Channel Diversification Takes Empathy and Courage

Michael Parker
11 min readApr 14, 2021

Diversification. More specifically, channel diversification is a term that has become more commonly heard at Greenpeace since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s like the new buzzword.

Channel diversification means making sure that a range of channels are being used to engage people in society as opposed to a small handful of channels.

Make no mistake, this has been an important concept for many people at Greenpeace for a while. However, the pandemic meant that face-to-face fundraising and volunteering became unfeasible for the most part which in turn meant that channel strategies had to change, and change fast.

Greenpeace has been dealing with a number of tensions related to this over the past few years that are certainly not unique to the organisation: Relationships with big tech vendors, keeping costs low, high campaign impact, shifting focus from face-to-face to other channels, ethical investment of funds, organisational development and resilience.

This article will explore why over-reliance on a few channels can be dangerous, offer some solutions to be more channel diverse, and explore new opportunities by putting your audience at the heart of your work.

Why diversify?

There are a few reasons to have a diverse channel strategy. Here are a few main ones:

You’ll be where your audiences are: a person today can have 20–500 touch points during their average journey. In order to match this journey, we should be working across channels with an omni-channel approach. Supporter engagement will increase because you are meeting people where they are depending on what stage of the journey they are on.

You’ll hedge your risk: If a channel changes or there is a crisis like Covid-19, you’ll be more prepared to change strategy. As a result, your resilience will increase and the level of damage from external forces affecting your organisation will decrease during tough times.

You can reach different audiences: Always using the same mainstream channels means that you might not be engaging other important groups in society. Being across multiple channels means that you can reach into different pockets of society and your overall impact will increase as a result.

You have more room to make moral decisions: If your channel strategy is a diverse one, you will have more room to shift focus between channels if a channel contradicts the morals of your organisation.

Exploring the problem

When I was asked to lead a project that would look into channel diversification at Greenpeace, I knew that the team and I would find ourselves having some tough discussions. It’s such a wide reaching issue that spans across many departments.

We spent a lot of time exploring the problems. Sometimes it felt like we were discussing the problems too much and we wanted to move on, but Albert Einstein once said “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions”. The project team all agreed that, if we are to propose solutions, it is vital that we understand the problems well.

There has been a lot of buzz about getting off platforms like Facebook due to their scandals with privacy and data handling. But what happens when the next platform that we inevitably adopt does the same thing? We need to change our approach to channels or we will find ourselves in this situation again in no time.

The initial intention was to understand our financial reliance on big channels like Facebook as well, but it was apparent that we have some tracking issues that make it too difficult to do such an assessment within our timeframe. We decided to capture what we could using self-reported data and workshopped openly with Greenpeace staff across the 20 or so regions we operate in. The findings were not necessarily surprising, but they highlighted just how heavy our reliance is on few channels and the barriers that people are facing.

So, how reliant are we really?

Here are some quick highlights from the research we did:

  • It was clear that Facebook is the main channel that drives traffic to our websites (¾ of our offices mentioned Facebook as their primary source for web visitors and only 3 out of the 19 offices that responded mentioned a channel other than Facebook as the main source of traffic).
  • We spend most of our advertising budget on Facebook (¾ of our offices are spending the majority of their advertising budget on Facebook).
  • We aren’t putting much investment into testing new channels (on average only 10% of advertising budget is spent on testing new channels).

We can go on analysing, but it is obvious that we need to be better at using more channels to engage people. Why do we use so few, though? It’s like we have access to Netflix, but we only want to watch broadcast TV.

When asked in a survey to our National Regional Offices (NRO), the following reasons were given for why channels are not more diversified (in order of most commonly expressed reason):

  1. Pressure is really high to reach our targets
  2. We have too high pressure to keep costs low
  3. We don’t have a structured channel strategy
  4. Our audience work isn’t developed well enough
  5. We don’t have budget allocation for testing
  6. We don’t know enough about new channels

Are these reasons the symptoms or the cause? It depends how one looks at it. Let’s dissect these reasons a bit more…

  1. Pressure is really high to reach our targets

Are the targets too high themselves or is pressure on staff too high to reach set targets? Meaning, are we not giving enough room to staff to focus on other things than hitting their targets? Maybe a combination depending on the office.

Either way, pressure to hit high targets all the time will likely result in staff getting “tunnel vision” because they are constantly operating in a state of anxiety to catch up rather than a state of confidence where they can pay attention to the bigger picture and make informed, long-term decisions.

Additionally, the metrics that we choose to measure the performance of our work can often be a contributing factor to our lack of diversification. Many of the measurements of success we work towards promote a short-term outlook or are just vanity metrics and this can sometimes be reflected in our plans. We often default to short term KPIs as measurements of success and tend to neglect long term impact. Are the metrics that you use to measure success reflecting the actual impact of your organisation?

2. We have too high pressure to keep costs low

Costs are very important to Greenpeace because we are independently funded by private individuals, so we have a responsibility to spend funds cautiously. However, cost cannot be the only consideration of course. We have very important ethical decisions to make like which platforms we use and what data we store. Additionally, innovation takes investment that can’t always promise return.

As skilled as we are, we cannot predict what works and what does not. Therefore, we have to test things to see what the outcome might be. With good testing structures in place, we will be able to try things and listen to the world, learn and respond accordingly. This takes courage. And courage is what we believe will change the world.

We cannot afford to be too scared to innovate. We must operate in a “test, learn and iterate” environment in order to live the values we believe in and spark courage in the world. Additionally, we need to significantly improve our readiness with budgets to enable learning. Each new channel has a cost of entry, and we need separate budgets to make it happen.

3. We don’t have a structured channel strategy

Testing doesn’t mean doing a million things with a “let’s see” attitude. There are structures, frameworks, strategies and rules that we can put in place to ensure that we know how to scale things that work. You could think of this as Intelligent Failure. And once they work at scale, we must ensure that we manage resources well by having clear channel strategies in place. This will help keep us focused on the audiences that we are engaging on different channels and nurturing those relationships well.

A proven process like this one can be used to build a channel strategy:

  1. Establish channel objectives: These should be based on your overall organisational objectives and audiences.
  2. Audit: Gather insights on what you have been doing on the channel to date.
  3. Look outside: Gather research and analysis on channel trends and external players.
  4. Make a channel strategy: Bring it all together to make an actionable plan.
  5. Cross-channel strategy: how does this align with the other channels you use?

The last point is often neglected. Omni-channel strategy ensures that we are putting audiences at the heart of our strategy because we understand which channels they use, how they use them and then we use those channels accordingly.

4. Our audience work isn’t developed well enough

We must not lose sight of the real reason why we use channels: To reach audiences. It’s not actually about channels, it’s about people. People are not aware of our strategies and internal departments. They only see what we put out into the world and they expect to be communicated with on a personal level and to listen to them when they speak. Therefore, we need to make sure that we bring all of our work together in a coherent way.

“It’s not actually about channels, it’s about people.”

Greenpeace will not achieve the change we seek in the world without people. We know this. We are working very hard on this, but it’s easy to lose sight of this when we are so involved in the details of every day within our specific work areas. Putting audiences at the heart of everything we do will transform our channel work because we are reaching people at the right time with relevant content about what matters the most to them. The broadcast era is long over. Creating value and meaning is very important so that our messages are shared across networks. Channels have adapted and are designed for more personal relationships. It’s time to adapt to that.

5. We don’t have budget allocation for testing

“start small and scale fast.”

Putting the budget aside for testing new channels is not only about funding tests, but also shows commitment from senior management to ensure diversification. How much to put aside can be a tricky task, but there are some models that other organisations follow that give you some inspiration.

If we look at the wider market and some of their marketing practices, there are different approaches to splitting budgets for channels. For example, the company Coca Cola uses a 70/20/10 model. About 70% of their investment is in “Now”, or established and successful programs; 20% goes to “new,” or emerging trends that are starting to gain traction; and 10% goes to “next”, ideas that are completely untested and they live the phrase “start small and scale fast.”

6. We don’t know enough about new channels

Testing can help you learn channels, but there is already a wealth of information available about channels already out there. Channel reports are easily accessible with a simple Google search. Paid databases like Statista also provide in-depth reports in channels. Sharing more and learning from each other within the organisation and our allies is another great way to gain channel intel.

Staying attuned to the latest channel developments means that we need to pay attention to what those companies are doing on many levels. What is their vision for the platform? Which audiences are using the platforms and how are they using them?

This research might not give us the answers, but they should give us enough to build our hypothesis with and how channels might change in the future.

Becoming more innovative and testing channels

Creating a team of people to focus on innovation with a set of parameters that are not too limiting has the potential to birth the innovation that we are looking for.

Creating “incubation cells” can be invaluable when it comes to addressing new challenges as it provides new perspectives and teaches us how to work together along the entire chain: from campaigns, fundraising, volunteer, operations, and other departments. This can be done by putting people together that wouldn’t normally interact or work in tandem. “Positive friction” is the result of mixing different profiles of people, job types or sectors to form a diverse and focused team.

‘Ideas are worthless if no one is implementing them.’

However, it is not enough to put a group of specialists together and expect a good outcome. In order to ensure that the ideas are taken forward into projects, it is important to think about the level of influence that the people in the group have in the rest of the organisation. Ideas are worthless if no one is implementing them.

Usually, we try to avoid silos, but innovation silos have proven to create environments that allow innovation to thrive because the enemies of innovation are often the “business as usual” elements.

Cross-pollinating skill sets, sharing responsibility and building capacity

Specialists are necessary in some cases, but specialisations often create siloes (not good siloes like the above-mentioned on innovation) and give people reasons to not take accountability.

Digital is a good example where we have created these siloes. Digital skills and tools are constantly and fastly evolving. In order to develop and execute multi-faceted and engaging campaigns in today’s landscape, digital skills should not be owned just by “the digital team working on digital channels”.

“The days when everything digital was handled by a “digital” team is long over.”

Everybody works in digital. In some way at least. The days when everything digital was handled by a “digital” team is long over. We have teams of Digital Campaigners, Communicators, Fundraisers, Mobilisers, Lead Generators, and many more creative names. There is no such thing as a non-Digital campaigner. However, why does so much of the digital knowledge still sit within incubated teams?

Specialised channel skills tend to live in a siloed environment and we need to be able to cross-pollinate these skills in order to learn new channel specifics. Documenting best practice and making these resources accessible to all staff needs to become normal procedure.

Instead of hiring more people, think — “can we train staff instead?”. Capacity building involves making teams more adaptive and responsive so that it can be more fluid and agile in today’s changing conditions. This can involve everything from training existing employees, to networking, to increasing technical capability, to adapting policies.

Establish cross-functional teams to collaborate and communicate about resources, as you’re looking across different projects or programs. After all, we are all working towards the same goal!

To summarise, if we want to stop relying on one or two channels we need to:

  1. Make space (and budget) for innovation.
  2. Rethink our metrics.
  3. Test, learn, iterate — scale fast!
  4. Make channel strategies for established channels and ensure that we take an “omni-channel” approach.
  5. Understand audiences well and put them at the heart of what we do.
  6. Be well informed about channels and trends and then adapt.
  7. Integrate, invest in training and cross-pollinate.

Channel diversification takes courage, collaboration, strategy, listening and empathy to succeed.

Are you doing some of these things already? Are you interested in putting some of these ideas into action? In theory, we know what we need to do, but it’s time to make this a reality. A Greenpeace task force is going to focus on capturing case studies over the next couple of months and support teams to plan pilots.

If you would like to share and collaborate with us on this, please reach out to me at mparker@greenpeace.org.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this work. Especially the project team: Elcio Figueiredo, Julia Marubayashi, Marica Fachin, and Pasquale Gentile.

--

--

Michael Parker

Engagement Support Manager at Greenpeace International. We provide support to Greenpeace offices and project teams to engage with their audiences.