How World Wildlife Fund Used Segmentation to Activate Social Influencers for Their Cause | npENGAGE

How World Wildlife Fund Used Segmentation to Activate Social Influencers for Their Cause

By on Mar 10, 2017


How to engage in social media advocacy

The Oracle at Delphi told Oedipus “Know thyself!” If the Oracle were speaking to nonprofits today, it might say “Know thy supporters!”

For nonprofits interested in engaging supporters in online advocacy, this is especially true. These days, individuals receive a LOT of email and see a LOT of posts on their social media feeds. It’s not uncommon to hear a friend say that they are going to take a “detox break” from Twitter or Facebook, or that they are going to declare email bankruptcy.

So what is a nonprofit supposed to do when trying to activate supporters around a critically important issue to their cause? How can you ensure that your message won’t be overlooked? Segmentation can go a long way to ensure that you reach the right people with the right message. It can also help you avoid burning out your entire list of supporters with asks that aren’t quite right for them.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) used segmentation to identify the right supporters to join them in urging the U.S. government to take action against climate change. While WWF’s climate change work is ongoing and touches many policy areas, this blog post shares specific examples from a three-week campaign window in 2015.

First, some background. The United Nations holds a climate change conference every year, and countries come together to negotiate and agree on multiple plans of action to slow, react to, and combat climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts out safeguards and regulations for our country to help us do our part – clean power, reducing usage of fossil fuels, and other guidelines. The U.S. Congress makes laws.

Here’s the timeline of the campaign:

  • October 2015 – the EPA finalizes its Clean Power Plan to cut down on carbon pollution from power plants
  • November 2015 – some legislators in Congress attempt to overturn the Clean Power Plan through legislative action
  • December 2015 – the United Nations is scheduled to meet in Paris for its annual climate change meeting – “COP21”

Through a campaign, WWF activated supporters to oppose Congress’s attempt to overturn the Clean Power Plan. The campaign had many elements, but let’s  examine some specific social media elements of the campaign.

  1. WWF educated people about the issue in advance of COP21. They created and published a whiteboard video on Facebook that explains what climate change is and why people should care. This video reached over 3 million people and set an important baseline for the issue.
  2. WWF had advocates speak up to their elected officials when Congress attempted to overturn the Clean Power Plan, . The Clean Power Plan stayed in place, and the USA went to COP21 with a plan to reduce carbon pollution intact.
  3. WWF harnessed social media to elevate the issue. During COP21, WWF used social media to help elevate the issue with Congress and the President to support two key initiatives discussed during COP21—the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries reduce carbon emissions as they improve infrastructure, and more specific and immediate actions in the outcome of COP21 before 2020.

What can your nonprofit learn from WWF’s success?

Identify your social media influencers:

WWF used to segment their email list to ask their most influential Twitter users to tweet at Congress and the President. This segmentation tactic was vital for activating Twitter support since all of their email subscribers weren’t active or influential on Twitter. In turn, the relevant email ask activated tweets that brought a public voice to WWF’s cause that others could engage with.

Nonprofits on Social Media

Send Segmented Email Reminders:

During COP21, WWF sent emails to these Twitter influencers and asked them to retweet some key tweets:

Not everyone on WWF’s list is active or influential on Twitter,  so asking the whole list wouldn’t have yielded the best results and might even have caused people to unsubscribe. Making a relevant ask was key, and social segmentation enabled WWF to do that.

Quickly mobilize with text messages:

WWF knows that it’s not just about email anymore. More and more, text messaging is becoming an effective way to quickly activate supporters. With this in mind, WWF used social segmentation to send a targeted text message to their social influencers.

Here’s an example of their segmented texts asking influencers to retweet the POTUS-mentioning tweet:

Example of a Nonprofit's Text Message Action Alerts

What were the results of WWF’s social activation?

  • The Facebook whiteboard video reached over 3.3 million people and got 12,000+ likes, and 15,000+ shares. On top of that, more than 56,000 people watched the video.
  • On Twitter, the message to POTUS for pre-2020 action received 1,062 retweets
  • The ‘ask’ to support WWF’s work on social media yielded about 4,000 tweets based on just three ‘asks.’
  • The Green Climate Fund emails asking supporters to retweet received a combined 2,000+ retweets

WWF’s work in this area is ongoing, so preserving the overall strength of their activist network while doing this work was key. Unsubscribes were minimal, and supporters felt like WWF knew them, since people who didn’t use Twitter didn’t receive asks to retweet anything.

Want more tips on engaging your supporter base? Watch this recorded webinar to learn even more  about how World Wildlife Fund activated their influencers.


Sally Heaven is a senior client success lead at Blackbaud specializing in sustained giving, online fundraising, email marketing, and advocacy. In addition to presenting on sustained giving at last year’s bbcon, she has hosted numerous webinars and user group sessions on the subject. Prior to Blackbaud, she worked at Convio and GetActive®. She also spent seven years as the deputy field director of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

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