#iam4rhinos: behind the conservation campaign that dominated Twitter



#Iam4rhinos has taken Twitter by storm over the past week with celebrities and normal Twitter users getting it to trend globally at #1. While the intention of the campaign has been noble, critics have stated that this is just slacktivism and that the campaign will have no real world effect.

Graeme Lipschitz sat down with Tara Turkington, CEO of Flow Communications (the company that ran the #iam4rhinos campaign on behalf of and in partnership with WWF South Africa) for her views.

Memeburn: Without going into detail, what is your commercial arrangement with WWF South Africa?

Tara Turkington: WWF South Africa paid us a nominal amount from their annual communications budget for the World Rhino Day campaign. We at Flow feel strongly about this issue and were excited to be part of this initiative and our contribution was almost all pro bono (more than 90%).

MB: What are your KPIs with regards to this campaign? 1-million tweets? 1-million mentions? In this regard, are you paid a bonus when you achieve these KPIs?

TT: We were aiming for 1-million individual tweets containing the #iam4rhinos hashtag, to trend in South Africa and to trend globally. No, there were no bonuses ever in consideration. This campaign was about the cause for us, it was not about money.

Memeburn: What real change does 1-million tweets make? How do you measure the real world impact of this campaign? For example: How many rhinos were saved as a result?

TT: World Rhino Day is an annual event, providing global citizens a chance to put their voice to the cause and raise awareness globally about the increased threat of poaching and illegal rhino horn trade. In 2013, WWF South Africa decided to use social media as a new platform to engage.

#iam4rhinos was always intended as an awareness campaign, and we were delighted we were able to harness the power of Twitter to get people around the world to engage on the issue and to call upon important social influencers to join the conversation. We asked people to take a personal stand with a simple declaration: #iam4rhinos and through creating a global Twitter storm, spread awareness to new audiences. Meaningful societal change begins with awareness – this is what we were trying to raise with #iam4rhinos.

The campaign attracted over 155 000 tweets containing the #iam4rhinos hashtag (and is still notching them up; the website remains up and collating the ongoing #iam4rhinos conversation). We believe this is record-breaking – the biggest Twitter campaign ever in South Africa and the second biggest in the world (the #1yeartogo campaign for London Olympics apparently attracted 165 000), though we’d be keen to hear if anyone knows of any others.

#iam4rhinos trended throughout South Africa for six days almost continuously, and also trended worldwide on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 September (World Rhino Day). On Saturday it even made it briefly into the top spot to trend at number 1 globally, which was all the more remarkable given that it was a very busy news weekend.

The campaign also engaged people from all over the world in conversations about protecting rhinos: visitors from 103 countries in total visited iam4rhinos.com and well over 50 000 individuals took part in the Twitter storm. The #iam4rhinos hashtag received more than 320-million impressions (number of times it actually appeared in someone’s timeline).

The campaign started in South Africa, then went global. In the first few days, 80% of the tweets were coming from South Africans, but by the end and in total, about 50% of the tweets had emanated from South Africa and 50% from elsewhere.

MB: A lot of people are calling this the latest bout of Twitter slacktivism. What are your thoughts on it?

TT: The #iam4rhinos campaign was about people standing up publicly and taking a personal pledge and getting people to talk about the issues. It was a brave thing to do, particularly for the dozens of celebrities and well-known public figures from sports stars to actors and politicians who did it.

There were a few people amongst the more than 50 000 who participated who were negative about it. There will always be some who are critical, but most were overwhelmingly positive about #iam4rhinos.

My personal feeling is if we don’t take a united stand across the world at the horrors of poaching – and the stupidity of rhino horn use (horn is made of keratin, nothing more than what our fingernails are made of) – our rhinos will be doomed. While it would be a dreadful shame to lose such an iconic animal to extinction, the extinction of rhinos would have so many other terrible effects, from affecting the species that rely on them like birds and beetles to perhaps more importantly the dozens of communities in South Africa alone that rely on wildlife tourism for their livelihoods.

MB: How closely does this campaign align to WWF’s global strategy?

TT: We worked with many WWF offices in the global network on the #iam4rhinos campaign, including those in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Raising awareness about the issue is only one part of a larger strategy. The WWF South Africa Rhino Programme is using a targeted, strategic approach to address this issue. Conservation activities are based around a five-point framework to combat the threats to rhinos.

The five key areas are:

1. Building and protecting key rhino populations to help them continue to grow
2. Developing buffers in local communities around rhinos as the first critical line of defence
3. Supporting and tightening proactive law enforcement efforts to break illegal trade chains
4. Improving co-operation between South Africa and transit and consumer countries
5. Understanding rhino horn trade in end-user markets and reducing illegal demand

In addition to the annual awareness-raising World Rhino Day campaign, other communication activites include designing targeted demand reduction campaigns in Vietnamese for main consumer groups based on consumer research and developing a campaign in local African languages in rural areas for people who live alongside key rhino populations.

The World Rhino Day #iam4rhinos campaign was just one small part of what WWF does, and stemmed from the realisation that people are frustrated and want the opportunity to have their voice heard. By targeting important social influencers and luxury brands we aimed to start a conversation outside and inside Vietnam and other consumer markets to change attitudes and shift the demand.

MB: Why so secretive about the real world effects? We’ve seen people questioning this and @wwfsouthafrica takes it onto DM, surely it serves the public better if these questions are answered transparently?

TT: In the heat of the campaign, we were intensely focused on the job at hand – spreading the word of #iam4rhinos. I know of only one case when a journalist asked several questions and we sent her a DM in an attempt to be helpful and asked her if she would like to interview someone from the WWF so she could get some more in-depth answers. She declined and said she was “far too busy” and then accused us of “secrecy” for contacting her via DM. We agree that we should be transparent and have tried to answer all questions as openly and fully as possible, and will continue to do.

MB: Have you used any of your other clients’ Twitter accounts to raise awareness for #iam4rhinos? If so, who? And did they give you permission?

TT: Yes, we used a couple, the largest being South African Tourism’s account, for which they gave us permission. We were very careful though to only promote the #iam4rhinos messaging in the context of the work SAT does, and to SAT’s benefit as well as WWF’s. South African Tourism was incredibly supportive of the campaign, as were other similar organisations that independently chose to come on board such as Brand South Africa and SANParks, among so many others.

MB: Any other comments?

TT: We would like to add our thanks to everyone who contributed to this campaign in so many ways, especially to the tens of thousands of individuals who made the #iam4rhinos pledge. The #iam4rhions experience has left us at Flow with a further realisation that people will stand up and speak out when they feel strongly and are given a platform to do so, and a sense of hope for the future of rhinos.



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.