Bertie, Blogs and Breast Cancer Care

I recently conducted an email interview with Bertie Bosrédon, Head of New Media at Breast Cancer Care. Bertie’s responses make for interesting reading and I’ll be picking up on a number of these themes in future posts. Is Bertie a buzz director, I wonder?

How do you see social media (e.g. blogs, flickr, social tagging) blending together to the benefit of charities?

MySpace, Flickr and YouTube (among others) will become increasingly important tools for charities in the next 6-12 months to connect with existing supporters and reach new audiences. This will make us work in a different way – publishing more content directly to those websites, instead of expecting visitors to visit our own site. There will be benefits, but it will also become more difficult to gauge effectiveness.

Do you think large charities are making the most of the opportunities offered by these tools?

Large charities tend to go for bespoke solutions. For instance, I’ve been asked on many occasions to create photo galleries. I am convinced it is more effective – and obviously cheaper, to set up a group on Flickr where everyone can upload their own photos and share their stories – real photos taken by real people. There is so much that can be done. Having said that, I have recently seen some powerful campaigning videos on YouTube, e.g. this video for the purple ribbon film festival in Taiwan to raise awareness of violence against women and this one produced by WWF Canada for their Save our Climate campaign.

What do you think are the main factors preventing charities from more readily adopting social media?

The first factor is budget. Many charities have redesigned their website in the last two years or so and it is difficult to justify investing in new systems.

I have been working in this sector since 2001 and I speak regularly with other web managers. I am always impressed by the level of creativity and the desire to do more… and almost always disappointed to hear repeated stories of lack of resources, the difficulty of getting internal buy-in and lack of recognition of in-house skills. Too often, web teams are not seen as experts but more as technical people whose job it is simply to “copy and paste” printed content onto a web page.

Have you found it challenging to persuade colleagues of the opportunities?

Not at all, and I feel very lucky for that! I was given free reign to set up my [New Media] department. Six months before I joined [in April 2006], the web team at Breast Cancer Care comprised two members of staff. I now have fourteen people in my department (6 percent of all staff). I have two staff working on content development, another two on technical development, and one on web analytics and traffic management. The rest of the team work on ‘interactive services’ – managing the forum, live chat and developing interactive tools for users. We are also recruiting a clinical nurse specialising in new media who will advise the content team on clinical issues.

Admittedly, the New Media department at Breast Cancer Care maybe unusual in our sector. But other staff also embrace the potential of new media, and so does the senior management team. Even the board of trustees express a keen interest.

We know how many people receive our publications, how many patients attend our courses, how many helpline calls we take and how many visits we receive to the website. The website is our most accessed service by audience reached. Consequently, half our time is spent developing tools and information for these visitors, while the other half consists of responding to internal queries. We operate like an internal agency, like a consultancy. We also do a lot of internal PR. For instance, we set up an internal new media blog where we keep our colleagues updated with what we’re up, and to signpost other websites and campaigns we find interesting. We hope to make this blog more widely accessible in 2007.

A new media conference to promote our discipline to staff colleagues is planned for next year. It will take place in our Head Office but staff from our regional centres in south London, Sheffield, Cardiff and Glasgow will hopefully be able to attend as well.

What role do you think blogs can play?

There are two aspects to blogs. Blogs that charities write for their supporters and blogs these stakeholders write about the charity. The latter can be very effective, although a note of caution is necessary: a charity’s ‘brand’ does not have the same protection as a commercial company because your supporters feel strongly about the charity they support and feel they have some ‘ownership’ of the brand. They don’t think there is anything wrong with changing your logo… after all, they are raising money for your cause. So you don’t have 100 percent control over what they say and this can sometimes become an issue. So yes, blogs can be powerful but they must be carefully managed and resourced.

At Breast Cancer Care, we also have an very active discussion forum. We employ five sessional moderators to maintain the quality of the forum; five ‘hosts’ work ten hours a week each on the forums. They are paid staff and trained to deal with specific issues related to breast cancer.

Can you tell us a little about the strategy behind “Kelly’s blog”, the response and plans for development in this area?

The strategy was simple: there wasn’t one. After we started our internal blog, we were wondering if we should offer a blogging facility on our website. That’s when Kelly emailed, asking if she could start a blog. We thought we’d give it a try. We have been surprised by the traffic and the interest generated by Kelly’s blog. It has been one of the most popular areas of the website for weeks.

We actually met Kelly for the first time yesterday. Following her feedback, we have decided to ask more people to blog for us. Other visitors to the website will be able to comment. But for the reason I mentioned above, the posts will first be checked by our ‘New Media Nurse’.

Will 2007 be the year charities integrate social media into their engagement strategies?

Well, more charities will certainly experiment with blogs. But in many charities, you have to convince several departments across different directorates and that takes time. Because the web is essential for all of them, there will be a need for more cross-departmental projects. The boundaries between your fundraising, campaigning and core business (e.g. support, information) won’t be as defined as they are now.

Therefore, I’m not quite as optimistic! I would say that 2007 should be a year of ’self-promotion’ for web teams… and 2008 the year they lead with e-strategies.

Any advice for other charities – large and small – who may be about to dabble?

Use the expertise of your team and allocate time to experiment.

I strongly believe that a charity which hasn’t yet invested, or is not seriously thinking about investing in digital communications, and the necessary resources, will struggle in the next 2-5 years.

Bertie Bosrédon was Online Manager at the British Heart Foundation for five years until April 2006 when he joined Breast Cancer Care to set up a new digital department.