I don’t like UNICEF

Does that make me a horrible person? Only as horrible as UNICEF is:

likes_1

UNICEF, the largest distributor of vaccines in the world, is sending a pretty clear message: liking isn’t helping. A friend recently posted a brilliant letter that examining a similar campaign by Crisis Relief Singapore. I think the ads are clever in the way that they recognize the limits of supporting causes on social media.

Even better, I can feel superior when I see that person on Facebook who invites me to like 3 new pages a week. I can shake my head and smugly say “Liking isn’t helping” as I click refuse.

But this is development. It’s never that simple.


Every Monday morning this term I’ve had a three hour marketing class. The sessions are engaging and varied, but the class has consisted of a long, slow, painful admission on my part that social media can indeed be an effective medium for communicating development. You see, for the last three years, university education has been yelling:

“Get off Facebook, it isn’t worth your time! The best way to communicate complex ideas is through long papers.”

The ability to write a thoughtful analysis in 5 pages is valued more than the knack for fitting similar thoughts into 140 characters. I wouldn’t dare put “using Facebook” as a skill on my resume.

And yet, if I want to communicate what I am passionate about in a way that engages my network and garners significant support, I am better off sharing a youtube video than writing a policy brief.

This hit home for me two years ago when I got involved with something called “Conflict Free Campus Initiative”, a student group which aimed to pressure the University not to buy electronics which had been sources in conflict zones of central Africa. We had some success, but the interest hasn’t been sustained.
Part of this was because of me; every time I talked about the issue, I would drag people through 300 years of Congolese history and 250,000 miles of electronics supply chains. 
I delved so deeply into the issue that when I told people about it, I overwhelmed instead of engaged them.

The lesson here was summarized neatly by one of my professors this term. She said:

A map is only useful because it simplifies. A map that perfectly represented it’s object would be as big as the territory itself. It would be perfectly useless”

Rather than an unwieldy roadmap, social media is a signpost. Social media marketing prompts a step in the right direction, engaging the audience in their first interaction with a message. Marketers talk about “The Rule of Seven”, which posits that a prospect needs to see your message at least seven times before they take action. Liking an organization can facilitate those first views.

Eventually, people will want to see more of the map: to donate for vaccinations or understand the complexities of African extractive industry. Until then, I will put up signposts.

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