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Duane Raymond 22 min read

Hype vs. Reality: What digital channels are the most effective in 2010?

There is a lot of praise for new digital channels, but is it justified -- or just hype? I rarely see anyone publish evidence one way or the other. So I will. Here is the evidence from one global campaign in 2010 to demonstrate how different digital channels compared.

I hear the questions every week: "Should we start with Facebook or email?" "Should we use Twitter and Mobile?" "Is email obsolete?" My first response is always that it depends on the objectives, the strategy and the audience since starting with the tools is putting the "cart before the horse."

A common strategy is to recruit and mobilise large numbers of people to put public pressure on a person, government or company. In this context, they often want to get people to participate in an online action like signing a petition or sending an email to a target.

So given I had access to a large pool of data for a large global multi-channel campaign I was involved with over the summer of 2010, I decided to try and provide the evidence for the value of each channel.

The Case: 1GOAL Campaign

Over the summer of 2010, I was hired by the 1GOAL campaign to head-up their e-campaigning (starting from building a website). This was a global campaign focusing on ensuring governments committed to achieving universal primary education by 2015 as they had committed 10 years ago in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

It was a campaign organised around the FIFA World Cup and had tremendous potential. This potential was because it was endorsed by FIFA, had over 200 world-class footballers as supporters, had other high profile supporters like Shakira, Desmund Tutu and Queen Rania of Jordan as well as having an amazing line-up of support from mobile network providers, broadcasters and large digital sites (Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, MSN).

Yet it wasn't just endorsed but them, they were actively seeking ways to support it through their available networks and with their available assets. This meant it was an amazing opportunity to run an integrated multi-channel global campaign.

I ensured that every channel we used was tracked through to completion, including knowing the site they had originated on to find out about 1GOAL. The findings are quite interesting.

The Channels

We used a wide variety of channels:

  • 1GOAL email list
  • 1GOAL website
  • 1GOAL mobile site (no longer exists)
  • 1GOAL widget they could put on their site
  • Facebook page
  • Facebook app (1GOAL Squad)
  • Twitter account
  • Twitter promoted tweets
  • YouTube account
  • Flickr account
  • Facebook, Google and MSN ads
  • National 1GOAL campaign sites (Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Brazil, etc.)
  • Global Campaign For Education (GCE) sites (GCE is the organiser of the 1GOAL campaign)

In addition to these:

  • mobile network providers messaged their subscribers asking them to text back to support the campaign
  • The widgets were used on a wide range of sites including famous footballers, celebrities, Goal.com, Staples, O2 and MTN.
  • We had free use of the FIFA historical footage to use to promote the campaign (a resource most sports broadcasters would kill for)
  • We had stunning videos produced to communicate the importance of universal primary education
  • High profile Twitter users like Stephen Fry and Queen Rania were re-tweeting 1GOAL tweets in addition to many of the other influencial or famous supporters (and the not so famous supporters like most of us!)

The Findings

Of the 18 million supporters the campaign had achieved by mid September 2010, over 500,000 had taken an online action via the website (meaning they provided their name, email address, country and usually permission to email them). The results are quite interesting:

Source % of Total Permission Permission Policy
via Mobile Site 11% 100% auto
via Widgets 4% 59% pre-checked
via Facebook App 12% 100% auto
via Facebook Links 2% 85% pre-checked
via Twitter Links 1% 76% pre-checked
via YouTube Links 2% 76% pre-checked
via Flickr Links 0% 90% pre-checked
via Habbo 2% 84% pre-checked
via Stardoll 6% 84% pre-checked
via Online Ads  2%  84% pre-checked
via Search 10% 86% pre-checked
Other 49% 86% pre-checked
TOTAL - 86%



Interestingly, Stardoll generated more signups than Facebook, Twitter and YouTube combined and yet happened completely without us doing anything (or evening knowing about Stardoll until we saw the stats)

To give some context:

  1. The email signups were mostly between May and the end of July 2010
  2. Widgets were forms people and organisations could put on their website and were 'loaded' millions of times.
  3. Everyone viewing the site with a mobile phone was directed to the mobile (WAP) site
  4. The Facebook app has only been running since late June
  5. All the 'link' sources above mean they clicked on a link on the profile to get to the 1GOAL site and then signed up.
  6. Flickr was barely used so had a small contribution. The main social media focus was Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
  7. Excellent high profile media coverage in some countries like South Africa was one of the prime drivers of people to the website
  8. This stuff only applies to the email-to-action model where the goal is recruitment and action participation.


You can see from the data above that social media and mobile phone accounted for 34% of email signups. While an excellent contribution, two thirds of signups were still non social media: direct (due to media coverage or untracked like via friends email), search engines, online ads, etc.

When we look at the number of supporters on the social media sites (see table below) and what proportion took action, Facebook was respectable (25%) but most of this is from the Facebook App and this is still only 14% of the total. Without the Facebook App it is just 2% of the total (3.7% of the Likers). Note there is no guarantee that people who took the Facebook App action were Likers so it may not be a perfect comparison. Facebook gave us free advertising, but despite being told they had run, we saw no evidence of any increase in signups to the Facebook page!

Social Media Supporters % acted Number
FB Likers 25% 315k
Twitter Followers 11% 28k
YouTube Subscribers 180% 4.7k
Flickr Subscribers 2% 0.5k


Just 1% of signups were from Twitter and while the number represented 11% of followers, there is no guarantee that people who come from Twitter are followers - so the ratio should be considered lightly! Twitter gave us a trial of their new feature - promoted tweets - which we used during world cup Football games, but again it didn't seem to have much impact on actions from Twitter.

YouTube generated 2% of total signups - equivalent to Facebook Links and double those from Twitter. Again, taking action from YouTube doesn't mean you are a YouTube 'subscribers' and vice-versa.

Even the 1GOAL widgets which were on sites that received millions of views (e.g. Goal.com, Habbo) yet only resulted in 4% of total signups. The peak on June 10th below was from the World Cup opening concert where 1GOAL was prominently featured throughout (these bits were cut in many countries).

1GOAL had its peak traffic around the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Yet while Widgets were loaded millions of times, they only resulted in 4% of the total actions.

While these channels are valuable, they need to be kept in perspective and used for appropriate goals and in combination with other channels. Action participation at 2% conversion when ignoring the contribution of the Facebook App may not be the best use of FB (but is the one most people try and use it for in a campaigning context).

While 1GOAL had lots of high profile media coverage, this benefited all channels (e.g. people would have gone onto Facebook if that was their preferred channel and looked for 1GOAL). We even had Stephen Fry do a 1GOAL tweet and it only generated about 60 actions

1GOAL Search and News Volume 2010
The peak time for 1GOAL media coverage and searches was in parallel with the World Cup (June 10-July 11)

So like all campaigning, using these channels helps extend reach and participation, but if you are putting more effort into these than into the more established website and email channels (plus media work) then you may not only be undermining the unsexy-but-effective traditional channels, you may be getting lower results!

I could do a lot more in-depth analysis, but I've spent enough time on this already :-)

In no way am I claiming this applies to every campaign. Nor am I claiming that we did a perfect job (a long way from it - we were so overloaded due to having too little lead time that there was some major gaps in what we could do). All I am sharing evidence from a high-profile, global, multi-lingual, multi-channel campaign, there are the figures for converting people to take action.

Comparative Site Traffic

Alexa's stats for the 1GOAL website show that at one point (June 10/11 around the opening concert) it was in the top 5,000 sites in the world!

1GOAL website rank in 2010
Alexa reports that the 1GOAL website was in the top 5,000 most popular sites worldwide for a short period of time around June 10/11 (world cup opening concert)

The Alexa audience breakdown shows that the audience was disproportionately (vs. the Internet norm) young and female.

1GOAL website audience profile 2010
Alexa's website audience profile for 1GOAL shows that it was disproportionally (vs. the Internet norm) young and female.

Was It A Success?

There are at least two levels at which campaigns can be a success:

  1. They achieve progress towards their change objectives (aka impact)
  2. They are good at implementing the strategy

For this post I am focusing on this second aspect primarily because impact is the result of the full range of campaigning activities from policy to advocacy and public pressure. What happens in the digital space is only a portion of that. Furthermore, a strategy can be well implemented it can have low impact because, for example, it was the wrong strategy.

The point of sharing this evidence is not to prove impact because that is a much larger (and likely premature) assessment. The point is to share what digital channels delivered the best results for the chosen strategy.

Like anyone who is involved in a campaign, there were many missed opportunities simply because of short lead-times as well as insufficient staff and budget. Simply having more lead-time could have meant better use of the opportunities and potentially millions of more supporters. I think this about every campaign I am involved in (not always millions more, but tens-of thousands minimum). Yet like all campaigns, we focused on the highest potential return activities or those that took us no additional effort and trusted in the strategy work by others as a basis for achieving an impact. 

To determine impact of the 1GOAL campaign, we'd need to identify the commitments that were made by heads of state, what role the 1GOAL campaign played in that, if the promises are fulfilled and if universal primary education is achieved by 2015. So while this analysis could start, we won't really know for 5 years.

*Duane Raymond is the Founder of Fairsay.com in the UK whic provides e-campaigning consultancy, e-campaigning training and organizing e-campaigning related events.