Building One Of The Most Social Nonprofits Ever: 5 Questions With (RED)’s Chief Digital Officer
Chrysi Philalithes talks about how her brand was the first nonprofit to win over one million followers on Facebook and Twitter.
How does a nonprofit with a team of less than 20 get Hollywood’s biggest celebrities to tweet for it?
(RED) Chief Digital Officer Chrysi Philalithes succinctly sums up her organization’s digital mantra in 140 characters: “Participation not promotion. Dialogue not monologue. Leading not following. Empowering not excluding. Inspiring not forcing.”
According to Philalithes, (RED)’s brand partners have a combined 185 million likes – a social reach that has helped (RED) become the first nonprofit to win over one million followers on both Facebook and Twitter.
Having U2 frontman Bono as your founder also helps. He and Bobby Shriver started (RED) in 2006 to help battle the spread of AIDS. Since its inception, the nonprofit has leveraged key partnerships with well-known brands to build awareness and raise more than $300 million for its cause.
“We’re a small, entrepreneurial team. There are just 17 of us,” says Philalithes, “It’s through the resources and talents of our partners that we’ve been able to reach their audiences which are in the millions.”
(RED)’s digital leader was kind enough to answer our five most pressing questions about leading the social strategy for one of the world’s most recognized nonprofit brands.
5 Questions with (RED) Chief Digital Officer
Amy Gesenhues: Please give me an overview of your organization and your role within (RED).
Chrysi Philalithes: (RED) was founded in 2006 by Bono and Bobby Shriver to engage iconic brands in the fight against AIDS. We partner with a select group of brands – including Apple, Starbucks and Coca-Cola – which contribute to the AIDS fight every time you buy a (RED) product or take a (RED) action.
To date we’ve raised $300 million with 100% going to AIDS programs – we take no overhead. All (RED) monies go to the Global Fund to fight AIDS. Global Fund grants that (RED) supports have impacted more than 55 million people with HIV prevention, treatment, counseling, HIV testing and care services.
Our focus is on ending the transmission of HIV from moms to their babies. Every day, 650 babies are born with HIV. They don’t need to be. With access to medicine that costs 40 cents a day we can get that number close to zero. When we do, we will deliver the first AIDS FREE GENERATION in over 30 years.
I’m lucky enough to be (RED)’s first Chief Digital Officer and I’ve been with (RED) since 2009.
Amy Gesenhues: Tell me more about (RED)’s social media strategy and where you see the biggest engagement with your brand.
Chrysi Philalithes: Using social media for social good is a corner-stone to our digital strategy. We’re the first nonprofit to have reached over one million on both Facebook and Twitter, and today we have a digital army of five million across a wide number of channels.
Our biggest channels are Facebook with nearly three million, and Twitter with over one million. In fact Apps for (RED) drove one million new Facebook likes for us in the first two days!
Instagram is also an important and growing platform for us – we’re a visual brand and the creativity of Instagram is perfect for us to show and tell the Facebook story.
As is YouTube who we have a very strong partnership with – for the last four years we’ve worked with them to live-stream our World AIDS Day moments.
We’re always looking to reach people in innovative and new ways and we are quick to assess if a channel is right for us. Last year, we launched on Snapchat. We were early adopters on Vine, and set the first Vine world record.
We’re also across LinkedIn and Tumblr, which is our home for things that inspire our audience – we call it INSPI(RED).
We’ll also soon be launching on Super, which we are huge fans of. It’s so much fun.
Amy Gesenhues: How many brand partners do you have and how do you manage those relationships?
Chrysi Philalithes: We have around 25 (PRODUCT)RED brand partners, and two key types of partners. Proud Partners who, in alphabetical order, are Apple, Bank of America, Beats by Dr. Dre, Belvedere, Coca-Cola, Claro, Galaxy Chocolate, Live Nation Entertainment, SAP and Starbucks.
Our Special Edition partners include Jack Dorsey’s company Square, Mophie, Kid Robot and Girl Skateboard.
It’s important to have an open dialogue and a stream-lined process. It’s about collaboration, so we work closely with our partners on social campaigns and messaging.
Amy Gesenhues: What about relationships with celebrities?
Chrysi Philalithes: Bono and Bobby Shriver are (RED)’s founders, and we are very lucky to have the support of artists and influencers who use their voice to help tell the (RED) story.
Christy Turlington Burns and Scarlett Johansson have visited Africa to see (RED) monies put to work on the ground. Some of the biggest names in music have contributed their time and talent for (RED) including U2, The Killers, Kanye West, Coldplay, Tiesto and One Republic to name just a few.
Many of the world’s greatest chefs like Mario Batali, April Bloomfield, and so many culinary figures turned their restaurants and food trucks (RED) in June 2014 for EAT (RED) DRINK (RED) SAVE LIVES.
Kim Kardashian and Ellen DeGeneres’ apps were part of Apps for (RED) in support of World AIDS Day.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) December 5, 2014
Amy Gesenhues: How do your partnerships impact your overall digital marketing efforts?
Chrysi Philalithes: When our founders set up (RED) they asked the most creative people in the world to join (RED) and work for the world’s poorest.
We work with some of most creative marketers, and together have created some digital first campaigns such as Apps for (RED) with Apple, turning Twitter (RED) – literally! – with Nike, and at setting the record for the most amount of money raised through Foursquare check-ins with Starbucks.
We have campaigns we originate with partners, and then there are campaigns we originate that all partners participate in.
And, of course, digital and social is 365 24/7 so there’s a lot of content we create for everyone to share – in particular, stories from people living with HIV/AIDS and the impact your (RED) actions have on driving real results.
Photo via Chrysi Philalithes’ LinkedIn profile.