David versus Goliath: lessons in digital strategy. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

David teaches Goliath a lesson in digital strategy

Once upon a time, David (the small one) had a fight with Goliath (the big one). It ended badly for Goliath and so began the story of the underdog winning against all odds. I saw a similar scenario recently and it got me thinking: what lessons in digital strategy can small organisations teach big ones?

The journey begins

They leave their cigarettes at the gate and walk up the lane to the New Hope residential care centre. Those first few steps are a commitment to leave their addictions behind them. The new arrivals are entering a drug treatment programme that is built on abstinence. They face a difficult journey.

New Hope is a small organisation run on a tiny budget and a team of committed volunteers. I had the honour of advising them on strategy recently as part of a great event called CharityHack.

As another charity, Concern Worldwide is at the opposite end of the scale to New Hope. We work in many of the world’s poorest countries with thousands of staff, helping millions of people. But, even for Concern, it’s a struggle to get people’s attention online and a further struggle to turn that attention into action.

Concern isn’t the biggest charity around (think World Vision, Oxfam and more) and it’s dwarfed in size by lots of massive companies in other sectors. There’s always a bigger fish in the pond. But, whatever the company, the one thing all organisations have in common is that they’re built on values. Or, they should be. And their behaviour, branding and strategy should fall out of these values. It’s these values that everyone is trying to turn into something that will grab our attention online.

When it comes to that, a small organisation like New Hope can teach us all a few lessons:

No substitute for passion

At CharityHack, Aine (from New Hope) stood up in a room of people she didn’t know and told us a story. We were riveted. She told us about a person who’d beaten his addiction, gotten an education, graduated out of New Hope and was about to get married. There was no denying Aine’s genuine passion and it was contagious. I think many people there were hoping they’d get a chance to work with her that day. Real passion makes people sit up and take notice. When an organisation communicates with passion we pay attention. This honest and passionate communication should be central to any digital communication strategy.

In their words

We pay attention to people we trust. We also listen when we feel a real connection with someone. That’s why companies are bending over backwards to find credible brand ambassadors. New Hope runs an addiction treatment programme. The volunteers who run it have been through the programme. They are living proof of its value.

Do you tell the story of your service (or product) through the words of the people who use it?

Here in Concern we try to do that, in a way. We try to give the people we with work with a voice – a chance to tell their story. This should be central to a social media strategy. Here’s a good example of that.

Opening up

Sometimes the biggest organisations dominate their competitors. Big doesn’t always mean best and a dominant position can lead to complacency. Operating on a tiny budget with no paid members of staff isn’t an ideal situation either. But, the need to survive can produce an openness to change.

New Hope came to the CharityHack with a willingness to listen to constructive criticism, to be open to change and to try something it hadn’t done before. This flexibility is something a lot of organisations lose as they expand. In this constantly moving digital world, retaining a culture of experimentation, at least in some teams, is essential if organisations are going to survive.

As the CharityHack finished and people prepared to leave, Aine said that the day had given her a new slogan: “turn no hope into New Hope.” I wish New Hope well and look forward to seeing David teach Goliath a few more lessons.