Why we think it’s important to use local experts

Photo: Isak Amin/ dTERRA/ Arete

As we sit here, late in October 2020, the status quo remains the same; COVID-19 remains a threat to people across the globe and NGOs continue to do their best to mobilise and support those who have been most affected by the pandemic. Yet, this public health emergency to many is just one more issue they have to deal with; on top of insecurity, natural disasters, poverty and already overloaded health systems. Humanitarian aid has never been needed more.

With people both working and schooling from home, there is an ever-increasing appetite for innovative online content that NGOs are keen to fill. They are also seeing a rise in the need for an increase in marketing to garner support — as much of their traditional fundraising channels, like charity shops, have dried up.

Photo: Sami Alhaw/ Oxfam/ PA

So how can NGOs respond to this increased requirement for content in an ethical and environmentally friendly way, while remaining mindful of the new status-quo? And how can they leverage strong content to help maintain funding levels?

Local talent is the key

It is encouraging to see NGO’s such as Comic Relief moving away from only using foreign consultants They have announced they will no longer be sending celebrities to Africa after criticism that such celebrities were being framed as “white saviours” (which we wrote about in 2018) and will also use local film-makers who have a “more authentic perspective” for its fundraising films.

Photo: Comic Relief

We have been working with locally-based photographers, writers and videographers from across the world for over 15 years. Local talent is abundant — but finding these professionals isn’t always straightforward.

These are some of the reasons why we champion local talent:

An unrivalled understanding of language and culture

Photo: Saiyna Bashir/ World Food ProgrammeArete

Photographers and videographers born and raised in the country or region of the project possess an innate understanding of the local language and culture. This can be particularly beneficial for communication between the various stakeholders in the project, as well as gathering first-hand accounts directly from the beneficiaries. This, in turn, can lead to the gathering of more authentic and nuanced content — that is more sensitive to the local context.

Many of our consultants also work within local media either as journalists or content-providers. This often gives rise to the opportunity for the story being used by local media — bringing additional exposure to the agency who has commissioned the work.

A recent example of this was a project we were hired to undertake for the World Food Programme in Pakistan. We worked with local photojournalist Saiyna Bashir to gather the story of how the WFP is supporting people in the rural Sindh with life-saving supplies. This resulted in local coverage in the DAWN and people from Pakistan contacted the WFP offering donations and support. The local awareness the story raised about the work of the WFP was hugely beneficial on many levels.

Photo: Saiyna Bashir/ World Food Programme/ Arete

Providing jobs and building skills

In many countries where NGOs and UN agencies operate, regular employment can be in short supply. Hiring local experts and collaborating with them on individual projects means they are able to develop their skillsets to align with the standards of global foundations, thus acquiring more prestigious resumes. By investing in the local economy, our projects are also able to support local families. This collaborative approach also demonstrates respect for local people, rather than framing the situation as a disconnected and stereotypical helper/beneficiary dynamic.

It’s better for the environment

Whether we work as freelancers or for an organisation we must all do our part to contribute towards a cleaner and healthier planet. Being able to limit one’s carbon footprint is a key concern and one NGOs must take very seriously from both a PR and environmental perspective. Local teams travel much shorter distances, and often don’t have to fly at all to get to the necessary location. The benefit to the environment is clear.

Covid-19 restrictions

With COVID 19 numbers still raging, travel restrictions and quarantine regulations are making things harder than ever before. Consequently, travel, once a simple matter of getting from A to B, has become inherently more complicated and more costly with a sharp rise in flight and health insurance costs. Local experts remove this problem and the time, and money, that would be needed to solve it.

Hear from some of our local experts:

Ismail Taxta — Somalia, Africa

Ismail is a Somali photojournalist, and we have been working with him since 2015. Ismail has worked on projects for the WHO, WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF, DEC and more.

“I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and from a very young age, I have enjoyed reflecting on human life by making art and creating images. I started to pursue journalism from the age of 10, writing my own local weekly newspaper, the Yoobsan Press, which I wrote with a ballpoint pen. I got my first experience of working with international organisations at the age of 25 when I started working as a stringer for Reuters in 2007. I take pride in covering important local issues such as the civil war in Somalia, the 2011 drought the 2018 flooding.

In 2015 I started working with Arete, and over time I have developed my photography, editing, writing, illustrating, and storytelling skills. I have worked on some amazing projects, and my work has been featured in the international press as a result — most recently in The Guardian.”

Annie Mpalume — Zimbabwe, Africa

Annie worked with us on a project for UNICEF in her local Zimbabwe to document the experiences of breastfeeding mothers, the challenges they face and the support they receive from their families and communities.

“I initially studied photojournalism and documentary photography at the prestigious Market Photo Workshop in South Africa, Johannesburg, as my country did not have a learning centre that offered the skillset I wanted to acquire.

After my studies, I chose to return home to launch my career because at the time, the political and social situation was at its peak in Zimbabwe, and I felt it was my story to tell. “”

With Arete, I received a surprise call one day and was asked to work with UNICEF Zimbabwe on a project about breastfeeding mothers. At the time, I thought to myself, the project speaks to me and was God sent since I was also breastfeeding my baby. I learned a lot from this project, and it resulted in my first feature in the international media, with my photos used by Al Jazeera.”

React quickly and efficiently with Arete

Photo: Karel Prinsloo/ DECArete

Our worldwide network of local experts allows us to react quickly and efficiently when content is urgently required, or there are time-limitations in play. The need for permits, visas, and translators can add weeks on to the lead-time of projects, increasing the cost substantially. The Arete network of media experts provides a viable alternative.

At Arete, we manage every stage of the content gathering process from sourcing local talent through to post-production and oversight. Our in-house team has over 30 years of experience creating stories and sourcing content for the world’s most renowned news, media, and non-governmental organisations and by combining this experience with local expertise, we can deliver stories that truly make a difference.

Our award-winning journalists and content specialists are eager to help you make a difference. Contact us to find out how we can tailor our expertise to meet your needs.

Why we think it’s important to use local experts was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Are you picking the right social media platforms to share your content?

A cover photo from an Arete blog by Eden Sparke on Exposure.co

The goal of social media is to connect people, to act as the conduit through which billions of messages, images, and videos flow. But although social media platforms have a shared goal, in many cases they don’t have a shared audience.

For any business or organisation, social media marketing cannot be ignored. 97% of digital consumers have used social media in the past month and 50% of the global population uses social media; that’s 3.8 billion people — with this number increasing year on year (Digital 2020).

When social media was still a fledgeling concept it was typical for people to be active with all, or most of the platforms on offer. Now with so many different platforms available, people pick and choose which social media channels they want to engage with.

This choice is based on a variety of factors, in some cases, there is an element of brand loyalty, or a feeling of personal investment, for others it will come down to how that particular social media platform is designed: is the interface easy to use? Is the type of content that is on display what they want to see? Do they like the way it is presented? Or is this where they will find subjects they are interested in and want to explore?

Knowing your audience

Understanding which platforms attract what type of people is key to carrying out any form of social media marketing. This understanding will inform decisions on which social media platforms to focus attention and how to present content.

As a brand, an exercise to identify the demographic of the target audience will already have been undertaken — but on which social media platforms can this audience be found?

Popularity is a good place to start

Although the amount of active global users a platform has isn’t the only metric that should be taken into account when building a social media marketing strategy, it is a great place to begin.

The world’s most-used social media platforms January 2020 (Digital, 2020)

Globally, Facebook and Facebook Messenger remain the most used social media platform, followed by YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram. For example, as of January 2020, Facebook had over 2.1 billion more active users than Twitter.

Picking platforms based on the target audience

At Arete, we work primarily with global brands, who are looking to target global audiences. Whereas it can be inferred from the popularity metric that platforms like Facebook cannot be ignored, this doesn’t necessarily mean Twitter should be ignored either even though it is less widely used. Ultimately, this is why it is important to tailor a social media strategy and content that targets a specific audience.

FAO in Somalia Twitter page

Although it is useful to know the typical demographic of the users for each social media platform, it is also important to find out how effective each platform is on a country-by-country basis. For NGO’s and the charity sector, this can be a very useful tool for social media advocacy campaigns in particular regions; as well as allowing organisations to know how to develop different content for different countries


Instagram certainly ticks the popularity box. It is the 5th most popular social media application in the world, with more than 1 billion active monthly users, with the average person spending 6 minutes and 35 seconds on Instagram every day.

It is also a tried and tested platform for business, with 92% of all Instagram users saying they have followed a brand, clicked on their website, or purchased something after seeing a product, or service, on the platform. This seamless integration of purchasing options can be very beneficial for NGOs looking to fundraise, either by selling merchandise through an Instagram shop or by adding a donation button to their profile.

Age International Instagram Profile with ‘donate’ button enabled

In terms of demographics, Instagram has a balanced range of people, based on gender and age, and a useful global reach; touching, on average, 15% of the world’s population.

From a content perspective, it remains the best place to share visual content such as photographs, graphics, and video. If the content is eye-catching, then Instagram is the place to be.


Facebook, as we know, is the most used of all the social media platforms worldwide. Similarly to Instagram, it is used by a diverse range of people and boasts the presence of over 140 million businesses on its platform.

Furthermore, as Instagram is owned by Facebook, both platforms have been designed to work well together — allowing social media managers to crosspost content across both platforms in the click of a button, and displaying any paid-ads on both of the platforms at no extra cost.

Having a presence on Facebook has become non-negotiable for all consumer-facing businesses now, with 64% of people saying they would rather use Facebook to message a business rather than call or email. Particularly for charities and NGOs that are looking to target the younger generations, it is imperative to have a strong presence on Facebook for both outbound and inbound marketing.

Content on Facebook is geared more towards visuals such as photograph and video, but it also has a more extensive character limit per post, allowing for longer, story-type posts that can be more engaging and appeal to people on a deeper level than a typical tweet.

Globally, Facebook reaches an amazing 95% of people in the United Arab Emirates on one end of the scale and 7% of people in Russia — which is still 10.1 million people! On average, Facebook will reach 32% of the world’s population.


LinkedIn is one of the more specialised social media platforms, with the aim of being a digital network for professionals. This has an effect on the type of content people post and engage with on LinkedIn and, as a result, how necessary organisations feel it is to have a presence.

DEC Linkedin Company Page

With 675 million monthly users worldwide, it pales in comparison to the likes of Instagram and Facebook; however, this 675 million people represents a specialised audience of ‘business people’. Consequently, 97% of B2B (business to business) marketers use LinkedIn for content marketing.

Interestingly, the largest percentile of people on LinkedIn are 25–34 years old and male.

Although, these demographics are less useful to businesses looking to market on LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows organisations to target audiences on indicators such as job titles, job experience, and organisations worked for, rather than simply age, gender, and interests.


Snapchat has become a go-to platform for many brands looking to reach the youngest members of society, particularly in the 13–20-year-old bracket. This makes Snapchat an interesting element for charities and NGOs as it is a proven way to reach millennials, generation z, and generation x users.

According to research, Millennials as a group are socially aware and willing to donate to causes they care about. Furthermore, 72% of Gen Z users on Snapchat are not reachable by TV Adverts.

The quality of engagement organisations and brands can drive on Snapchat is also thought to be much higher than apps such as Instagram, with an average Snapchat user spending 30 minutes on Snapchat every day (compared to just over 6 minutes on Instagram).

Due to Snapchat having a much smaller global audience than apps such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, a high potential reach rate doesn’t extend to many countries around the world. This means it can work well as a part of a geographically targeted strategy but perhaps not as well in a Global targeting strategy with an average 6% reach rate worldwide.

Greenpeace USA uses Snapchat to promote climate change awareness to the young audiences in America sharing quick and easy to digest content around helpful tips on how to build greener habits.

Don’t ignore smaller but more specialised platforms

Medium.com homepage

Online platforms such as Medium.com and Exposure.co aren’t large enough to make it on to a list of the Top 15 most used social media platforms worldwide; however, this doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time and investment.

In fact, if you have fantastic imagery to share, and you have stories to tell, then both Medium and Exposure are places that should be highly regarded in your content marketing strategy. Not only do these platforms have their own, sometimes exclusive, audiences, both also have great synergy with the more popular social media platforms — creating eye-catching previews simply by entering the URL link.

UN Human Rights Medium Page

The United Nations Agency, UN Human Rights, actively uses Medium to post interviews and opinion driving conversation and awareness around topics that will garner support. These 4–5 minute reads are designed to be easily digested by their target audience, whilst still being able to cover enough ground to present a detailed and nuanced discussion.

Medium is the largest blog sharing platform on the world wide web, sharing your stories here will open up the opportunity of your story being discovered by someone entirely new who might not frequent any of the Top 15 social media platforms. Furthermore, as it is a blog sharing platform, you can tell your stories in far more detail than a simple social media post.

Exposure.co publications page

Exposure.co champions photo-led stories and curates all the content on the platform into different categories, which helps channel interested audiences. The ‘Causes’ section is filled with stories from various NGOs including the WWF, UNDP, and Oxfam.

An email Exposure.co will send if your article is featured

Both Exposure and Medium also have content curators who will decide which blog posts feature on the front page of a category. One of our From the Photographer blogs was recently featured in the Photography publication.

Exposure is younger than Medium and has been created in much the same way, with stories at the heart of the user experience. The key difference between Exposure and Medium is the way the stories are presented. On Exposure, far more emphasis is placed on the imagery, allowing for full-page photographs, eye-catching arrangements, and more. Exposure also has a large number of charities and NGOs on its platform; this attracts a certain audience, which you most likely want to get your stories in front of too.

Tailor the content to the platform and the audience

It is a waste of time trying to share in-depth stories on Twitter, or essays of text on Exposure. These platforms aren’t designed for this type of content and the audiences that frequent them won't enjoy it.

NGOs and charities that have successful digital marketing strategies, will carefully consider where to post the video update of the latest project, whether to use photos, text, emojis or links to promote the latest appeal, and the type of language that should be used to raise awareness for strategic partnerships.

The subject of the content will be consistent across all platforms, and this is key raising maximum awareness of the issue; however, the medium in which that content is delivered should always be tailored to the platform and the audience that typically resides there.

So which platform should we be using?

Ultimately, it will come down to who the target audience is. For example, global organisations with an international audience will likely be running different marketing campaigns targeted at a variety of audiences from around the world. These campaigns will be in different languages and take into account subtle differences in culture and syntax. The quality of the content and size of the budget allocated for advertising on social media will also influence the success of the campaign.

The best starting point with any foray into digital marketing is to ensure the carefully curated content is getting in front of the right people.

Taking the time to research and understand each target audience and then comparing these demographics with the data on the different social media platforms will ensure more targeted and efficient campaigns that ultimately pay dividends in achieving campaign goals.

At Arete, working with many NGOs and UN agencies, our team have acquired years of experience in the use of data to inform social media marketing, creatively present the outcomes of fundraising campaigns, design data collation frameworks, and more. How could our data-led approach help you?

Are you picking the right social media platforms to share your content? was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.