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How NGOs are using social media to spread the good word

When was the last time you interacted with a charity on social media? Maybe you donated to a friend’s 10k run, you signed a petition to protect a natural beauty spot, or you RTed a cute pic of a panda (guilty).

Charity begins at home is a common phrase, but what if in the 21st-centruy, charity actually begins online? Or at the very least, charity depends on a social media presence to engage existing supporters and reach new ones. It might not be as snappy, but the data is showing us that it’s undeniably true.

Let’s take a look at the current state of play for NGOs online:

  • According to a global report, 29% of people consider social media to be the marketing channel that is most likely to inspire giving, versus channels such as emails, websites, print advertising or TV
  • Over 70% of NGOs worldwide agree that social media is one of the most effective channels for online fundraising, and this belief is backed by hard proof, with one report showing that 87% of people who first donate from a social referral source tend to make their second donation from a social referral source
  • In 2020, Charities in the UK reported a 35% increase in online revenues – and 41% of online donors made a second donation with 12 months – and Non-Profit Source claimed that 25% of people use mobile devices to donate – both online and offline
  • Viral trends are having real impact! Greenpeace claim that online actions can be as bold and daring as outdoor stunts, as demonstrated by consumers forcing UK supermarket brand Sainsburys to reduce their plastic usage by 50%, using the hashtag #CouldntCareLess (a play on their brand hashtag #LiveWellForLess)
  • According to TikTok, the environment is one of the top concerns of millennials and Gen Z, with 85 billion views on climate-related content over the last 12 months
  • TikTok users are hugely engaged with content around sustainability, with the top green trends including #zerowaste, #climatechange, #earthday and #recycling

Online activism is one of the cornerstones of organic social for NGOs in the digital age, with many NGOs depending on the charity of social media for fundraising, building awareness, and gaining support for their campaigns – whether that’s sharing their latest news and projects or collecting online signatures that will bring about real-world change.

We wanted to pay closer attention to how NGOs are using social media to spread the good word. In this blog, we’re zooming in on how Greenpeace, WWF and the Rainforest Alliance are making social media a success story… and we’ll go behind-the-scenes to understand who is engaging with the online conversation around climate change and wildlife preservation. There’s no time to lose, let’s get stuck in.

Who is engaged with conversation around sustainability?

When it comes to online conversation and NGOs, it’s not just about who is talking the talk, we want to see them walk the walk too.

To understand who is engaging with the conversation around sustainability, we decided to run an interconnectivity report, which explored the intersection of people following Greenpeace, WWF and the Rainforest Alliance. This gave us an audience of just over 70,000 people, who share a passionate interest in protecting the environment and tackling climate change.

Looking broadly at this audience, we can see that it has an almost 50/50 split between men and women. They tend to skew toward the Gen Z demographic, with 30% of the audience being between the age of 18 and 24. While the US makes up around 30% of this audience’s location, we can see that the UK, Canada, India and Australia all significantly contribute to the online conversation around our three NGOs.

Perhaps most interesting for this audience is their clear desire to enact change and talk about the most pressing issues. Nature, environmental, world and climate all appear in the top bio keywords for this audience, and if we look at their common interests, science is overwhelmingly the most talked about interest. Within that, this audience is likely to talk about ecology, biology and geography.

As our regular readers know, your audience is not a monolith. Let’s take a look at the audience segments that add up to this larger audience and the insights they bring. This audience actually breaks down into seven perfectly formed segments, but in the interest of not drowning you in the detail, we’re going to focus on the top five segments.

Audiense blog - Overall NGO (WWF, Greenpeace, TRA) audience: Main segments

Ocean enthusiasts  🌊

  • The largest segment of the overall audience, accounting for 23% of the people within, our ocean lovers are majority women (53%) and skew young, with 18–24-year-olds making up 33% of the total segment
  • While at first glance, this segment looks to be quite pop culture influenced with #HouseOfTheDragon, Monster Energy, LMFAO, Nina Dobrev and Tiesto all appearing as common interests and conversation topics, we can see it becomes explicitly associated with marine conservation when we look at the influencers and brands segment of the report. As you can see below, the MarineBio Conversation Society takes top influential billing, closely followed by a marine conservationist and Blue Ocean Society.
  • Looking deeper at their interests, it’s also clear that they over-index for topics such as ecology, biology and aquariums. The data is showing us that they’re also hugely passionate about nature, with them sharing nature photography and content about their favourite ocean-life and sea creatures.
  • So, how can you catch a wave with this segment? Well, they’re spending time on Twitch, YouTube, and Instagram for the most part. They’re also engaging with a broad spread of media including TED Talks, Sky Sports, Fox and MTV.

Activist moms 💪🏽

  • This segment is all about parents striving to be the change they want to see in the world. Primarily US-based, this 50/50 gender split audience self-identify as writers, activists, and parents! Our ‘moms’ flag in the segment name comes from the fact that ‘mom’ frequently appears in their social media bios.
  • The majority US audience is reflected strongly in the influencers and brands we see for this segment. ACLU – a NFP legal and advocacy organisation – appears top of the list, closely followed by several notable politicians including Elizabeth Warren. This shows us our activist moms are switched on and engaged with the politics that matter most to them.
  • Likewise, when we check what media they’re consuming, Democracy Now!, Pod Save America, The Late Show and FRONTLINE all appear under TV; we also see NPR Politics, HuffPost Politics, Politico and organisations such as Planned Parenthood and Women’s March appearing prominently in media affinities.
  • We see this segment engages with hashtags such as #climate, #climatecrisis, #climateemergency, and #nature.
  • Friends and family are hugely influential when it comes to purchasing decisions,  but they’re less influenced by social media compared to the full audience. They’re also spending time on less ‘traditional’ social channels such as Twitch, TikTok and Discord.

Eco champions 🌳

  • Of all the segments we’ve broken down so far, this segment is more mixed in terms of physical location. Canada, Australia and South Africa all appear, alongside European countries such as Italy, France and the Netherlands.
  • This segment explicitly identifies alongside topics such as sustainability, sustainable and green; the fact that they talk about these terms in their social media profiles suggests it’s an important part of their sense of self and purpose.
  • We can definitely see our eco champions walking the walk when it comes to influencers and brands. Alongside accounts such as Greenbiz and environmental news accounts, we can also see that this audience is interested in following sustainable lifestyle brands that can help them be more sustainable in their day-to-day lives, such as Ways2GoGreen, EcoFabulous and Inhabitat.
  • In terms of the content being shared and engaged with by this segment, we can see #charity, #community, #goodcauses and #healthylifestyle appearing in their conversations. Popular posts include ones such as these, that focus on climate change as well as fun and insightful content from @organicconsumer.
  • The personality type of this segment is more conscientious than the full audience, and we can see that brand name over-indexes for them when it comes to making purchase decisions. This aligns to the influence of sustainable products and sellers as seen in the influencers & brands tab. LinkedIn and Pinterest are the go-to social networks for this segment.

Global changemakers 🌏

  • Primarily made up of people who work or study in the eco-sphere, our global changemakers are passionately interested in development and international projects. This international focus on sustainability and climate change is reflected in the segment’s location, where we can see they are based in India, Kenya, France, Germany and Indonesia.
  • When we look at influential brands and people for this segment, there’s a greater presence of organisations, networks, forums and projects with a global environmental focus. Areas of particular interest include agriculture and biodiversity, as demonstrated by the appearance of CIFOR, Food and Agriculture Organisation, and World Agroforestry.
  • Hashtags being used by this segment include #cop27 and #africaclimateweek – two topics of conversation that are unique to this segment – but they are also talking about the most popular hashtags including #climatecrisis. Liked and shared content takes a more global view, as demonstrated by the below post.
  • When it comes to reaching and engaging with our global changemakers, we can see that paid social is 20% more likely to be successful with this segment. We can also see that messaging apps Telegram and WhatsApp are the top two most popular networks. While this makes it tricky for influencers to navigate, it reflects the close-knit nature of this community and their desire to discuss topics that matter to them. 

Animal lovers 🐼

  • Of course, you cannot talk about sustainability and wildlife conservation without eventually finding animal lovers among your audience segments! Skewed more toward women, this segment is all about wildlife, conservation, and how wildlife choices can create a better world for our furry, feathery, slithery and generally much cuter friends.
  • In this segment specifically, we see they use bio keywords such as ‘wildlife’, ‘animal’, ‘lover’, and most unique to this particular segment, ‘vegan’. This segment is more likely to embrace lifestyle change in their effort to tackle the climate crisis.
  • Influencers in this segment include many animal conversation foundations, groups and trusts. Born Free Foundation, Save the Rhino, Animals Asia and IFAW all appear in the top accounts and according to our data, about 45% of this segment actively follow and engage with these types of accounts online.
  • This online influencer pattern is also reflected in the media they consume, with BBC Springwatch, Animal Planet, National Geographic and other wildlife channels appearing in their media affinities.
  • This segment’s love of animals is not just reserved for wildlife. They’re also hugely into cats! #cats, #catsoftwitter and other pet-related hashtags appear prominently in their conversations and the content they share. Nobody is immune to cats on the internet.

How are NGOs driving change online and IRL?

We’ve spent some quality time looking at each of the segments associated with Greenpeace, WWF and The Rainforest Alliance. Now it’s time to see how this translates into the work they do online. Here are some of our favourite campaigns from these three brilliant NGOs.


The World Wildlife Fund has been busy raising awareness about preservation and the reduction of human impact on our natural world for over 60 years. With thousands of members based in over 100 countries globally, this NGO has serious international reach and plenty of content at their fingertips. What matters most is making sure they’re capitalising on key moments and sharing the good word with supporters old and new.

What WWF does well is embracing different social channels to ensure they’re hitting the broadest possible audience of animal lovers. Most importantly, they’re adept at tailoring their content to ensure it hits the mark. On Instagram, they use high-res photography of smiling otters, stunning jaguars and teeny, tiny primates to create a curated feed of heart-melting animal content – hitting Instagram followers right in the feels.

@wwf_uk Check the pinned comment to contact your MP! Together, we can make sure that promised policies are kept #attackonnature #ukgov #climateaction #naturepromise #ukminibudget #contactyourmp #climatechange ♬ original sound - hi I'm Benny

On TikTok, they transform memes into informational (and entertaining) videos about the policies that are impacting wildlife. They also educate their younger followers by providing content that helps them eat more sustainably, consume responsibly, and embrace lifestyle changes that can reduce their carbon footprint. And of course, we simply cannot ignore ✨corn✨ content. It has the juice.

WWF has been one of the driving organisations behind TikTok’s increasingly green focus. In 2019, they initiated #MyEarthHour2019 on the platform, the world’s largest collective environmental movement. They partnered with TikTok to bringt his event to the channel, inviting users and influencers to support environmental protection. The campaign led to over 50,000 videos being created, 100 million video views, and a cool 4.5 million in-app likes for Earth Hour related content.


We mentioned earlier that Greenpeace believe online action can be as bold and daring as outdoor stunts, and certainly, their Rang-tan advert caused a social media storm that changed the way the public think about palm oil. At just 1 minute and 30 seconds in length, this animated ad voiced by Greenpeace ambassador Emma Thompson aimed to make palm oil as toxic as possible with the heart-wrenching story of Rang-tan.  

In the ad, Rang-tan moves in with a little girl after his forest home is completely destroyed by the palm oil trade. When UK grocer Iceland chose to use it as their 2018 Christmas advert, it was quickly banned by the UK’s approval body Clearcast for breaching political advertising rules, which of course, made it go viral on Twitter.

Thanks to the controversy around Clearcast’s decision, the story of Rang-tan clocked up more than 80 million views across social media platforms. Arguably more than it ever could have done on TV. Furthermore, 1.2 million people signed Greenpeace’s palm oil petition to make businesses take the issue more seriously, and it won multiple awards. It also led to a flurry of schools asking for teaching materials on the subject, helping the message go beyond social media and into the classroom for future generations.

Rainforest Alliance

Hot off the press, we have the Rainforest Alliance and their #FollowTheFrog campaign, which ran from 26th September to 2nd October 2022. The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit organization working at the intersection of business, agriculture, and forests to make responsible business the new normal. Their aim is to protect forests, improve the livelihoods of farmers and forest communities, promote their human rights, and help them mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

This week-long campaign took place across their key platforms – Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – drawing in star power from the likes of Bonnie Wright and sharing educational content that puts the farmers at the forefront of the campaign. They also secured support from the various consumer partners who proudly display their frog certification.

Encouraging brand partners to share content that supported the #FollowTheFrog initiative ensured the campaign had new and fresh content to build awareness. And perhaps most importantly, it helped spread the message about the Rainforest Alliance as a legitimate certification that promotes fair and sustainable food production practices in a shareable and approachable format.

What can you learn from NGOs online?

Clearly, there’s a lot we can learn from NGOs on social media, no matter your industry or marketing focus. Let’s wrap it up with some food for thought on how you can use social media to build awareness and truly connect with your ideal audiences.

  • Make your content shareable and approachable – Climate change is a major concern for many people and for this reason, it can be hard to get the general public to engage. These three NGOs have been to tackle sensitive and potentially upsetting topics in a pro-active, empowering, and even humorous manner. Use their wisdom and apply it to your own content for a winning social formula.
  • Understand what makes your audience tick – As we saw from the audience breakdown, the people you want to reach have diverse interests and passions. That’s why you should avoid lumping your target audience into one criteria. Ensure you have up-to-date buyer personas in place and make use of audience intelligence tools to truly understand what makes your audience tick.
  • Get others involved – It takes two baby. Maybe even three or four. If building brand awareness and reaching new audiences is your goal, you might need a little help from your friends, influencers, or some perfect partnerships. Pay attention to which brands and people are influencing your ideal audience and build strategic partnerships into your overall campaign plan to make your message go even further.

If you want to uncover opportunities to work with influencers and reach new audiences, the data is out there. It’s just a matter of taking a deep dive. With tools like Audiense, conducting in-depth audience analysis and discovering actionable takeaways is possible for brands that want to approach their marketing strategy with confidence.

P.S. If you liked this, you should definitely read how WWF used audience intelligence to deliver key messages to relevant stakeholders.

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