“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Using social media to campaign for stateless children

18 September 2015 | Zoe Gardner, Asylum Aid

Statelessness remains a relatively little-known and even less well understood issue across Europe. Despite the devastating impacts that not having a nationality can have on families and individuals, it is not an issue that has been accorded much salience in the public or political debate. One important objective of the European Network on Statelessness (ENS)’s campaign to end childhood statelessness is to raise awareness and understanding among the European population of the issue and its solutions. This is also connected to another objective, that of building the capacity of actors to engage on the topic, multiplying the number of informed voices calling for change, and thus increasing pressure on political leaders to take action.

 In order to achieve these aims and harness support among ordinary Europeans for ending childhood statelessness, a serious communications effort will be required and social media will be one important vehicle for this. Social media provides a platform to expand the reach of our message to new audiences, enhance the quality of the conversations we are having with supporters, and will allow us to make good use of campaign materials, ensuring that they are shared across the widest possible network.

Over recent years, social media has brought about a change in how supporters view campaigning organisations; it is not hyperbolic to say that it has revolutionised the campaigning landscape. The unprecedented ability for people to communicate directly with each other, with organisations and with decision-makers has democratised the flow of information to a massive extent. While traditional media outlets remain ‘male, pale and stale’, the accessibility of social media allows traditionally excluded voices to be heard. Furthermore, the informality of the medium, coupled with its potential to facilitate interaction and dialogue makes for a much more exciting communications landscape for charities and NGOs.

Communications for campaigns is moving from a traditional, top-down model, that sees supporters as the passive recipients of messages and information, to a more dynamic model that conceptualises communication as a peer-to-peer dialogue where supporters interact and engage meaningfully with information.

Key tenants of social media success

  • Bold, simple and clear – A major feature of social media is its immediacy. Although this may seem like anathema to practitioners who are deeply involved in the complexities of the issue, what works on social media is a simplified, visually attention-grabbing and preferably immediately understandable message. This does not have to mean compromising on the quality of information shared, however, it merely requires the careful consideration of what key piece of information is being communicated with each ‘share’, and how best to show that in simple terms. Once people have some interest in the issue of childhood statelessness, it will be possible to draw them into a discussion about more complex factors and expect some of those people to go on to read fuller information such as blogs and participate in advocacy, but the first thing is to reach out to people with the basic message and get the issue onto the public radar.

  • Images, info-graphics and video – We all wade through vast quantities of information in our social media newsfeeds, so it is easy to understand the need to stand out and grab attention in a sea of similar posts. Any use of imagery is going to draw the eye towards your post, and pictures that show human faces are particularly effective, as well as shocking or funny images. Accompanying messages about childhood statelessness with images of children is the immediately obvious way to achieve this, but there are more creative options for the more adventurous, including making use of online ‘meme-generators’ to make images out of simple messages. A very basic example below shows how this could work:

  • Informal, personalised language – A very formal communications style is inappropriate for social media. People want to feel like they are interacting with a human being, and are far more likely to engage in two-way dialogue with posts that appear to have been written by one. A conversational and direct approach can encourage interaction and meaningful participation in the spreading of a message, it is about giving supporters the confidence to join in and share messages more widely. If individual members of your organisation have social media accounts of their own, getting them to interact as individuals with ENS output can ‘break the ice’ and make it more natural for others to also join in.

  • Hashtags – The hashtag for this campaign is #StatelessKids and this should be used as much as possible across social media when sharing about the campaign. Not only does this help to create a recognisable ‘brand’ around the campaign that can focus attention, but it also allows us to create a ‘buzz’ around the issue with many people sharing content from all over Europe that is clearly grouped around this campaign.  

  • It is also important to engage with popular hashtags in order to enter the dialogue that is already ongoing between interested parties. If a hashtag relating to children, identity or nationality is trending or getting attention in your country, you can use it to talk about the campaign. Be aware of your approach, however, as any attempt to ‘hijack’ an issue may provoke a backlash.

The above should not be taken as an exhaustive list of how to make use of social media for this campaign, but rather as a starting point to share ideas. As a dynamic and constantly evolving platform, the very best way to make use of social media is to innovate and respond creatively without too much concern for controlling the conversation, as this soon becomes impossible.

In 2014, 40% of Europeans had an active social media account, and we were spending on average more than an hour per day across the continent accessing such sites. This means that there is a huge audience on social media for the messages of this campaign, and by tapping into that audience, presenting information in an immediately accessible way, and getting supporters to generate their own related content and share it, we can multiply the reach of our messages exponentially. Within this context it is important to recognise the idiosyncrasies that do exist in social media usage across different European countries and even regions.

Bearing all of this in mind, it is my personal opinion that using social media represents a truly exciting moment for the campaign on childhood statelessness. It provides us with a space for creativity and dynamism and a real opportunity to increase understanding and sympathy for the cause.

Zoe Gardner sits on the ENS Advisory Committee. This piece is one of a series of ENS blogs themed around its campaign “None of Europe’s Children Should be Stateless”. It is based on a presentation by the author at ENS’s conference in Budapest on 2-3 June 2015. Visit the ENS website here if you wish to access ENS country studies or other conference papers, including the resulting action statement which is intended as a guide for collective efforts to end the scourge of childhood statelessness. ENS’s next campaign event in Strasbourg on 21 September will see the Network launch its new report “No Child Should be Stateless” – see here for more information.

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