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Reflections on Day of the Girl From a Regional Social Media Editor

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You know that feeling on Christmas Eve, when every moment seems to take a lifetime and you can't think about anything else, no matter how hard you try? Then Christmas Day comes and it's over in a heartbeat and you wonder where it went. Well, that's kind of how the first ever International Day of the Girl on October 11 was like for us here at Plan International.

It was a long, winding journey to get there, full of highs and lows, with no shortage of surprises along the way. The anticipation was immense, but here we are, with Day of the Girl done with for this year and Because I am a Girl (BIAAG), our global campaign for girls' education, officially launched and ready to roll.

What really struck me about Day of the Girl, a day we campaigned for to be an official UN observance, was how Plan's staff around the world, all 8,000-plus of them, were able to pull together, get our message out there that girls deserve an education and get people involved in spreading the word.

That final point, about getting people involved, was the most important aspect for me as Plan Asia's web and social media editor. For too long we've been an organisation that simply broadcasts our messages without engaging with people. October 11 gave us a chance to change all that and to really make use of all these social media tools we have at our fingertips.

How does a regional office fit in with a global campaign?

As a regional office, it can be tricky trying to use social media to gain traction, especially when we're doing it at the same time as our global HQ with many of the same messages. We want to feed into what's going on at the global level, but at the same time, we want to take every opportunity to put Plan Asia on the map as a regional entity, one that's regarded as a key player on issues like child marriage, girls' education, early childhood development and disaster preparedness. There were a few things that we tried out on Day of the Girl to make our voice heard. Some worked better than others and as we've become accustomed to with social media, it was all one big learning experience.

Once Day of the Girl was made official last December we then had a date for the launch of our five-year Because I am a Girl campaign. The lead up to Day of the Girl being made official gave us our first opportunity to start raising awareness of key issues affecting girls around the world. Once the day was announced by the UN, we began sowing the seeds, using our main hashtags, #DayoftheGirl and #bcimagirl, to make noise about girls' education. There were a few key messages:

  • A third of girls around the world don't get a secondary education.
  • 75 million girls are currently out of school.
  • One in three girls is married before 18 years old.
  • An extra year of schooling can increase a girl's income by up to 25%.
  • Prioritising girls' education causes a ripple effect that is felt throughout society.
  • Through Because I am a Girl, Plan's work is expected to directly benefit 4 million girls.

Through a variety of mediums - photographs, infographics, videos, stories and so on - we set to work getting our key messages out there using our social media channels, bringing people into the conversation by starting discussions, sometimes fun, sometimes serious, always on the theme of girls' education, or thereabouts. Our primary channels for this were Facebook and Twitter.

Raise Your Hand for girls

A lot of campaigns feature some kind of petition as a way of indicating support for an issue. It's difficult to say how effective these petitions really are in the long run. For Because I am a Girl, we tried something slightly different, making "Raise Your Hand" our call to action. The idea is that we'll get 4 million hands raised between now and the end of the campaign to symbolise the 4 million girls our work will directly benefit.

We gathered raised hands two ways: Firstly, we took pictures of people raising their hands. Our offices around the world, including the Asia Regional Office, took every opportunity to get the pictures, snapping away in classrooms, on the street, at conferences and meetings, in offices, and at home. Plan Norway managed to get 150,000 hands raised on Instagram by partnering with bloggers and an online fashion store. Plan Bangladesh worked with local partner organisations to get pictures of more than 200,000 people with their hands raised. In some countries, Thailand for example, people sent in their own photos. All of the photos we collected now live on the Plan Girls FlickR page.

The second way people could raise their hands was to do it virtually through a Facebook app that was designed at our global HQ and then rolled out for every office to install and use. The app had information about Because I am a Girl and Day of the Girl and could be shared between friends. All in all, we got just shy of half a million raised hands, through photos and the app. Not too shabby.

"Raise Your Hand for girls' education" was our key call to action. People reacted positively to Raise Your Hand, a simple gesture synonymous with school, and one that most people take for granted. We raised our hands to get attention as children and so this really symbolised the girls who go without an education because their rights and voices are ignored.

It's through these raised hands that we will show Ban Ki-moon, who recently unveiled his Education First initiative, and world leaders that people around the world believe girls deserve an education and that this is an issue that needs prioritising, particularly as we draw ever-nearer to 2015 and the end of the Millennium Development Goals.

Looking for ways to get people involved

As Day of the Girl drew nearer, we looked for new ways to get people involved. Thunderclap proved a useful tool, allowing us to reach 108,801 people by social media users donating a Tweet and/or Facebook status update about #bcimagirl, complete with a link to our new web page.

Likewise, we used a Twibbon campaign, which we upgraded to a pro campaign and paid for to be featured. This way, when people added the Raise Your Hand logo to their Facebook and Twitter avatars, they automatically became our fans and followers and sent out a message about what the Twibbon meant.

We also tried out a relatively new video social network, Tout. On Tout, users posts 15-second videos about anything on their minds. For the Plan Asia account, I got staff from around the region to Tout about why they were looking forward to Day of the Girl and the BIAAG launch in their country. This was a great way of getting staff involved in promoting their work and their country. The videos were then shared on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. Later on, we also got students and other people we work with to Tout.

On Day of the Girl itself, it was more of the same, calling people to action, spreading the word about what we were doing, and sharing content between national, regional and global social media accounts to get as much attention as possible. Our engagement levels shot up and people were being driven to the new Because I am a Girl web page as well our brand new, hot-off-the-press Because I am a Girl report.

So that, in a nutshell, is what Plan Asia did as part of Plan International's Because I am a Girl campaign launch on the first ever International Day of the Girl. Did everything go perfectly? Heck no! We still suffer from a lack of social media reach at the regional level, but we're making small waves, and over time, those waves will get bigger.

Now we just have to deal with the post-Christmas hangover!

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