3 Ways the Children’s Defense Fund Drives Online Engagement


Before she measures the success of any campaign, January Williams begins with the question, “What am I asking the audience to do?”

Williams, the director of online communications and outreach for the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), doesn’t try to be all things on all platforms. Rather, she tailors her measurement efforts to each message.

While some initiatives, like increasing the CDF’s number of followers, are easy to measure, most of what the organization does—when issuing legislative calls to action or fundraising, for example—is all about engagement. So, most of her social media efforts are focused more on behavior than numbers, and that’s a trickier equation.

“On social, you’re not going to be everything to everyone, but you will be something to someone,” she says. “If people liked an advocacy alert I posted, but they’re not taking action, I don’t really care how many people liked it.”

Children's Defense Fund, January Williams, director of online communications and outreach,
January Williams, director of online communications and outreach, Children's Defense Fund

Williams, who will speak about measurement at the upcoming PR News Measurement Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., April 20-21, offered three tips nonprofits can use to increase engagement.

Use Every Platform, Even Those You’re Not On

The CDF has very active Facebook and Twitter pages. But even though the organization doesn’t have a Snapchat account, and its Instagram presence is just ramping up, the CDF uses those platforms often as well.

Recently, the nonprofit sought to engage 18- to 30-year olds to become advocates and interns of its Freedom Schools initiative, which provides summer and after-school enrichment programs. So, it turned its network of advocates into brand ambassadors with ready-made hashtags and posts to spread the word on Instagram and Snapchat.

“We’re giving them tools to build up awareness of who we are, to get another audience engaged,” says Williams. “That younger audience is on Instagram and Snapchat, so we ride that sleigh, too. But we don’t have to be on Snapchat ourselves to ensure the program’s exposure.”

Use Demographics to Inform Engagement

CDF uses a combination of Google Analytics and a third-party tool to analyze website traffic. But when it comes to fundraising, Williams isn’t as concerned with how big the audience is, but with who they are. And the native analytic tools on both Twitter and Facebook offer a wealth of demographic data.

CDF looks at factors such as interest areas, lifestyle preferences, gender, education level and marital status to get a handle on its audience. For fundraising, the organization focuses on household income levels—followers who earn above a certain amount are targeted.

That kind of targeting extends to other calls to action. When CDF sent out posts about the recent Affordable Care Act repeal effort, it was trying to not only educate its followers, but also to gauge engagement in a search for more advocates.

“The question is, who came back to our site after seeing the post; how many of them signed up for updates; who are they?” says Williams. “Now I know who to engage.”

Learn more from January Williams at PR News' Measurement Conference and Social Media Boot Camp, which will be held April 20-21, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Brand communicators from Amtrak, Bayer, the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Life Insurance Company and many more will forge the future of data- and analytics-driven PR and social media at the event.

Use Facebook Live for a Call to Action

Williams says she employs A/B testing of messages and images “all day, every day” on Twitter and Facebook. The engagement rate—the amount of people liking, commenting or sharing a post—is a key metric on both platforms.

During the 2016 election, the organization started a campaign to mobilize low-income communities to vote. The immediacy of its message was a natural fit for the real-time broadcasting of Facebook Live.

“When I’m working on metrics with video, it’s not just about the number of comments or views, it’s really about the number of shares and the substance of those comments,” she says. “We found that we were engaging more people when we started doing Facebook Live videos that were calls to action.”

Connect with CDF: @ChildDefender

Connect with Jerry: @Jascierto