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Social Media for A Cause: Oxfam America




I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bob Ferguson of Oxfam America regarding their use of social media to help enact change in the world. Oxfam America’s vision and mission are pretty straightforward:

Our vision: A just world without poverty.

Our mission: To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice.

While we normally get caught up in and discuss the marketing aspects of the online space so we can sell more things, it’s important to remember there is other value as well. Some might argue convincingly that is the real value. The ability to reach people around the world in more ways than ever before also creates opportunities to help those most in need like never before. If you are not familiar with Oxfam hopefully this interview will serve as an introduction to their work. Enjoy.

MP: What is Oxfam and what is your particular role in the organization?

Bob: Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Together with individuals and local groups in more than 90 countries, Oxfam saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice. We are one of the 15 affiliates in the international confederation, Oxfam.

I’m Oxfam America’s Senior Advisor for Music Outreach.

MP: How long have you been with Oxfam and what is your background personally?

Bob: I’ve been with Oxfam for nearly six years, and my background is more corporate than humanitarian, though I was a Political Science major at college.

MP: How active were you in the social media space before you joined Oxfam?

Bob: I’d say very active. I’d been active on early message boards, and was an early user of Facebook, well before it exploded beyond being a college thing.

MP: What are the main social media tools you are using currently?

Bob: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, and the social aspects of Spotify.

MP: What is your goal with each tool with regard to how you help move the Oxfam mission forward through its use?

Bob: For my work, social media is the best way to rally attention or action for specific initiatives, campaigns, or tasks. It’s an instant, easy, and free way to encourage people to take action.

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MP: What are some of the most interesting outcomes/results/findings you have been able to get through your interaction with Oxfam supporters through the online world?

Bob: Since my work involves working with musicians who support Oxfam, it’s exciting for me to see how music fans will follow their favorite artists’ suggestions related to activism. Only hours after the Haiti earthquake, our artists (like Coldplay and Radiohead) let the world know that Oxfam was already on the ground there and helping, and that helped jump-start the fundraising and awareness process that allows us to continue our good relief and recovery work there.

MP: Do you have an Oxfam online persona and a separate personal one or are they mixed?

Bob: I’m one of a few folks who post to Oxfam America’s Twitter account (@oxfamamerica), mostly about our music work and how followers can link up with us at concerts and events. But I maintain my own account (@thebobferguson) too, which I use not just to share info about Oxfam’s work, but to wax rhapsodically about new music I’ve discovered, complain about my beloved New York Mets, and post photos of particularly exciting plates of food I encounter on road trips. I’ve picked up about 1000 new Twitter followers in the last few months, so I assume that stuff must be interesting to someone!

And my personal Facebook account has sort of morphed into a mailing list for all of the campus leaders I work with. It’s amazing how many young people communicate seemingly exclusively via FB. I know that if I need a quick answer or action on something from a college student, I’ll get it quicker through FB. And thankfully my wife is understanding of the fact that I have hundreds of FB friends who are college-aged women! I’m not sure that would fly in many other households…

MP: As a fellow Mets fan I admire your courage in admitting that these days but back to the important stuff. Are there more people using social media at Oxfam? Who are they and what are there roles in the whole scheme of things?

Bob: We have a New Media Specialist, Victoria Marzilli, who is in charge of our social media, and she does a remarkable job of setting strategy, choosing topics and assets to share, and building our follower base. We currently have 47K+ Facebook likes and 90K+ Twitter followers, and we’re growing at an amazing pace there. Because of the sensitive nature of much of our work, she must walk a fine line between being engaging/exciting and respectful to the work and the people we work on behalf of. Many supporters follow us exclusively through social media, so there’s a lot of responsibility and weight there.

MP: Are there any new areas you see that could become a larger part of your efforts in the coming months / years?

Bob: I think that Oxfam America is usually at the front of the pack among similar organizations when it comes to social media, so as new and important SM tech reveals itself, I’m sure we’ll be beta testers.

MP: Do location based services like Foursquare help you at all?

Bob: We’ve toyed with them, like offering prizes for “check-ins” at music festivals like Bonnaroo, but a problem with using them at big events is that it’s often hard to get a good enough cell connection to check-in, or even send a text. But we’re planning on doing something bigger using Foursquare on a major tour this Spring. Wish I could tell you more, but it’s not all firm yet.

MP: Are there any tools or techniques you use that might be considered out of the ordinary?

Bob: A couple months ago, members of our staff actually “DJ-ed” in an Oxfam America Turntable.fm room, and it filled up instantly. We spun music by Oxfam bands, and actually had a few special guests there with us. It was a great way to talk about our important work in the context of a virtual music event, to show off a bit of the personalities of the people who make Oxfam run, and to find some new supporters who heard about the event online. I think it was also proof that we’re not afraid to try out new SM platforms, too.

MP: What can we expect to see from Oxfam moving forward with regard to your online efforts?

Bob: I know that Oxfam’s Music Outreach intends on continuing to create interesting sharable video assets, like our Emmy-winning video about the Gulf Coast Oil Spill featuring music from The New Pornographers (video below), or the music video featuring Glee’s Dianna Agron and our music ambassador Thao Nguyen. It’s so much fun to launch these things and watch them be shared widely around SM platforms. They take on lives of their own, sending us traffic back all along the way.

MP: What are the various ways that people can get involved with Oxfam through the Internet?

Bob: Aside from following us on Twitter (@oxfamamerica) and Facebook we encourage everyone to join our Oxfam America online community.

MP: Is there anything I missed that you might want to bring to the readers of Marketing Pilgrim as it relates to Oxfam, your mission and the online space?

Bob: Maybe the fact that often time people may feel like they’d like to take action, or even become an activist or advocate for social justice issues, but think they don’t have the time and/or tools to do so. By following Oxfam online, we can help people do meaningful things without leaving their desk or laptop (or even their smartphones!). We know that online actions do make a difference, and we are glad to help people make the jump from “concerned citizen” to “activist” through online activity.

Thanks to Bob for his time. Please be sure to check out Oxfam America. If you are a music fan you may be surprised at who is supporting Oxfam’s efforts.

What social cause organizations do you see out there that are doing their part using social media to help someone else?

About Bob Ferguson

As Oxfam America’s Senior Advisor for Music Outreach, Bob Ferguson works with artists to bring Oxfam’s work to music fans at concerts, in print, and online. Bob lives in Northern New Jersey with his wife Kimberly, who tolerates his late nights on tour buses with Oxfam-supporting musicians and ridiculously disorganized music collection at home.