Digitalk conference tackles taboo: branding Non-profit, NGO space

LAHORE: 10th Episode of Digitalk was held here on Saturday, at ITU, Arfa Software Technology Park in collaboration with Pakistan US Alumni Network Lahore and Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB). The topic for the conference was “Non-Profits and Social Media: Believe it or Not, Your Non-Profit Is a Brand.” The conference was organised by TEC (Training Events and Consultancy) to debate on the negative perception of the word ‘brand’ in NGO space as a profit-seeking concept with no regards to public sentiment. The tagline of the event noted that the fact of the matter is a nonprofit organisation is still a brand and just like any other company it needs a defined tone and approach, peer and competitor landscape, and the needs of the audience, which must use all of these insights to create a branded social media strategy.

WWF Pakistan Senior Officer Digital Media Fatima Arif and The Little Art Founder Shoaib Iqbal appeared as speakers and panellists at the event. Fatima shed light on the strategies used by the non-profit organisations to gain traction and supporters, which are very much like the ones applied by for-profit companies. In her presentation she said that humanising your brand, using visual media and sending a simple and strong message are extremely important for any endeavour to work, be it business or social work. She said that people will only come to your initiative if they can relate to it, and branding allows for a chance to humanise and put across your motives in an organised manner.

She also informed the attendees of the conference that through using social media and accounting for human interaction, the general public had responded to the efforts of WWF in protecting and preserving wildlife. “People from rural areas take initiatives themselves and contact us if they see any inhumane treatment or illegal possession of animals or birds.” She also noted that bringing celebrities or influential personalities on board for one tweet or status is never enough. It is just like any other fad that goes away very soon and leaves only a temporary effect on the general public. “It is better to communicate with people and convince them of your objectives. That will motivate them to take part in your NGO even without the need of a reminder every so often.” She insisted that answering questions is important. “We often get inquiries that are extremely trivial and can easily be Googled. But if those questions are ignored, we might save ourselves a few minutes but we massively lose out on public support because they are left unconvinced and unexplained about our efforts.”

Shoaib Iqbal took to stage and shared how his organisation has taken initiative to establish arts as a major facilitator for children and young people in Pakistan. He started his presentation with a video showing trainings and workshops in schools in rural areas regarding innovative arts education projects and creative learning opportunities. He also spoke on setting the priorities straight when it comes to branding a non-profit organisation. He said that while profit-seeking entities need to put forward an attractive image of their product, an NGO or a social work endeavour needs to highlight the plight of the sector of the society they are trying to help. Putting forth the facts, as poignant as they may, and being honest to the public is the only way to make your brand earn the reputation of being a genuine NGO and not a hack to gain marketing advantages, and digital media comes in handy by allowing you to spread your message to a great number of people.

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TEC Co-founder and VP Business & Strategy Iftikhar Hussain moderated the panel discussion in which both speakers shared their experiences with modern day digital media. Shoaib said that ‘boosting’ posts or spending money on gaining viewers on social media is often a bad route for non-profit organisations. “The fact that a post shows it’s being ‘promoted’ makes its viewers doubt the intentions of the organisation spending money on it.” Fatima added to it by saying, “Human’s attention span is 7 seconds. If you can put your message in front of them clearly and honestly in those seven seconds, that is the only way to bring people to join your efforts.”

Both the panellists agreed that the modern day social media has made it easier for critics and displeased people to try to besmirch a brand’s name on social media. Fatima said, “It is never advisable to ignore or delete those comments, unless the language is very foul because even if they are plain lies, deleting them does not send the right message across.” Shoaib concurred and said, “We have to delete the comments with bad language because our viewers are families and children, but the best way to deal with such challenges is to ignore or issue a counter statement.”

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Syeda Masooma
Writer is business reporter at Pakistan Today
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