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Witness Change turns to social to change the global narrative about refugees

Witness Change is a non-profit organization that improves life for marginalized communities by amplifying their stories.

a photograph is being helped by his assistant to take photos of refugees

A smart social strategy helped the organization’s photo-storytelling project reach more than 100 million people

Every refugee has a story to tell. Yet the stories we hear about refugees so often reinforce long-standing stereotypes, portraying them as helpless and hopeless victims—or worse, as invading hordes threatening national identity and placing unsustainable burdens on social services.

Witness Change set out to break down those stereotypes with 1000 Dreams, a photo-storytelling project launched on World Refugee Day. Authored by 48 refugee storytellers in Europe, the project captures 1,000 stories from other refugees in their communities, building a global movement with the aim of changing the narrative of the refugee experience.

Even after reaching more than 250 million people worldwide with its previous campaigns, Witness Change knew that this campaign needed to go even further. To help it harness the power of social media and drive greater reach, awareness, and engagement, the organization turned to Hootsuite.

  • 100 million
    people reached within the first week of launching 1000 Dreams
  • +30,000
    new Instagram followers
  • 54%
    increase in organic reach on Instagram

What they did

Witness Change is a non-profit organization that uses visual storytelling to help excluded people reclaim their narrative and improve their lives. It aims to make a global impact through campaigns that engage international leaders, while also collaborating with regional grassroots organizations and providing funding and training to refugee storytellers to facilitate their future media careers as photographers, journalists, and storytellers. 

“Measuring narrative change is very difficult, very subjective, and something that has to be done over a very long period of time,” says William Lounsbury, communications and projects manager at Witness Change. “What we try to do for any of our projects is make sure that we are having impacts on multiple levels.”

For the 1000 Dreams campaign, Lounsbury and team needed more than a social media management tool—they needed a strategic partner to help them achieve the campaign’s goals of distributing stories, amplifying voices, and raising awareness at scale. The team looked to Hootsuite for help developing, launching, and evolving a winning strategy for the campaign.

How they did it

After getting set up to manage its social media channels with Hootsuite Enterprise, Witness Change used the platform to deliver the campaign, with ongoing strategic support and guidance from the Hootsuite team.

The switch to using a single tool to manage creation, scheduling, and publishing of all social content made a big impression on the team delivering the campaign, dramatically reducing the amount of time they spent scheduling and updating posts. 

“I think the biggest way that Hootsuite helped us get there is kind of the least exciting way,” notes Lounsbury. “The pure usability of the platform has really just saved us a bunch of time, making it much more possible to get all of this work released.”

Using data to grow followers, engagement, and impact

With the help of its new social strategy, Witness Change was able to reach 100 million people within the first week of launching 1000 Dreams, with participants’ work shared by influential accounts including the BBC, The Guardian, and National Geographic.

Beyond increasing the campaign’s reach, Hootsuite has also made it easier to measure and report on campaign engagement across social channels, helping the team gain a deeper understanding of its audiences and the best ways to connect with them.

“Once a month I do a big run of analytics and have a call with the rest of the social media team to plan for the coming month,” explains Lounsbury. “We can see where we’re at, what has been working and where we can improve to reach more folks.”

Reporting from Hootsuite showed that the campaign had a significant impact across its social accounts. In six months, Witness Change achieved 100,000 post impressions on Facebook, 2.7 million on Instagram, and more across its other social channels. By the end of the year, the organization had also seen substantial growth in its follower numbers as well—most notably on Instagram, which grew by more than 30,000 followers to a total of 361,000. 

“We've had some changes to our social media team this year,” adds Lounsbury. “It’s really helping us be able to track and evaluate what they’re doing, making sure the campaign is pushing in the right direction and running some tests to make sure that it is still growing on social media.”

A headshot of person in a blue dress and red lipstick looks into the distance

Boosting campaign performance with targeted social advertising

Witness Change wasn’t originally looking for help with its social advertising strategy, but while working with Hootsuite, the team discovered the opportunity to further boost the reach and impact of the campaign with targeted ads.

“Advertising support is not something we sought out,” notes Lounsbury. “It was something that Hootsuite came to us with and helped guide us through the entire way.”

Using Hootsuite Ads helped Witness Change discover the social media ad targeting strategies that performed best for driving results, which will have lasting benefits for the ongoing 1000 Dreams campaign—as well as future campaigns. 

“We had somebody available to support and bounce ideas off, which was incredible,” adds Lounsbury. “We learnt a huge amount through this process, both because of the support of the Hootsuite team, but also just from looking at the results and seeing what's effective for us.”

It's a huge undertaking to get this project out. We're managing 40 different people, tens of thousands of files and we have all of these different structures in place to try to make sure we’re releasing really high-quality work. The Hootsuite platform has really helped enable that.

Witness Change

¿Y ahora qué?

The 1000 Dreams campaign is ongoing and will continue to evolve, including a plan to shift its focus to different refugee populations beyond Europe. With Hootsuite’s platform and social listening tools now at work within Witness Change, the team is keen to explore their potential in driving the success of future campaigns.

“I think what's next will be on our side,” says Lounsbury. “Using Hootsuite better, standardizing more, using the reporting tools, doing more A/B testing and taking advantage of the tools that we have to grow our campaigns and continue to reach new people.”

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