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.

A sunset courtesy of Wiki Commons

The Digital Mindfulness Manifesto

Since the turn of the millennium, I have spent most of my working days staring at the web through a screen. That is not unusual. You too probably spend a lot of time staring at screens. In order to survive and thrive in this culture of constant distraction, we must rebel against digital devices. We must turn off. This is the Anti-digital Manifesto – a guide to being successful, happy and healthy in the digital age.

In the past week, it has happened twice. During my conversations with colleagues here in Concern Worldwide I was called the anti-Head of Digital by two people. What the hell does that mean? It means people are surprised when they discover that I don’t have a personal Facebook page. They’re a little shocked that I try to avoid the web on days off. That I don’t check all social media sites constantly – only one account a day. Today is my day for LinkedIn. And so on. Until I explain the method to my madness.

In his renowned book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr described how:

By moving from the depths of thought to the shallows of distraction, the web, it seems, is actually fostering ignorance.

Have you noticed how the web has changed your behaviour? Concentration for long periods becomes harder. Flick, flick, flick. Flashing, beeping, vibrating devices dominate our attention. Tap, tap, tap. Instinctively we reach for our phone during quiet moments. Click, click, click.

Let’s be clear, the web is a wonderful tool. It is how we choose to use it that is damaging us.

So, if you are like me, working with the web all the time, here are some ways to help you work more creatively, strategically and contently:

Fresh air

The smokers used to make me jealous. They looked serene as they puffed their cigarettes outside. Then I realised, it wasn’t the cigarettes I wanted, it was the chance to stand outside in the fresh air. So, here in Concern, our digital team tries to step away from their screens regularly during the day. A few minutes outside in the fresh air clears the mind, refreshes our senses and makes us better when we return to our screens. We also try to have as many meetings as we can outside on benches in the car park.


Who would have thought that after millions of years of evolution, we would end up sitting down for most of the day? Sitting down is killing us. So, stand up and walk around as much as you can during the day. People have different ways of doing this in Concern. Some take calls as they walk, people have stand-up desks, while others have stand-up meetings. Get up and move around in whatever ways suits you. Remember: “walking is man’s best medicine,” according to Hippocrates.

Single tasking

What is the most important thing you should be working on at the moment? Do it and nothing else. Turn off your social media and email notifications. If you’re feeling particularly inspired, turn off your emails altogether and focus on getting the most important stuff done. Now, everyone’s circumstances are different, so you might not be able to ignore everyone all day. But, work with your team, set expectations of when you will be available and give yourself the luxury of doing a single task for a while.


Our nervous system, brain activity and much more are linked to our breathing. If you’re breathing quickly and shallowly, you’re going to feel nervous and stressed. On the other hand, if your breathing is smooth, deep and slow, then you will feel calm and focused. Watch how you breathe as you work today. Take a few moments to breathe deeply. Do this throughout the day.

This is about working better with the web, using it to help you and your organisation. The options are clear:

  • We continue to slip into the shallows of distraction
  • Or, we practise some digital mindfulness

I know what I am choosing.

The Sea Troll by Theodor Kittelsen via Wiki Commons.

Let’s go hunting internet trolls!

People shout abuse at Concern Worldwide’s web team. Well, let me re-phrase that, they tweet abuse at us – often in capital letters. It happens regularly. But, we decided to turn these internet trolls to our advantage. Join us as we go troll hunting!

Twitter can be invaluable. You can use it for lots of great things. It has changed how we consume information. But, lurking in this galaxy of information are many trolls.

According to Wikipedia, a troll is “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people.”

Here is an example of what they say:

What about looking after poor and hungry children in Ireland first! Don’t see any African nation ever helping us!

 That’s mild. The tweets we receive are often racist, targeting the people we help in the world’s poorest countries.

Years ago, we weren’t sure how to handle stuff like that. But, then we realised that each comment presented us with an opportunity. We set ourselves an objective: to engage with trolls and try to convert them into people who supported our work.

This is how we did that:

Pick your battle

Our policy is to engage with (almost) all trolls. But, if it is clear from their profile that they are incapable of a conversation, then we don’t engage. That’s a rarity though.

Be prepared

You know what issues people might have with your organisation. So, think about them beforehand and prepare your side of the argument. Given the brevity of Twitter (140 characters) you might want to create some content on your site that will support what you’re trying to say. Then, you can link back to it. Here is a page we often link to these days.

Questions please

Make sure you answer the question you’re being asked. Often with trolls though, there is no question, just a statement. So, use this as an opportunity to ask the troll a question. Engage them in a conversation. Send them a link to one of your videos and ask them what they think. The first step in converting a troll is starting a conversation with them. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

People are watching

People are curious to see how you will react to trolls. Keep this in mind when you’re replying: there are other people watching. So, use it as an opportunity to highlight your content – link back to your site or other social media. Use something like bit.ly to track the number of people who click on your link. You’ll be surprised how many people are watching the conversation.

Detractor to supporter

Turn your trolls into an opportunity to talk with more people in a more meaningful way. View these exchanges as a positive way to tell your side of the story. Happy hunting!

This blog post was originally published on Just Giving Blog


John Sweeney of Suspended Coffee - a social media genius

What I learnt from a social media master

A lot of people talk drivel about social media. But, every now and then, you come across a person who has a pure instinct for it; someone who naturally understands people and naturally understand social media. Yesterday, I talked to a master of social media. This is what I learnt.

First, the numbers

In less than three years, Suspended Coffees has gained more than 288,000 likes on its Facebook page. Its engagement with its followers is both deep and wide. All of this was done organically with no ads or promoted content. Most companies would kill for a committed and rapidly-growing community like that.

Master at work

The master behind its growth is a former plumber, “with no social media training” as he said himself. That man is John Sweeney. A few years ago he had a revelation: that kindness matters. By being kind to each other, we can create a more balanced, a more humane and a more understanding society. So, he started Suspended Coffees and it has become a world-wide movement.

We talked yesterday about his work and our work here at Concern Worldwide. This is what I learnt:


We must follow our instinct. Often that means taking a risk, doing something without all the information we’d like. But, to grow we have to try new things. So, take your idea for a new Facebook post and give it a go. Review the results and then try to improve it.


This may seem obvious, but lots of organisations fail on it: people react to personalities. People do not react as positively to bland, mundane branding and messages. What is the personality of your Facebook page? Find one quickly, if you want to be successful.

Universal cause

Suspended Coffees focuses on kindness. We can all understand that. It is a universal human behaviour. Think about your audience on Facebook. Think about the people you are trying to reach. Then think about your organisation. Think about what you’re trying to do. What common value do you and your audience share? Find that and start to talk about it.


People can sense a fraud. So, be honest. Does the image you are trying to portray, match your behaviour? It should. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to either change branding or behaviour. You decide.

Real social skills

If you understand how to listen and talk with people in real life, you’re at an advantage on social media. Long before John Sweeney heard of Facebook, he was good with people. Facebook has just given him the chance to reach more of them.

Time well spent

I learnt a lot from John in our brief conversation. You’ll see some of these ideas shortly on Concern’s Facebook page. Could John help your organisation? Everyone can learn from a master.

This blog post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.