Social media case study: Crowdsourced crops and FarmVille in real life

National Trust MyFarm branded bull

Courtesy of the National Trust

Most Facebook users will have heard of FarmVille, one of the most popular games on the social network, with almost 47 million monthly active users. And as social gaming has a massive following in the UK,  it’s interesting to hear that the National Trust have launched a real life interpretation of the popular FarmVille game.

The project, called MyFarm, hands over control of the real-life Wimpole Estate to online users, who then vote on all major decisions about running the farm. It’s worth noting that while membership is open to anyone, it costs £30 to sign up for a year, perhaps as a way of ensuring a level of commitment from members.

As the experiment aims to improve education about food-sourcing, their is the potential for families and schools to join in the debate. The project will accept up to 10,000 “farmers” and is actively driving recruitment through Facebook and Twitter.

It seems that MyFarm aims to eventually become an online community as the site has been seeded with blog content and they are using a community manager to liaise between the virtual and real life farmers. Discussions will be held after voting to reflect on how and why a decision was made, and at least one major decision is expected to be voted on per month. There is already a promising amount of high quality video content available, and I hope that be more produced as a great way of giving engaging feedback to the farmers, as well as showing how their online decisions have affected the real world.

While the site includes The National Trust branding in the main banner of the site, the call to action for signing up to the National Trust is featured well below the fold of the website-potentially a wasted opportunity to promote membership to the main charity. Perhaps it has been designed this way to reduce diversion from the primary aim of signing on farmers.

The first vote will open on May 26th and the National Trust aims to reach 10,000 farmers within 3 months. I hope that they are successful in reaching this goal, as the experimental and educational value of this project is exciting and it will be worth keeping an eye on to see how things develop.

Facebook profile pictures, the NSPCC and charities in social media

DangerMouse and Penfold
Image by dullhunk via Flickr

This weekend friend after friend of mine on Facebook changed their profile picture. One changed it to a Smurf, another to He Man and another still to Bart Simpson. In total probably 25 of my 171 Facebook friends had a cartoon character as a profile picture by the time I had lunch on Saturday. And it wasn’t just my friends entering this craze - all over Facebook, profile pictures had been changed. Any why? Well that’s the pivotal question. If you were lucky enough to have a friend who had also added a status update that read:

Everyone please change your profile pic to your favourite childhood cartoon character until Monday 6th December in support of the NSPCC charity.

As the NSPCC announced on Twitter this morning, the cartoon profile craze was not initiated by it but rather grew organically, virally even perhaps.

Although the NSPCC did not originate the childhood cartoon Facebook campaign, we welcome the attention it has brought to the work we do :)

That the NSPCC did not create this campaign did not come as a surprise, mainly because however successful it might have been, the ‘campaign’ showed clear signs of not being strategically-led. OF not working as hard as it might for the organisation. Why? Well the idea is a good one - make people reminisce about their own happy childhood to raise awareness of those children less fortunate, the work of the NSPCC to help them and, presumably, to provoke an action (supporting or even giving to them). The problem was the cartoon profiles did not do this. Not only was there, in many cases, no reason given for the change in to a cartoon, there was also no call to action to support or even to donate to the NSPCC. In fact, I suspect the campaign also failed to raise significant discussions about the work of the NSPCC and of child protection in the UK. My suspicion is that most people would actually be more likely to talk about the cartoon than child abuse.

There have been many similar ‘campaigns’ in social media and social networks - changing profile pictures or annotating them in some way, or even passing messages in your status updates (such as the ‘I like it on…’ breast cancer awareness status campaign). The problem with many of these is that it is often not clear what the change is in aid of, and there is rarely a clear call to action or next step. Both are critical if you are to successfully get benefit from campaigns in social media. Tell people who you are and give them something to do next - if you engage them with something fun then give them something to do next, somewhere to find more information, learn or engage further.

Charities, on the whole, show some of the most innovative use of social media. Even with simple status-based tactics. From simple Twitter status takeovers (passing a clear message with a link through to donate to a charity you are supporting) to micro-donating on Facebook as we have seen with charities such as Breast Cancer Care in the UK.

The  cartoon profiles this weekend were not started by NSPCC, they probably did raise some awareness of the charity and of the issues related to child abuse. But they could have done so much more. Social media can be a great media through which to raise awareness or to get a message out. But it is important to give people a way to find out more, a way to keep them in the experience with the organisation and to engage more deeply. It is important to let people know why their status or profile picture is changing and to truly educate them not just about cartoons, but about the real issues that you want to raise. If a ‘campaign’ is going to go viral, then make sure your message and call to action goes viral with it.

(Note - I didn’t change my own profile picture. If I had, it would probably have been to Penfold from Dangermouse)

How charities are using virtual gifts on Facebook to raise money

DIY Gift Tag
Image by Someday I’ll Learn via Flickr

Virtual gifts are big business. Even in its earlier days, many people on Facebook were paying money to give their friends virtual flowers, and Farmville makes a great success out of selling trees and sheep to people to gift to others as part of the game. What we have learned is that people are willing to pay money for virtual objects, and even more so when they are gifts to other people. Seeing this trend, many people are tying to explore ways to integrate virtual gifts into their social media strategy as a way to make money. Few are doing this successfully but as with many examples of successful social media there is much we can learn by looking at how it is being used in the not-for-profit sector.

Imagine that rather than spending £2 to buy your friend a bunch of virtual flowers, you could spend £2 on a virtual badge for your charity of choice. It would post that charity’s branding and logo on your friend’s Facebook page (and thus in the newsfeeds of all their friends) and the £2 would actually be a donation to that charity. This is the simple, but effective, idea that is JustGiving gifts. This app lets you show your support for a particular charity by buying a virtual badge for a friend. So, for example, if you wanted to show your support for Breast Cancer Care you can send your friend (or indeed yourself) a branded badge and a message about the charity and the work that they do. And when you buy the badge you pay a £2 donation through JustGiving for the virtual gift and are given the option if you choose at that point to set up more regular giving to this charity.

Its a simple idea but a really effective one that builds on the behaviour we are seeing in Facebook and in social media more broadly:

  1. Users like badges as ways of showing their allegiances - in recent user testing work we did at FreshNetworks we explored why people ‘Like’ things on Facebook. One reason that was popular with many is that it was a way to get a badge on their profile showing their interests and what support. If you are a fan of Arsenal Football Club, for example, one reason to ‘Like’ them on Facebook is that it will put an Arsenal badge on your Facebook profile showing your allegiance to this cause. The virtual badges given by the JustGiving gifts app do just this - they are a way of friends showcasing what they care about and displaying their allegiances on their profile
  2. Badges offer a way of highlighting particular updates - in the same testing we found that users like adding things to updates and messages on Facebook as a way of making theirs stand out or to add extra value to it. On a birthday, for example, they might add in links or photos in their ‘Happy Birthday’ Facebook wall posting. This is a great opportunity for this charity gifting as adding in a virtual gift adds the extra value to such birthday or other updates that users are looking for.
  3. This virtual badges capitalise upon the connections in Facebook - these virtual gifts are a great example of using the connections between people in Social Networks - when I send my friend a Breast Cancer Care badge it will not only tell her all about the work that they do, but also my friends and her friends. It is a good way of sharing and spreading the message about the charity and makes good use of the social network features of Facebook.

Perhaps what I love most about the JustGiving gifts app is that it is a simple solution that really works with the trends we are seeing in how people are using social networks and virtual gifts. They have not just seen that people are spending money on these kind of gifts but really explored why and how. It’s only by exploring and really understanding how users are interacting in social media that you can start to develop a social media strategy that will really bring you value.

Causeworld: Using location-based apps to raise money for charity

You are here: George Eastman House
Image by jcolman via Flickr

Location-based apps and social media tools? If you haven’t heard of them you soon will. They use the GPS functionality of the iPhone - and the sharper developers have made them platform agnostic; compatible on Android, Palm and Blackberry.

The user registers on the site then “checks-in” with their geographic location to let their friends know where they are. The idea is if you can see your friends are in the vicinity of your current location you can arrange to meet up. You can also see interesting places others are visiting. There are other neat ideas like if you have visited a location more than anyone else you are named the “Mayor” of that location or retailers nearby by your current checked-in location can offer you rewards to visit them.

We’ve written before about how we think 2010 is the year of location-based social media tools. Foursquare it appears will be the defacto as it increases its prominence over others such as Gowalla and loopt as the location aware app of choice. Foursquare is even being spoken about in some circles as the new Twitter.

One of the more interesting applications of this type in my opinion is Causeworld. This app combines the gaming interest of the location aware app along with a feel good factor of donating to a cause simply by visiting certain shops or restaurants or scanning a particular product barcode.

Causeworld has initially been sponsored by some big names such as Kraft, P&G and Citi. The user earns “karma” points based upon visiting certain locations. Users can then donate the karmas to a choice of not-for-profits who in turn can convert the karmas to real money.

Over 300,000 have downloaded the app since December and hundreds of thousands of Dollars are given away to good causes each month.

As far as I understand it is only being used in the US right now but would expect it over here very shortly. In my mind doing my bit for a good cause by visiting a shop or a restaurant beats a 10K run anyday.

Like anything first mover advantage is everything so I look forward to the first charity in the UK becoming part of this.

  • Gowalla battles Foursquare (
  • CauseWorld: Checking in for Charity (
  • CauseWorld Helps Nonprofits Through Social Networking (
  • Location-awareness takes SXSW by storm (
  • The History of Location Technology [INFOGRAPHIC] (

SXSW 10 session notes: Crowd sourcing innovative social change

Another day at SXSW, and a good seminar on crowd sourcing and not-for-profits. The ‘Crowd sourcing innovative social change’ session saw Amy Sample Ward, Beth Kanter and others talking about how to use crowd sourcing in a not-for-profit environment, not for fund raising or marketing, but for service and programme delivery. One interesting distinction was between a ‘crowd’ and a ‘community’ and how this impacts the model you use.

As with other SXSW sessions, rather than reproduce the conversations after the event, here are the hand-drawn notes taken during the session itself.


SXSW: Crowd sourcing innovative social change session notes

You can also see Amy’s presentation from the session here:

Crowdsourcing for Social Change
View more presentations from Amy Sample Ward.

Read all our posts from SXSW