger novel. This leaves room for the nonprofit to try new things, to have flexibility, creativity, discussion and makes for sharing the information on social media platforms like Twitter/Facebook/YouTube easier and more effective.

8. Are you currently investing resources in mobile marketing i.e, a mobile website, texting, mobile Apps, text-to-give, etc.?

Since mid-2010, WITNESS has been investing resources in mobile marketing and communications. An example is the development of a mobile app which can be downloaded and used by human rights defenders and activists on the the ground to help immediately blur the faces of people in shots they are filming with their phones.

Why are we doing this? The ability to stream video directly from a mobile phone (i.e. via Qik) or upload it directly to a video sharing platform is a boon to activists in terms of sharing media in real time which can speed up a response to injustice.

However, this function can also put people appearing in the footage in jeopardy. Recent events in Burma in 2007 and Iran in 2009 and even the US in 2010 reveal that governments can easily comb activists’ footage online and seek out protesters and citizens for arrest, persecution or worse. In an attempt to balance the benefit of quickly sharing news about events as they happen, and the safety and security of people participating, voluntarily or involuntarily, WITNESS hopes to develop this “blur” app for release later this year.

9. What do you think are the most important skills necessary in a social media practitioner?

Listening, engaging and patience.

10. What is on your To Do List for 2011?

WITNESS’ online priorities for 2011 include:

  1. Developing and launching a new website;
  2. Integrating all platforms to one base-line website;
  3. Incorporating mobile texting campaigns and mobile engagement into our digital communications platforms, and;
  4. Engage with our followers on discussions and information around video for change from Facebook or Twitter to share their insight and feedback.

11. Anything else?

Listen and let them know your listening.

Related Links:
Book Research & Interviews
Book Tour
Book Tour Sponsors
List of Nonprofits Mentioned in the Book
Tools, Resources, and Nonprofit Service Providers Covered in the Book

[Book Interview] Nonprofit Example of Social Media Excellence: WITNESS