Five Characteristics (and Examples) of Successful Digital Campaigns

Kevin Powers, Former Senior Digital Strategist

Article Category: #Strategy

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When I gave my talk to the sixth class of Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders (EWCL), a key topic I covered dealt with common characteristics of successful digital campaigns I’ve encountered over the years. These pertain largely to cause-based initiatives given my work at Viget with organizations like WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Trust of Historic Preservation; but, you can imagine the elements being applied to other industries or efforts.

1) Timeliness

RELEVANCY: Timing your campaign and its activities to coincide with the day-to-day happenings of the world (e.g., World Elephant Day, the coming fall season) helps to create attachment in your audience’s mind and increases the likelihood that your efforts will be noticed.

  • e.g., Charity Water Birthdays: Charity Water has done an excellent job of making their cause relevant by attaching it to birthdays. You can “pledge” your birthday and help raise money for clean water programs.
  • e.g., (Bonus) 48 Days of Blue - Between Earth Day and World Ocean’s day, the campaign suggests a conservation activity for each of the 48 days.

URGENCY: A ticking clock can be a strong motivator for someone to act or get involved. It can also serve to give greater dimension to a campaign by articulating its start and end -- specificity that can be important to a user’s understanding, and which can directly influence their capacity to care.

2) Ownership

EMPOWERMENT: Audiences need to feel involved and that their contribution matters. Providing tools that allow for public declarations of support (e.g., petitions/signatures) or those that enable individuals to promote a campaign themselves (often referred to as peer-to-peer fundraising) can be incredibly motivating and successful.

  • e.g., Movember Teams: Encouraging men to grow facial hair in the month of November to raise awareness for men’s health issues, Movember provides tools for folks to form teams, spread the word, and challenge each other to raise the most donations.

PERMANENCE: Offering resources for users to download or take with them provides a level of endurance (and amplification) to your campaign. It means that your message isn’t limited to the exposure of a fleeting social post or email, but rather that it has the potential to stay with a user and remind them of the initiative.

  • e.g., Seafood Watch: Users can download the Monterey Bay Aquarium's iOS app and take it with them when dining or shopping to better understand ocean-friendly seafood options.

3) Sociability

REACH: Most campaigns check this box by providing digital tools to share content on social networks or encourage the use of a consistent message/hashtag to increase the overall range of the effort. Taking this a step further, there are ways to illustrate this collective social activity in a way that persuades others to contribute or share.

  • e.g., The Dodo: The DoDo takes a great approach on many of their articles by showing an aggregate number of social shares and a target they want to reach (that  smartly keeps moving up).

PORTABILITY: While the obligatory social share buttons are often fine and allow one to share an entire page/link, it can be more effective to create individual content and assets for sharing.

  • e.g., Know Lupus: The individual cards Viget created for the game made for great social fodder, allowing the organization and users to spread the campaign through bite-sized, vibrant facts. 

4) Transparency

DATA: Being open with your audience by showing the raw numbers (e.g., where donations go/are applied) can be one of the most effective ways to persuade engagement. It creates a sense of trust and honesty. While this historically proves challenging for most organizations, there are levels to surfacing valuable data.  

  • e.g., GiveDirectly: GiveDirectly is on the intense end of telling people where their donations go to help the poor in Africa, breaking down a contribution into specific dollars and cents. Not all organizations can do this, but you can see how this specificity can be an encouragement to donate.

DIRECTION: Similar to the need to illustrate the timing of a campaign’s beginning and end, reporting on progress toward clear and specific goals during a campaign is of key import. This shows your audience that activity is happening, that you have a responsibility and commitment to the effort, and that all of this is culminating in results (in some form or another).

  • e.g., The structure of petitions is great for giving a campaign dimension, particularly the signature goal and the timeline view showing incremental updates or goals acheived throughout the life of the effort.

5) Storytelling

SIMPLICITY: Getting people to care starts with understanding, which is eminently more achievable when your story is focused and clear. Initiatives can often be incredibly complex (especially when they involve legislation), but that doesn’t mean your audience needs to understand every minute detail. While it can be a challenge to whittle down your issue into just a few points or a single call to action, it’s important to do so if you want to facilitate understanding and engagement.

  • e.g., Charity Water: Rare is it that a conversation around content and design within the cause-based sector goes without a reference to Charity Water. The organization has done an incredible job delivering its message through lively design, focused messaging, and honesty.

INSPIRATION: People want to feel inspired and optimistic that their potential contribution (and your campaign) actually matters. Fear tactics and the earth-is-falling approach can stir action, but in rare instances. Messages imbued with a vivid, but realistic, sense of hope for the future are far more effective and allow people to feel that their contribution will result in some impact.

  • e.g., 96 Elephants: For, we could have easily ventured down the doom and gloom route, since the name of the campaign is a reference to the number of elephants killed every day in Africa for their ivory. Instead, we crafted a complete narrative that introduces the issues and shows the active progress toward (and heroes involved in) stemming the ivory trade.  


While not exhaustive, the characteristics outlined above are good to keep in mind as you shape and promote your campaign. Are there key elements you’rsquo;ve encountered that are missing? Let me know in the comments.


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