In 2020, Covid-19 changed the lives of humans around the world in a profound way.
In April, as South Africa began coming to grips with the jarring reality of Covid-19 under the new national lockdown, fear, uncertainty and a sense of powerlessness set in.
Constitution Hill, as the custodian of much of South Africa’s turbulent past and a living testament to the power of a constitutional democracy in action, realised it was important to document this time.
Even though this living museum was closed to the public out of necessity, it could still fulfil a vital role: record and preserve the here and now, the reality of the Covid-19 present.
The restrictions around social distancing meant that the strategy had to be a digital one. And there was a distinct need to provide an outlet for South Africans to talk about how their lives had changed and to share their experiences of coping, so that South Africans on social media could learn from each other and take comfort in the fact that while lockdown meant withdrawing from other people, they were not alone.
Constitution Hill also wanted people to share their experiences in words and images, in order to effectively capture this tumultuous moment in history.
So, the #MyCovidStorySA project was born. The aim was to invite people from all walks of life to contribute their stories for preservation in a Covid-19 digital archive, in order to provide a snapshot of this time for the benefit of future generations.
We envisaged that these stories would be collected and curated into a physical exhibition at Constitution Hill, sometime in the future when a semblance of normality had returned.
But “Covid fatigue” was already setting in, and there was a lot of noise in the traditional and digital media about Covid-19. How to make the project stand out? What innovative and creative methods could be employed?
Enter Flow Communications, long-time friend and partner agency of Constitution Hill on several past campaigns. We offered our services totally pro bono to run an intensive, two-week social media campaign to drive submissions and awareness.
Instead of getting bogged down in dreary and predictable Covid-19 messaging, Flow came up with a creative 15-day challenge to spark interest: 15 days, 15 themes. These daily “themes” – some light-hearted, others more serious – were designed to elicit responses from the public on a wide range of lockdown-related issues.
To drive engagement on what was purely an organic campaign with zero budget, Flow called on some of the country’s top-tier influencers – also pro bono – to help spread the word about #MyCovidStorySA. They jumped at the chance.
As the #MyCovidStorySA campaign unfolded over the course of two weeks, we were thrilled to see the breadth and diversity of views and stories coming through. They ranged from accounts of people’s amusing lockdown cooking and fashion antics to more serious issues such as losing jobs and experiencing anxiety.
It soon became very clear: South Africans were navigating uncharted waters. But also, we saw that our country’s characteristic spirit of resilience was shining through undimmed.
We were bowled over by the enthusiasm, engagement and quality of the submissions generated during the campaign, far exceeding our expectations.
The reach of 3.8-million people and the 15.6-million impressions generated required much creativity and ingenuity – not to mention calling in favours from friends – to make the magic happen on a budget of zero.
The strategy employed to achieve these excellent results was simple and clear-cut:
- Produce visually interesting artwork (static and video) that does not trivialise the theme yet invites interest and engagement
- Come up with 15 daily “themes” to target social media users with whom some or all of those topics might resonate, in a friendly and personable tone
- Craft and post content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram around those daily themes
- Enlist prominent influencers to drive conversations and lend a personal, authentic touch to the campaign
- Undertake community management to thank people for their submissions
- Help to harvest comments on social media for the archive
- Drive people to also upload their stories and visuals on the Constitution Hill website
In executing this strategy, it was decided that the content in this campaign should be mainly user-generated in nature. Constitution Hill’s role as the custodian of these stories was chiefly to facilitate conversations, not dictate the rules of engagement.
For this reason, Flow adopted a bright, friendly and “non-Covid-y” approach when compiling and posting social media content.
Posts chiefly contained open-ended questions designed to generate spontaneous responses, such as “How will you remember this time?”, “What’s the view from your window?”, “Send us your lockdown selfie”, “What are you grateful for?”, “Share your lockdown dress style” and more.
We believe this set the tone for the great engagement and response that followed, driven chiefly by the team of game social media personalities who were routinely up early, tweeting animatedly about #MyCovidStorySA to their legions of followers.
The campaign reached 3.8-million people and generated 15.6-million impressions.
These numbers prove that the strategy bore fruit, with Twitter (as expected) being the “hero” platform for comments, likes, shares and mentions of #MyCovidStorySA. This strong Twitter push, driven primarily by the influencers, was supported by posts on Facebook and Instagram.
We were bowled over by the enthusiasm, engagement and quality of the submissions generated during the campaign. The reach and quantity of submissions was far beyond what we could have achieved without a dedicated creative campaign of this nature.
- Posts – 279
- Unique users – 134
- Engagement – 2 217
- Reach – 3.8-million
- Impressions – 15.6-million
The top contributors and influencers in the campaign included Ulrich Janse van Vuuren, Sindi van Zyl, Yusuf Abramjee, the City of Joburg, Visit Gauteng, Ashraf Garda and Pinky Khoabane, who each boast between 50 000 and one million followers on Twitter.
Plus, Flow’s very own in-house influencer, CEO Tara Turkington (25 000 Twitter followers), contributed invaluable insights to the #MyCovidSA conversation on a daily basis, sharing her family’s experiences of life under lockdown.
While we were thrilled with the incredible reach the campaign yielded – the main objective for us was to capture people’s stories, and we certainly did that.
Aside from all the photos, videos and comments that were shared on social media, which Constitution Hill will be housing in the digital archive, the campaign also yielded 21 new, unique entries on the website.
These included a lovely range of images, videos and long-form written entries (not ideally suited for social media) that will preserved alongside the shorter-form submissions received. These accounts are also being used on the Constitution Hill website as fresh, interesting and topical content, until they can be showcased physically in a future exhibition.
Besides, although it was not a primary objective of the campaign, Constitution Hill also enjoyed robust follower growth across all social media platforms, with a combined growth of about 250 new fans across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
We believe the #MyCovidStorySA campaign showed creativity in taking a difficult subject (one that could easily be perceived as a “downer” and off-putting) and nimbly creating a safe space for it in the digital public sphere, so much so that people felt it was okay to share their feelings and experiences under lockdown.
The success of #MyCovidStorySA showed that it is possible to achieve great results for a social awareness or social justice campaign on a shoestring budget – or none at all – given the right team, the right attitude and the right partnerships, plus a touch of creative thinking and an ubuntu mindset.