case studies, Facebook

USA for UNHCR: Using Social Media to Spread Blue Keys

0 Comments 13 June 2011

The UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) is the lead agency working to address the current international refugee crisis. As the only agency with the legal standing to negotiate with governments on behalf of refugees or displaced people, UNHCR defends refugees’ and stateless people’s rights to work, travel and attend school in another country or region. More than 6,000 UNHCR staffers worldwide strive to provide them with protection, food, shelter, education, and a path to a new life. However, contributions from the United Nations make up only about 3% of UNHCR’s funding. As the needs of refugees worldwide grow rapidly, UNHCR faces a funding gap which has to be closed. To address that gap, and spread awareness about UNHCR, the USA for UNHCR launched the Blue Key Campaign (#bluekey).

The Blue Key Campaign has been fascinating to me, as I’ve watched an agency that is relatively new to social media embrace and utilize social media to engage and spread awareness about the Blue Key campaign. The campaign has primarily utilized three social media engines: a blog, Twitter, and  an active Facebook page. A key strategy has been developing a core group of Blue Key Champions, who are supported primarily through a private Facebook group for Champions.

I am a Blue Key Champion because I strongly believe in the work of the UNHCR. You can order your Blue Key today for just $5, and make a world of difference. USA for UNHCR wants to distribute 6,000 keys by June 20, 2011, World Refugee Day.

I interviewed Lauren Melling, the Online Marketing Manager at USA for UNHCR about how USA for UNHCR has used social media for its Blue Key Campaign and what it has learned about using social media. The interview with Lauren is published below:

1. How is the Blue Key Campaign utilizing social media within the campaign platform?

Lauren Meling: The Blue Key Campaign is using social media as one of the main traffic sources for people to discover the Blue Key.

The campaign website and blog make use of Facebook and Twitter buttons for people to share the general information about our campaign.  We also use the LiveFyre plugin to integrate commenting activity with social media. For example, if you comment on a post in the blog, the previous commenters are notified through Twitter or Facebook depending on how you logged in. I personally have found this really useful in taking a conversation from the blog page into the social media sphere. It adds a whole new dimension of shareability, and more people are discovering the Blue Key as the conversation grows.

We also created a “Freebies” page on our blog, with some free downloads for Blue Keyholders to show their support online. We developed badges and banners for Blue Key Champions to add to their blogs to show off their involvement. We have Blue Key Twitter avatars and Facebook profile pics for anyone to show their support using their social media profile. As World Refugee Day approaches, we want to see all of our Blue Keyholders using these photos to raise awareness among their network of the ongoing refugee crisis. It’s all too easy to ignore it, so we are encouraging Blue Keyholders to come together to show support for refugees around the globe.

As we gain more champions and more Blue Keyholders, we will also be encouraging everyone to upload photos of themselves wearing their keys to our Facebook page, and uploading videos telling us why they support refugees to Facebook and YouTube. We are really curious to hear everyone’s stories – seems like everyone has a unique, personal way they got involved with our cause but we don’t get a chance to hear about it like this very much.

We are also encouraging people who join our community to be an advocate for refugees by helping spread the word – through Twitter, Facebook, or by sending an email to their friends. The campaign is about more than just ordering the key – it’s what you do with the key once you have it. How do you use it to let others know what it means?

2. How are social media (tools, platforms, campaigns) helping the Blue Key Campaign? What has been the most helpful channel thus far, and why?

Lauren Meling: Social Media has been helping the campaign by creating a means for champions and supporters to share our stories, and connect with the real people behind our organization. Facebook and Twitter have been the most helpful so far.

Social media has also been instrumental in connecting with and organizing our Blue Key Champions. It’s amazing that so many people from around the country have agreed to be a champion and we can communicate with them all instantaneously using Facebook and Twitter.

3. Where is the USA for UNHCR most active in social media?

Lauren Meling: USA for UNHCR is most active on Facebook and Twitter; however we do have a growing presence on YouTube and LinkedIn.

4. What has been most successful social media channel, or idea, or campaign that USA for UNHCR has tried, and why?

Lauren Meling: The most successful social media channel depends on how you look at success. In terms of acquiring new followers, we have experienced a lot of growth in Twitter over the past few months. In terms of interaction, we have received wonderful posts and stories directly from refugees and from supporters on our Facebook page. We also see more traffic coming from Facebook than from Twitter.

5. What are the USA for UNHCR social media goals?

Lauren Meling: Our goals are less focused on “Get X number of followers” or “Get X number of likes” and more focused on making the Blue Key a successful awareness-raising and branding initiative for our organization. We prefer to focus on quality interactions rather than gaining followers, especially because our area of focus is within the United States. We love getting feedback from people around the world, but one of USA for UNHCR’s main goals is to raise awareness about the UN Refugee Agency’s humanitarian work among Americans.

Our biggest challenge at the moment is that we are asking 6,000 Americans to get a Blue Key by June 20th (World Refugee Day) to show their support.

6. Have you learned anything about using social media from your experience with either the Blue Key Campaign or USA for UNHCR thus far?

Lauren Meling: One thing I learned was to keep a closer eye on YouTube! Even though it doesn’t have as much conversation as Facebook or Twitter, it can be really valuable. A video of ours was featured on the YouTube home page. The next thing I know, the video had over 350,000 views! It was very unexpected. One well-placed feature like that can make all the difference. Since then I’ve learned to be very careful with my descriptions, keywords, always add a Call to Action overlay just in case!

Lauren Meling is the Online Marketing Manager at USA for UNHCR. She supports the Blue Key because she thinks everyone deserves the right to a safe home. Lauren keeps her Blue Key on her purse so that it’s on display all the time! She also enjoys practicing capoeira and going to concerts.




Tomorrow (June 13) is the Blue Key all-day tweetathon 9am to 9pm ET. Follow the #bluekey hashtag, as well as @UNRefugeeAgency and @tkhf. Join the tweetchat from 1-2pm ET for a twitter interview with Roya Hosseini, wife of Blue Key campaign supporter, UNHCR Goodwill Envoy, and best-selling author Khaled Hosseini. Other upcoming events are listed here.

To support the Blue Key Campaign, consider tweeting this message:

Did you know that there are more than 43 million refugees worldwide? Your $5 #bluekey could open a new door for them.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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