Five lessons for a successful research communications campaign

Published on 5 June 2024

Roxana-Alina Vaduva

Communications Coordinator

Eve McKeown

Communications Assistant

Reaching and engaging your audience is more difficult than ever in today’s world of information overload. As communications specialists, we have to come to grips with constant and confusing changes to social media platforms. Therefore, making your messages stand out requires more than just presence and consistency.

These were the hurdles we faced as the research communications team for the IDS-led Countering Backlash programme, when we decided to plan a 4-week digital campaign for the launch of two significant outputs and several events as part of 68th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68)  all connected by the theme of gender financing.

This campaign raised the most engagement we’ve seen as a programme, both on social media and on our website. So how did we achieve this, how did we get the research to the right people, what were the significant strategic decisions we made, and would we do it again? Here are our 5 lessons to run a successful digital communications campaign based on what we found.

A graphic card with cartoon figures attending a protest, holding signs against gender injustice. In the background are flames.
A graphic card from the Countering Backlash campaign. Credit: Countering Backlash. Design: Mrinalini Godara.

1.  Create a strong and cohesive visual identity

As Countering Backlash is a programme that addresses gender backlash across seven countries, we often struggle with finding appropriate images for our communications. But recognising the importance of visual elements for engagement, we worked with a graphic designer from one of our focus countries on illustrations that would bring our research to life.

We began with a design brief centred on gender activism from real-world protests and collective movements. Illustrator Mrinalini Godara created powerful designs of people standing against gender backlash.

This illustration was used as the front cover for the Programme’s IDS Bulletin titled ‘Understanding Gender Backlash: Southern Perspectives’. However, what truly amplified our campaign’s impact was taking elements from the illustration to use on social media. Mrinalini extracted groups and individuals from the main illustration and provided them as standalone designs, which we used in all our social media posts. This approach created a cohesive campaign with a clear visual identity, unifying our content.

2.  Diversifying content

We also prioritised testing content types to maximise engagement. We used the standalone illustrations to create short text animations using Canva, to play into LinkedIn’s algorithm that sometimes favours videos, alongside standard graphic cards.

A big success were carousel posts on LinkedIn that we used to disseminate key messages in an engaging way. We included links in the comments, as the platform deprioritises posts with external links. After sharing a few carousels, we noticed that these posts had exceptionally high rates of engagement, so we focused on making more. By adapting our content based on what was overperforming, we achieved top engagement levels on the IDS LinkedIn account, making these posts some of the best-performing over the last year.

3.  Research your audience well, even if it takes time

One of the primary challenges we faced was making our message stand out during two major events in the gender space – International Women’s Day and CSW68. So, we allocated extra time to undertake extensive audience research to find those organisations and individuals with a particular interest in financing gender movements.

We used LinkedIn and X search functions to compile a live and evolving spreadsheet of the target audience, categorising them based on location, organisation, social media behaviour (how active they were) and thematic interest. This list was used to tag accounts in our posts.

Although this approach can be seen as ‘spammy’ by others, or even by the LinkedIn algorithm, we mitigated concerns by tagging individuals with intention. This deliberate strategy received positive feedback, with people commenting that they were grateful for being made aware of our campaign.

4.  Learn and adapt as you go

Throughout the campaign, we adapted our strategy in line with new developments. During the audience research, we discovered that UN Women UK had announced a series of ambassadors for CSW68, encouraging them to share their roles on LinkedIn using a branded template. We prioritised doing further research on these individuals and noting those with an interest or experience in combating gender backlash to tag in future posts.

We also utilised people that had already engaged with the campaign to maximise all engagement opportunities. The first event we held, the launch of the IDS Bulletin, was extremely well attended. In the registration form, people were asked to give their consent to be contacted by Countering Backlash after the event. We then conducted audience mapping on those who agreed, highlighting anyone who were relevant.

5.  Spend your comms time wisely

Having well-funded comms time on a project or programme is becoming rarer, so choosing when and how to spend those funds is a fine balancing act. As communications professionals, we often find ourselves juggling multiple roles, but this approach is not the most effective for campaign success.

For this campaign, we firstly identified the areas where extra investment would have the most impact during the planning stages: researching the target audience and creating engaging visual content. Our campaign was then split based on people’s skills. In our team of three, one senior colleague managed the overall strategic objectives and networked with potential funders and partners during CSW68. Another colleague handled the social media strategy and created various visual elements, while the third team member dedicated time to audience research, live posting, and monitoring engagements.

Achievements of our campaign

This approach, coupled with dedicating time to the most impactful areas, contributed to the overall success of our campaign. As a result of diligent audience mapping, key stakeholders such as UNICEF and UN Women staff shared our outputs and events online. The high-quality visual content captured real-time interaction and live posting boosted engagement, resulting in this campaign receiving double the impressions and over ten times the engagements compared to the last one.  The social media engagements then translated into website visits and meaningful engagement with our outputs, as 25% of users stayed on the website beyond the page they entered from (usually linked in a social media post).

Ultimately, this methodical and collaborative approach not only maximised our limited funds but also delivered a powerful, effective campaign.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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