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Save the Farm: Five tips for a fab social campaign

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This week I took my son to Deen City Farm. It’s one of a small number of city farms spread across London, helping little kids tell the difference between a sheep, a cow and an alpaca. I jest a little, because I’m a country girl. But I remember taking a university friend from Philadelphia up into the mountains of Tennessee and showing her some white tailed deer, beautiful creatures. But she was far more interested in the cattle and desperately wanted to get in the field with some young bullocks. Not a great idea! So city kids do need to know about farm animals, where their food comes from and so on.

Deen City Farm, like many community and voluntary sector organisations, is partly funded by the council. In this case, Merton council. They’ve already announced cuts for next year, with further cuts almost certain. Signs around the farm explained the funding situation and that they weren’t likely to be able to continue without more support.

That really would be a shame. We’ve certainly enjoyed our regular visits to the city farm. And I’ve always seen many happy families there!

There was a call to action. To sign their petition on Merton’s e-petition form. Frankly, Deen City Farm, that feels a little tame.

On that trip my son was messing about in the cafe where the staff were meeting. I couldn’t help but overhear them talking about trying to use Facebook more effectively and getting celebrities to Tweet their cause. Interesting. Intriguing actually, given what I do. Another farm visitor asked if they could take their picture to post on her own Facebook group. I took the opportunity to give them my card and offer my help with social media. I might not have mentioned that I would do this for free. But anyway, they haven’t emailed me. Probably because I wasn’t wearing my social media ninja shirt.

If they had called me, I would have sat down with them to talk them through their objectives, their wider communication efforts and how social media could help them galvanise a rather passionate local fan base around a really amazing community resource.

A campaign must have a call to action! Yes, they’ve asked people to sign the petition. But so what? What will that do? Will that really save the farm? I looked over Merton’s e-petition pages, but it’s not clear what actually happens to petitions. Do they go in front of full council? Scrutiny? Are they sneered at by bored council officers?

Save the Farm is a brilliant call to action at the highest level. It has cultural resonance and it’s clear and emotive. But underneath that high level call to action, you need some clear steps people can take to save the farm. These could include signing the petition. Giving their contact details, since email drives action at crucial points in time. Telling their story. Giving their skills to support the campaign. Giving money. And the ultimate but easy social media campaign ask – telling their friends. To do that you need to get your social media house in order.

1. Sign the petition.

Nothing wrong with that, but I’d like to see more clearly . If you live work or study in Merton, go on and sign the petition. Alas, I don’t.

2. Get those contact details!

It’s easy to set up a Google form which can be embedded or linked from your website asking for contact details. The best social media campaigns use contact details to drive traffic and action when the time is right.

3. Help people tell their story. Can you get people to tell the story of what the farm means to them? It only needs a few lines, exposed in the right places, and sometimes people need a few simple guidelines about what’s required like a simple question such as…”My favourite Day at Deen City Farm” I would be happy to tell the story of how my boy took his first ever pony ride at Deen City Farm. But there will be more powerful, more emotive stories out there. Signatures might get you in front of the council but real stories from real people beat an electronic signature every time.

And don’t forget people are already telling their Deen City Farm story online. Here’s a sample of Flickr pics tagged deencityfarm.

People are already sharing their experiences of the farm

Boy and chickens

And there are quite a few videos on YouTube as well, such as the one above showing my less-than-stellar parenting skills. Curate and showcase the best examples. (There’s more here on Beth Kanter’s blog – she’s much more knowledgeable on this kind of thing than I am)

4. Ask for more.

There is a link on the Deen City Farm main website to a donations page. And that’s awesome. But why not be a little more upfront about asking for cash? Or donations of skills. Yes, it is hard to manage volunteer effort, but the farm is already good at that when it comes to mucking out and caring for the animals. Now’s the time to call on some of the professional skills of people who live in the area. Wimbledon isn’t exactly short of communications, IT and business professionals who have kids who love Deen City Farm. I know because I met a whole bunch of them at my first school parent evening. Or take a look at who’s already following DCF on Twitter, like Rob Dyson @RobMDyson who handles publicity for WhizzKids – who could probably share a tip or two from their amazing non-profit social media efforts.

Find out where people are already talking about Deen City Farm and join in the conversation and ASK FOR HELP. Kudos to DCF for joining in this MumsNet conversation. But you could have made a little more of some of the suggestions – such as a Facebook group or a Friends board. There are tons of very skilled women in Wimbledon who are taking time out to raise kids who would be thrilled to support this.

But this ‘under construction’ page on how to help the farm sort of typifies the engagement with people who want to help. And despite the cute picture of the piggy, that’s not the right impression.

It's almost like you don't want our help

5. Get your social media house in order and get people to tell their friends

DCF is already using social media and people are really receptive to this fantastic local resource. There’s a Facebook page and a Twitter account. But DCF have yet to claim their Facebook places page (which is what comes up first when you search in Facebook). And I don’t see much engagement in either place. Nor do I see much cross linking between their social media and web presence and almost nothing (that I saw) in the ‘on land’ world. And a few simple signs at the farm asking people to ‘like them’ on Facebook would be awesome. Yes, I know all this takes time and it isn’t free in terms of people resources, but I bet there are a handful of local women with previous experience in comms and marketing who would be happy to take this over – if you can let go a little bit.

And bonus tip! You gotta have a gimmick.

Great social media campaigns usually have some kind of eye catching gimmick. Manchester Police’s 24 Hours on Twitter. Walsall did the same. Southampton University Hospital Trust used their Twitter feed to highlight what went on durring one shift in a ward under threat.

I don’t think a 24 hour tweet-a-thon is the thing for Deen City Farm. (1am, pigs still asleep – oink…zzzzzz) But I could be wrong. To me it would be much more cool to look at the impact on the life of a volunteers or to set up an Twitter account for an animal and tell its story for a week. Deen City Farm is also right next to Wimbledon Studios (television and film). Maybe they could see about getting visiting celebs to pop in and spread the word. I dunno, there’s probably people out there with more gimmicky minds than me. But these can get you wider press attention and capture the imagination of potential fans.

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