Case Study: How Human Rights Watch Leverages Employee Personal Brands on Twitter | Beth’s Blog

Case Study: How Human Rights Watch Leverages Employee Personal Brands on Twitter

Leadership, Professional Networking, Strategy

There are no better champions for your organization’s communication’s strategy than your staff.  Leveraging the networks and personal brands of your staff as champions can help your organization’s communications strategy have more impact.    With a few guidelines and a little  training, employees can use social channels effectively  in service of  your organization’s mission AND their own learning.  I asked colleagues what nonprofits had good employee champion programs and Chris Tuttle pointed me to Human Rights Watch.

I interviewed Jim Murphy,  Senior Online Editor,  about how Human Rights Watch’s integrated social media strategy  leverages the personal brands HRW 197 employees to get results.  The organizational strategy is to impact policy change.  When policymakers are not paying attention, Human Rights Watch shines a light on the situation through the media, both mainstream and social channels.    In 2009, they embraced Twitter because journalists were active on Twitter and it was an efficient way to reach them.  Policy makers, another target audience, were also using Twitter as a communications channel.

Says Jim Murphy, “In the early days of Twitter, our  Executive Director, Ken Roth, was an early adopter is still active on Twitter.  When our staff researchers observed him diving in, it gave them more confidence to  participate.”  Leadership modeling is important.    When they launched their staff as champion strategy, they had to make the case that it was worth the investment of their time.  Says Murphy, it was a tough barrier for advocates and researchers who not used to communicating in 140 characters.  Over time, using Twitter has become more an organizational cultural norm.

To support the champions strategy, Human Rights Watch incorporated broad guidelines in its social media policy for staff to participate as their personal brands – tweeting as themselves versus an organizational or department brand.   Murphy says they initiated training for employees, that offered the 101 and 201 of using Twitter.    Murphy served as the point of contact, answering staff questions on the fine art of tweeting.  He also identified staff who were enthusiastic and proficient in using Twitter to lead training.

In addition, they have an internal listserv for support where staff share suggested tweets for new reports or new features or techniques on Twitter.   The strategy encourages staff, many who are researchers or subject matter experts in their field, to use their personal brands to share their deep knowledge and thought leadership on the topic.  Says Murphy, “That’s what our audience is looking for – deep subject matter expertise.”

Since the strategy has been in place, many HRW staff as a group engaging on Twitter has lead to impressive results.   For example, says Murphy, “Twitter has flipped our relationship with media. Instead of us pitching journalists, many have come to rely on our staff as sources and connect with them through Twitter.  Many tweets lead to press calls.”

Twitter is also used as a complementary advocacy strategy when reaching out to policymakers on a human rights issue. When conflict broke out in the Central African Republic, they started the CARcrisis hashtag on Twitter.  Says Murphy, “It helped us draw attention to the crisis with a good number of foreign ministers and journalists using it – helping us reach our advocacy objective.”   Twitter also helps HRW get policymakers to comment on the record on an issue via their Twitter accounts.

There’s another benefit.  With almost 200 staff members engaging authentically on Twitter or curating news and information on their topics from different sources,  it forms the backbone of a robust content curation strategy.  Says Murphy, he and his colleague, typically curate the best 30-50 Tweets from the 1,000s by staff for the organization’s account.     As part of their “listening,” they track who is interacting with their audience of policymakers and journalists with different tools such as Social Flow.

A sampling of effective HRW staff on Twitter:

High volume, effective technique

Bilingual and Specific Issues

Murphy offers this advice to other nonprofits that want to set up an employee champion strategy:

  • Have a clear idea of goals
  • Figure out who in the organization can participant beyond the executive director or communications department.
  • Have point person in a training role to answer questions, but also encourage staff to share what they are learning
  • Have an internal communications channel to keep everyone up to date on new content, hashtags, features, or techniques.
  • Encourage staff to engage and look to the field – and not just retweet the brand account or news outlets
  • Encourage staff to share their subject matter expertise, especially the wide range of sources they curate on a topic.
  • Encourage setting up Twitter Lists and Hashtags

In today’s connected world, using social as yourself rather than hiding behind the organization’s trust can generate more engagement and trust that leads to more impact.   And, employees are also using social to build their expertise while supporting the organization’s goals.  All this takes is a small investment in policy guidelines, a little bit of training and support.

Does your nonprofit leverage your employees personal brands and networks in service of your organization’s mission?  Please share your experience in the comments below.

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