WaterAid’s Social Media Success on World Toilet Day

The Target

Sanitation is one of the most difficult issues to campaign on. It’s hard to get people talking about toilets. And yet WaterAid created a sanitation campaign that people shared in their thousands. How?

WaterAid chose a specific lens to explain why supporters should care about this issue. They made use of World Toilet Day in November. The campaign focused on the shocking statistic that 1 in 3 women around the world risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet.

WaterAid created a powerful short video to show the story of one woman’s journey to find somewhere safe to go to the toilet. It showed the risks she was exposed to, ranging from unhygienic conditions to the shame of being watched. It put across the fear of being attack when in a vulnerable and isolated location. But there was a powerful twist – the video was set in a High Income country where toilets are taken for granted. In doing so, WaterAid challenged viewers to imagine what it would be like if they didn’t have access to the toilet. They hoped therefore that supporters would sign a simple pledge calling for action and share the message. WaterAid plan to use all the pledges collected together with messages to MPs and present them all to the Secretary of State for International Development in early 2013.

How did WaterAid approach the campaign?

WaterAid worked with agency Link Street to create a striking layout for their campaign landing page. The action was made up of a standard three page design:

  1. Film and petition signature
  2. Social sharing
  3. Thank you

The layout drew attention to a strong photo portrait of a Zambian woman who is directly affected by a lack of sanitation.

A key feature of the page was the use of Engaging Networks’ XML actions feed. This meant that the page could display updates from people who had just taken action, creating strong ‘social proof’.

After taking action, visitors were encouraged to either share the campaign or email a friend. WaterAid later followed up with campaigners, encouraging them to write to their MP. This page had a similar template but instead used the Engaging Networks Email to MP tool.

With a limited budget, WaterAid knew that social networks were key to connecting with new supporters. They were one of the first UK charities to make use of the social media broadcast tool, Thunderclap. (This tool allowed supporters to “donate” a status update or tweet promoting the “1 in 3 women” message. At a pre-arranged time on World Toilet Day, the application sent a tweet or Facebook status update from the accounts of all those who had signed up. As the name implies, this amplified the message, because many friends and followers saw it simultaneously. A total of 726 supporters used Thunderclap. This sounds small compared to other campaign statistics, but it meant that the “1 in 3 women” campaign had a potential reach of over 365,000 people on the day of launch.

Following this, WaterAid emailed a segment of their existing supporters. They sent different messages to women and men. Interestingly, the message to women had a lower open rate but a higher click-through rate. It’s not clear whether the women on their list are more responsive, or appreciated the email copy more than the men.

From then on, they focused all social media activity on their main campaign page. They experimented with Facebook’s new paid post feature. Throughout the course of one week, over 900,000 individuals were “reached” with posts about the campaign. One post alone had a reach of 174,000. This was far in excess of the 15,000 fans who’d already liked WaterAid page. Over 10,000 individuals clicked through to the campaign page from Facebook which surpassed the volume delivered through email.

Twitter showed similar success. The #1in3women message had a reach in excess of 400k. At least 2,683 users clicked through to the action page from Twitter on the first day of the campaign alone.

From the action page itself, nearly 6,000 individuals used Facebook and Twitter to share the campaign.

WaterAid also experimented with Instagram, a social network based on image sharing. They shared 6 images – this generated 124 likes and 6 comments – higher than average for the site.

In total, WaterAid smashed their target of 15,000 page views; with over 32,000 visitors reaching the campaign page. Only 7,600 of these visitors came directly through WaterAid’s email. This suggests that the majority of visits – over 25,000 – were triggered by social sharing. This underscores the value of powerful content and strong social sharing integration.

What we learned – key takeaways

  • The simple pledge action, combined with easy to use social media options, attracted many new users. 26% of pledge signatures were either from new supporters or first-time actions from existing donors.This demonstrated that Water Aid had achieved their goal of reaching many new campaigners.
  • Strong social share features made a real difference. Over 5,000 people shared the page on Facebook as a result.

“Investing in design paid off with this campaign action and I’d recommend other Engaging Networks clients to look beyond the standard template options.” – Ross Bailey, WaterAid

  • Showing users’ activity on the campaign page provided ‘social proof’ of action. This is a persuasive technique, as people are more likely to do something if they see other people doing it as well.
  • Email to a friend did not produce as many petition signatures as was expected. It may be that users were put off by the presence of variables in the email text. It’s also possible that Facebook is simply more popular than email among WaterAid’s audience. Or, most likely, that users recruited using Facebook prefer to use it to share the campaign.

Chloe Green is a copywriter and digital campaigner with almost a decade of experience in the charity and political sectors. She’s delivered campaigns, copy and consultancy for a raft of good eggs including Anthony Nolan, the National Union of Students, St Mungo’s, and Hillary for America. She was Social Media Manager at the Labour Party between 2016–2019 and now she’s Head of Creative with the lovely team at Forward Action. She leads on fundraising emails, UX copy, and all creative facilitation. She’s an expert in email list growth, digital strategy, organic and paid-for social media, and digital mobilisation.

Rachel founded the specialist charity web agency, Rechord, in 1999. Between 1999 and 2012 they created hundreds of different web applications for organisations in the UK and internationally.
In 2013 she became the 'Donor Whisperer' and focused on helping small to medium-sized non-profits to reach new donors and activists and from there increase their income. She uses a unique process that combines the benefits of consultancy with capacity building.
Her clients include Traidcraft Exchange, the Overseas Development Institute, Jubilee Debt Coalition, the Leprosy Mission of England and Wales, Tax Justice UK, The Canary, Humanity and Inclusion, the Anti-Tribalism Movement, BRACE, New Family Social, Arseh Sevom - and that's just the last year.
She also feels weird writing about herself in the third person.

Ellen is Campaigns Manager overseeing national and local campaigning at the MS Society. She has worked at the MS Society for 2 and a half years, with roles at Scope and Guide Dogs prior to this.

Hannah is Senior Campaigns Officer at the MS Society, working on their local campaigning programme, Local Action for MS and also on social care and carers. She’s worked at the MS Society for a year and a half, and was previously at the MND Association and National Voices.

Executive Director of C6 Digital, London based agency

Ellen is Campaigns Manager overseeing national and local campaigning at the MS Society. She has worked at the MS Society for 2 and a half years, with roles at Scope and Guide Dogs prior to this.

Ellen is Campaigns Manager overseeing national and local campaigning at the MS Society. She has worked at the MS Society for 2 and a half years, with roles at Scope and Guide Dogs prior to this.

Having gotten his start organizing with anti-war veterans and working as Sala Labs, Sales Engineer, and Partner Manager, Bryan now brings his expertise to non-profit and mission-driven clients as 4Site Studios Director of Digital Strategy. Specializing in challenging and complex projects, Bryan works with each client to craft holistic approaches tailored to goals, budget, and outcomes.

Mary Margaret Callahan is the Chief Mission Officer for Pet Partners, where she is responsible for leading mission delivery including the therapy animal program and grassroots advocacy program. She joined Pet Partners in 2013 and has worked to establish the organization as both an influencer and a resource within the animal-assisted intervention (AAI) and human-animal bond (HAB) community. In 2018 she was named one of PetAge Magazine’s Women of Influence. Mary Margaret lives on a small farm outside Seattle with her husband, daughter and menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, chickens, goats and miniature donkeys.

Joe Derry Hall is a freelancer working on creative digital and communications. His interests include tech innovation, upending power and reimagining different futures. Joe has been the winner of a Mozilla Creative Media Award and the joint winner of a BAFTA digital award. He was previously in-house in campaigning and communications roles at Amnesty International, the Climate Coalition, the Ecocide campaign, Save the Children, Scope and others. He is one of the initiators of Right Way Up, an experiment to create a radical, practical new vision for the social change sector.

Anna Chowcat is the Digital Manager at Refuge and oversees the charity’s digital function and output. Since joining Refuge, Anna has been instrumental in introducing a number of digital engagement programmes including digital campaigns, bespoke email supporter journeys and user friendly donate/campaign pages. Before joining Refuge, she has worked in digital engagement and campaign roles at The Labour Party and Leonard Cheshire Disability.