Case Study

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.
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