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Bertie Bosrédon has spent the last two years assembling the new media team at Breast Cancer Care – not an easy task considering budget constraints, competition for staff and the challenge of educating other departments about online marketing.
We spoke to him about the upcoming user-centred redesign of Breast Cancer Care’s website and whether opportunities for charities in social media marketing live up to the hype.
How have you gone about designing and building your team structure at Breast Cancer Care? Why did you choose to adopt the in-house agency model?
It’s been a long process and it never stops. The team is split into two; what we call the web team and the service delivery team. We work as an in-house agency because the work is very diverse. Many departments want different things – managing a website in a charity is like trying to organise Glastonbury. Everyone wants to be on the main stage.
In the web team in London, there is an editorial team that produces all the content for the website and our email marketing. On the technical side, there is a development manager. And for a while we had someone looking after e-marketing but they have left for a better paid job.
In Sheffield, we have the team that looks after our interactive services. They manage our discussion forum, which we think is the biggest breast cancer forum in Europe and possibly the world. Over 12,000 messages are posted every month.
In the team, we have a manager, an assistant and five part-time moderators that help facilitate the community. We also run two live chat sessions a week, which along with the forum have been our biggest successes.
We also have a nurse that works in a different team but is dedicated to new media – she checks the forum and advises the content team on what we should be writing about.
What internal challenges have you faced, in terms of educating other departments about online marketing? Any advice on what works and what doesn’t?
What we’ve tried to do is make sure that people understand that new media is a discipline; it’s not just another channel. You can’t just plug anything you want on the homepage. We also want people to respect the team as a creative department, not just another IT department.
We still sometimes have people doing that – the worst thing you can say to someone in new media is that they are part of IT.
But the agency concept is working well – we have internal team meetings and are planning to organise a conference for internal clients this year. We are also doing an email marketing workshop where we will show them good emails from us and other charities. A lot of charities are adopting this model.
How difficult has it been to find staff, especially when competing with private sector employers that are also facing a skills shortage?
That’s one of the main challenges charities face. Trying to find someone who is very good at e-marketing without being able to mirror commercial payscales was a challenge. We’ve been very lucky because we were able to find a volunteer who is working three days a week for us, managing our Google Adwords account and building analytics reports for us.
Google gives grants to charities that use Google Adwords and that allows us to do a lot of testing. We’re attracting a large percentage of our traffic through paid search now.
We are trying to use volunteers more and more. E-volunteering, I think, will play a big role in the future of charities on the web. We’re hoping to get more volunteers to manage our presence on social networks. We’re using Flickr a lot for events and we’re looking for volunteers to manage Flickr groups and other similar sites.
What are the main aims of your upcoming website relaunch?
What we have done with the website is position it as a service for people with breast cancer – not people working for Breast Cancer Care.
A lot of our visitors are women with breast cancer, as well as men – around 300 men are diagnosed with breast cancer a year. We also have lots of people that are not directly affected but have a family member with breast cancer. We want to put the cause at the centre of what we do.
When we decided to relaunch the website, we decided to work with our users. We worked with a usability agency called Flow Interactive, which I heard of at Digital Cream last year. We had a meeting with them and they organised two workshops - one in London and one in Sheffield - with people who had breast cancer, as well as an online card sorting exercise.
As a team, we think we are digital experts but we did not know how people with breast cancer needed to use the website. We now have a very good idea of the information architecture and how the users would like the website to be designed. After that, we will be working with an agency in Bristol called Enable Interactive.
The strategy is to do a breast cancer services site. The way I described it to the senior management team was to say that initially, the web was a monarchy where your brand would dictate what users would see. Where we and most charities are now is a democracy – we listen and filter feedback from users but ultimately we make the decisions.
Now we are really planning to move to a social model where you give tools to your community and enable conversations. We’re not thinking of building a social network but we want to move more to an e-magazine model over the next three years. We want the user generated content to be really integrated into the website.
We’re hoping to launch in September. It will be quite a challenging year.
What new opportunities are out there for fundraising on the web? A lot of people are talking about social networks and widgets but are they delivering RoI for charities?
I’m a member of the Insight in Fundraising group at the Institute of Fundraising, and one of the main challenges for me is around trying to find new opportunities in fundraising.
In the last year or so, there have been lots of changes in the charity sector. Charities are moving away from brochureware websites and are starting to use social networks.
The NSPCC has a good application on Facebook, the Red Cross has a good profile on Bebo and the WWF has started a presence on Second Life - but that is not something we will be looking to move into. Personally, I don’t believe in Second Life but I can see charities are trying different things and the sector is moving forward.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about is the future of affiliate marketing, which is really big in the commercial arena but is not something we have found a way to work properly as a sector.
For small charities it is probably easier, but for medium-sized charities like us, to administer small donations is actually quite costly. Obviously we can’t refuse money but what happens to the data? What happens to the money that is raised?
For us, a donation is good, but you need the name of the donor so that you can put them on a journey – ask them to take part in campaigns and so on.
In affiliate marketing, you get a small percentage and it’s difficult to reconcile where the money is coming from. Most charities are have a very advanced CRM and many organisations who want to work which charities neglect the back-end systems.
Another product that is not being as well-used as it could be at the moment is eBay for Charity.
Not many people know that when they buy a product on eBay they can give money to charities. Most charities in the UK are now part of the scheme and it has great potential, but a lot of that potential is untapped.
A big part of our focus this year will be focusing on raising money from other channels.
Have you looked into Facebook apps? Do the figures add up?
We have looked into them but I am a bit cautious when it comes to spending our donors’ money. I am watching the progress of the NSPCC application and the BHF (my previous charity), which launched its application last week.
What costs have you been quoted for Facebook application development?
That was quite interesting. We had one quote at £2,500 and one at £10,000 so we have decided to wait. Instead of developing an application, you can create a group and start testing the water.
The other thing is the target audience. Facebook would be good for awareness but it is not the right audience for our demographic. We need to speak to other sites that are closer to our age group.
It’s a nice-to-have and if we had unlimited budget we would love to do more, but our website needs a lot of work done before we can look at other websites. I find it really disappointing when you see a fantastic micro-site or campaign but when you go to the main site, it’s not as good. So we really want to get our website sorted first.
Having said that, Flickr is very good for us because for us - as with most charities - the biggest online revenue stream is through event sponsorship. YouTube is also very useful.
In our most recent Charity Website Benchmarks Report, we found charities have generally been improving the usability of their sites but still have some way to go when it comes to accessibility. Do you find that surprising?
I don’t find that surprising because charities can’t afford to redesign their websites every year.
The smaller charities often have their websites designed by volunteers who are often not aware of accessibility guidelines. What is not acceptable sometimes is when an agency is commissioned and they do not do their job properly. If a car had been built without seat belts, would you blame the driver?
But that’s something that will improve – as will usability. There’s nothing worse than a charity designing a website and not consulting their users. The most important people are the people you are servicing, the people that visit your website.
It is really important for charities to run user panels and listen to their users. In the offline world, charities are more connected to their users than in the online world.
We hear you are a dab hand with a camera. Any advice on sourcing and using photography on the web for brands and charities that don’t necessarily have deep pockets?
One thing I think is that stock photography is often over-used on websites and in a lot of cases; you can see they are American photos. It is very good to invest in real photo shoots. They won’t look staged and they will be real people.
For people without big budgets, my main advice would be to take advantage of the fact that everyone has a digital camera now. User generated content is the way to go – ask your visitors to upload their photos. Take a more personal approach to photography.
We see you’ve been trying to set up an online community for the charity sector. Could you tell us a bit about it and what you aim to achieve?
It’s a pilot project for the digital community in the charity sector to share ideas. It will either be called NFP.org.uk or new-media.org.uk.
But it’s been hard to get it off the ground - there are lots of people that are keen to benefit from the community but not many with enough time to develop it.
A lot of people seem to have been calling for a Netsquared-type social innovation scheme to be launched in Europe. Is this something you’re in favour of?
Initially, the idea of NFP was exactly that – it is something that is definitely needed.
The idea behind the NFP project was to set up something that is managed by charities, not consultants. We know what we need. I’m not saying consultants don’t but at some point they need to sell their services and products.
The idea is good but trying to find active participants is harder.
Charity Website Benchmarks Report