Investing in Social Media

I wrote this blog for Charity Comms

Just being present on social media is not enough. You need to be active, engaging and purposeful – and that takes time and money.

At Scouts we’ve recently researched, agreed and implemented a social media strategy. This included securing budget and getting sign off from our operational committee. Ahead of our presentation at CharityComms’ Making the case for comms workshop here are some of the things we learnt from the process.

Content with purpose

Content is king, but content only works if you have a clear idea of who your audiences are. Without purpose you can engage people with fun content, but what’s the point? Without a clear idea of your audience how will you know how to engage them?

Good content connects your audience to your organisation’s values in a way that inspires, informs and excites them. Social media content creators should never lose sight of who the audience is, and never forget what they’re trying to achieve.

Who are your audience and what do they want?

With existing and new audiences in mind, write profiles for your key audience groups. Think about what they might be interested in, what they’d like to know and the help they might need. With those assumptions in place you can begin talking to your audience in a more focused way.

Make a plan

Once you have a good outline of your audience groups and ideas about the content they might like, make a plan that reflects this. Categorise the content, decide how often to post each type of message, take a look at your stats and work out the best times for posting.

Remember that the profiles you’ve written aren’t set in stone, so challenge your assumptions and refine them as you go.

You can do a lot with time…

If you’ve got a good number of followers already, time can be all you need to turn your social media around.

At Scouts we took a healthy Facebook following of 30,000 and grew it to 70,000 truly engaged fans in six months with no spend at all. Our reach grew over 1,000% because we stopped broadcasting messages and made an effort to really listen to our audience. With every post we learned more about our members, which made us able to produce better content.

One of the best content techniques we’ve found is to ask our members targeted questions and reflect the best answers we get back on the channel. It involves the audience and really makes them feel like part of the community.

…but even more with money

We recently launched a new set of social media channels just for young members. By asking our existing followers in the age group to join we got around 7,000 followers and fans in the first day, but after that growth slowed down. We started to use Facebook and Twitter ads to stimulate growth by reaching new people and finding members who weren’t already connected to us.

Ads are key for us because we’re trying to reach an age group that we haven’t traditionally been in contact with. We don’t already have a way of communicating with most of our target audience and we know a huge portion of them are on Facebook or Twitter, so social media marketing is an invaluable tool.

Prove it with stats

In order to prove the need for social media investment it’s crucial to show that it delivers on strategy.

As well as the reach of key messages, measure hits on your website that come from social media – and the conversions that come from those hits – to make sure you’re achieving what you set out to do.


7 digital campaigning lessons from ‘I Am Noah’

My colleague Chris James led on the development of this video, the aim of which is to convince adults to volunteer as a Scout, Beaver or Cub leader so more kids have the chance to join.

Once Chris had created the film. It was over to digital to promote it. It was a big hit for us with 10k views, local media coverage and even a Third Sector accolade. Here’s the lessons we’ve learned from ‘I Am Noah’…

1. Use the voice of the beneficiary

It makes sense for the Scouts to amplify a child’s voice as our work is all about young people. The emotional response when a kid asks for help is powerful and more immediate than the intellectual arguments for volunteering.

Note: We’re not the only people to do this. Great Ormond Street, Action for Children, Plan and Save the Children have all used children’s drawings in campaigns.

2. Keep videos short

We work with Digital Agency 33 seconds, who say that all video content on social media should be 20-30 seconds long to match online attention spans. I am Noah is 31 seconds long.

3. Ask people to share

We explicitly asked our volunteers to share the video, which made a huge difference to the stats. Our members know better than anyone that we need more adult volunteers to cope with the demand for places at Beavers, Cubs and Scouts, so they are the perfect people to share the message and some even added comments like “I’ve got 6 children on my waiting list” when they shared the video – essentially organically generated case studies. Jackpot!

4. Challenge perceptions…

The Scout Association has a long-standing reputation, which has both positive and negative consequences. There are 425,000 kids involved in Scouting in 2014, but research shows that some people still see us as old-fashioned. In the video Noah talks about activities like rockets, cooking and invisible ink rather than more traditional or old fashioned things like camping or knot tying.

5. …but reflect real life

We challenged the public perception, but the content of the video was instantly recognisable and credible with members – we didn’t try and present Scouts in an unrealistic way.

It resonates with the audience – potential and existing volunteers – and says something to our members about why they volunteer. There’s a recognisable element that strikes a chord with leaders, section assistants and others who work directly with young people.

6. User generated content is king!

Good content from within a community often out-performs branded content. It doesn’t feel like you’re being sold to and therefore seems much more genuine. The fact that I Am Noah coming from a child helps with this too. Good user generated content (USG) can be hard to find and you can’t commission it to exactly fit your agenda – you get what you’re given – but it’s definitely worth the extra effort it takes to source.

7. Keep it simple and be genuine

Our need and ask were clear, concise and straightforward. Having something home-made is also cost effective, which works well with a charity message.

This is an excerpt from a presentation I gave at the Institute of Fundraising iFundraising conference on 22 September 2014 with my Scout Association colleague Chris James. 

Lena Dunham on the Grantham Show

Lena talks about the lack of female showrunners in America (which I think is people who both write and direct their show). But she names this list of people doing good stuff:

Shonda Rhimes – Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Off the Map

Mara Brock Akil – The Game, Girlfriends, Being Mary Jane

Elizabeth Meriwether – New Girl

Mindy Kaling – The Mindy Project

Jenji Kohan – Orange is the New Black

Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins – Trophy Wife

Reading List 2014

  • Jane Bussman – The Worst Date Ever
  • Charles Dickens – A Tale of 2 Cities
  • Joan Didion – The Year of Magical Thinking
  • Joe Dunthorne – Wild Abandon
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Beautiful & the Damned
  • William Hogarth – The Analysis of Beauty
  • Madeleine L’Engel – A Wrinkle In Time
  • Mhari McFarlane – Here’s Looking at You
  • Bill Murray – Cinderella Story
  • Phillipa Perry – How To Stay Sane
  • Leni Riefenstahl – Triumph of the Will
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet – The Voyeur
  • Matt Seitz – The Wes Anderson Collection
  • Zadie Smith – NW
  • Calvin Tomkins – The Afternoon Interviews

++ Update ++
I’ve found a load more I want to read…

  • The End of Alice by A. M. Homes 
  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
  • This Bright Field: A Travel Book in One Place by William Taylor
  • Fat Is A Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach
  • Yesterday Morning: A Very English Childhood by Diana Athill
  • Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
  • Unexpected Lessons in Love by Bernardine Bishop
  • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
  • The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

Macaron recipe

This recipe is Pierre Herme’s, via Edd Kimber. I’m reproducing it with my edits here mainly to remind me to reduce the quantities. Last night I made Edd Kimber’s one and I had macaroon mixture coming out my ears. There are still tons sitting in the living room unbaked. This is a third of the amount he suggests – it’ll still be LOADS.

I’m also adding an equipment list so I know what to wash up before I bash on and start cooking. It’s possible I am not an entirely tidy person.

I make extremely imperfect macarons but they are nevertheless delicious. I think it’s nearly impossible to make tons of sugar and ground almonds taste bad. So far I haven’t ever bothered to age the eggs, which I think results in them failing to rise and develop ‘feet’ – though I’m not entirely sure why they need them. I once bought macarons from THE Laura Marling at a record fair in Spitalfields (no other day has been more relevant to my interests) and hers didn’t have feet either. And they were still amazing.

Laura Marling Macarons
Photo by my pal Jody Orsborn


Bargain, eh?

Anyway, here is an amazing macaron troubleshooting guide by Food Nouveau which I’m going to use to try and become more pro. As I try fixes I’ll add the ones that work to the recipe.


  • Scales
  • Baking sheets x3
  • Piping bags
  • Sugar thermometer
  • Electric Whisk (or a magimix if you’re fancy)
  • Sieve
  • 2x mixing bowls
  • Saucepan
  • Spatula

Ingredients for the shells

  • 100g Ground Almonds
  • 100g Icing Sugar
  • 70g Egg Whites, aged for 1-2 days.
  • Food Colouring (colour depends on filling)
  • 100g Granulated Sugar
  • 25g Water


1. Sieve the ground almonds and icing sugar into a large bowl. Mix the colouring into half (35g) of the aged egg whites and pour this onto the sugar/almond mixture but don’t mix in.

2. Pour the water and sugar into a saucepan and swirl together. Put the second half of the egg whites in an empty bowl. Cook the syrup – once it reaches 115C start whisking the eggs on high but keep the syrup on the heat. Once the syrup reaches 118C take it off the heat and pour in a thin stream down the side of the bowl with the eggs in it, keep whisking while you do so.

3. Continue to whisk the egg and syrup on high until they form a stiff peak. Add all of the meringue to the bowl with the almond sugar mixture.

4. Using a large spatula fold the mixture together until it starts to shine and forms a ribbon that stays visible for about 30 seconds.

5. Add the mixture to a piping bag and pipe into even circles on paper-lined baking sheets. Set aside for an hour or more. The longer I’ve left them (including overnight) the better they’ve turned out.

6. Preheat your oven to gas mark 1 (140C). Once the shells are ready, put them in the oven for around 20-30 minutes. They should rise and develop a hard shell but should not change colour. When they are done remove the baking trays and immediately slide off the macarons and the parchment onto the work surface and let cool completely before removing the shells.


Mint chocolate everything is my favourite. So I’ve gone with Ed Kimber’s white chocolate and mint and bitter chocolate ganache. There’s way too much of those too, so I’ve quartered the recipe so it just uses one tub of double cream and one bar of each type of chocolate.

White Chocolate and Mint Ganache

  • 75g white chocolate
  • 35ml double cream
  • peppermint extract

1. Put the chopped up chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside. Bring the cream just to a boil then pour over the chocolate. Stirring from the centre outwards mix until you have a smooth ganache. If the chocolate doesn’t melt put the bowl over a saucepan of water and heat gently. Add a teaspoon of peppermint extract and stir in.

2. Let the ganache cool to room temperature.

Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

  • 75g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 65ml double cream
  • 15g unsalted butter, room temperature

1. Put the chocolate in a medium bowl, set aside. Bring the cream to full boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. While the cream is coming to a boil beat the butter with a rubber spatula until soft and creamy, set aside.

2. When the cream reaches a boil take off the heat and gently stir into the chocolate using a spatula. Keep stirring – gently so as not to introduce any air – until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Let the ganache cool for two minutes.

3. Add half the butter and stir with a spatula until smooth, repeat with the rest of the butter. Once fully incorporated the ganache will be smooth and glossy. Let the ganache cool to room temperature.


Troubleshooting from Food Nouveau

Double the baking sheets
Doubling the baking sheets stops the bottom of the shells baking too quickly, which would make it too hard. It also helps formation of feet, which is another macaron standard that can be frustratingly hard to get. Get there quicker by doubling your baking sheets.

Age egg whites

Separate the egg whites and store in an airtight container in the fridge for 1 to 2 days before use. Take them out of the fridge a few hours before making macarons to bring them to room temperature. (Shortcut: microwave the fresh egg whites for 10-20 seconds on medium-high speed. It mimics the ageing process.)

Note: The Food Nouveau recipe is incredibly detailed too.