What is the secret for UNICEF’s success on Twitter?

@UNICEF is by far the most effective organization on Twitter, averaging 184 retweets for each tweet and the second most followed international organization. UNICEF is also the most active organization, posting 18 tweets each day.
What is @UNICEF doing right? We asked Jim Rosenberg, Chief of Digital Strategy at UNICEF.

  • @UNICEF Sometimes it hurtsDon’t tweet press releases

In many organisations the social media manager is tasked to tweak and tweet the press release into 140 characters and the result is rarely engaging. As Jim Rosenberg puts it: “Our focus is squarely on creating and promoting engaging, fresh content – from first person stories to personal blogs to infographic explainers. We do have a special Twitter feed just for media, as well as for live tweeting.”

  • Don’t retweet your executives, quote them

Quite a few organizations consistently retweet tweets from their senior executive who in turn will retweet the tweets from his organization creating a virtuous cycle of retweets. UNICEF has reduced the number of straight retweets, but ‘quotes’ tweets from its regional offices and other organisations, duly attributing the tweets to their sources. As Jim Rosenberg puts it: “We really focus a lot of effort around crafting content that will resonate emotionally. We are one of the few multilateral agencies to share content external to the UN – e.g. news stories, sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy.”

  • Don’t tweet without a picture.

Pictures are the best way to increase engagement on every single tweet. However, few organisations realize the power of visuals on Twitter. On the other hand on the @UNICEF account every tweet has a visual. “There’s no substitute for a compelling image. Professional quality photography and high-quality and sharable graphics, from inspiring quotes to explainer infographics” is the secret of the @UNICEF account according to Jim Rosenberg.

  • When is the best time to tweet?

“We re-share the best performing and most important content and we also schedule content overnight to reach all time zones and at weekends”, explains Jim Rosenberg. However the best time to tweet is when a tweet is timely: “Many of our priority issues are regularly in the news, e.g. humanitarian emergencies such as Ebola, Syria, Iraq and we also try to maximise public awareness, engaging in relevant topical conversations, e.g. #BringBackOurGirls in 2014 and the recent measles outbreak”, says Jim Rosenberg.

  • Do you promote tweets with Twitter ads?

“Not much, as our organic growth is pretty strong. We did a bit around follower growth linked to Ebola during the height of the outbreak. We also promote our bigger products from time to time, for example this video tied to our annual flagship report.”

  • What is your advice for other international organisations?

“Content should be demand-driven, created with the audience and objective firmly in mind. In my experience, expectations and demands on digital teams can be at times overwhelming compared to what really works online. This is one of our biggest challenges when trying to be strategic. Staff training and capacity, especially in field offices, is key. The more awareness and understanding people have of digital, the more likely you’ll be to have ownership and broad-based buy-in.”

  • What is your secret?

“We have an amazing team and a compelling mandate – children. Plus, we are getting away from communicating just for the sake of it, and communicating to actually drive change for children. In 2014 we changed our team structure a bit to fully integrate visual storytelling with engagement – and we optimized unicef.org to be 90% mobile. So we’ve seen a lot of organic growth because the people a) making content and b) engaging with audiences are more integrated. But also we honestly feel we could be doing better. Our biggest constraint is not being able to engage with existing (relevant) conversations too much because as an organisation we are firmly focused on our own priorities, some of which can be niche.”

  • What is your advice for other international organisations?

“Look over the horizon and be ready for what’s next. The GSMA says that by 2020, four out of every five smartphone connections worldwide will come from the developing world. This presents tremendous challenges to traditional ways of communicating. Organisations must take care to speak with a human voice and focus on using digital to shrink the gaps between people in different countries. Social media, the internet – these are becoming ubiquitous more quickly than any of us expected.