How peer power trumped refugee apathy in Hong Kong

It has become widely said that people’s horizons have narrowed. That they are increasingly isolationist and inward looking. That the general public no longer cares about issues that seem too big, too far away, or too difficult to fix.

For the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the agency charged with tackling the global refugee crisis, such thinking presents a fundamental challenge. How can you make refugees relevant to people’s lives? How do you forge a connection that prompts them to back the cause and to give generously?

After years of ‘sad-vertising’, research and experience suggests many of us are increasingly immune to the sights and sounds of human suffering. One remedy is to leverage the power of peers. Edelman data shows that in almost every market, we trust a ‘person like ourselves’ more than any other type of spokesperson. The most trusted content creators for online or social media channels are our friends or family members.

With this in mind, UNHCR, in partnership with Edelman, decided to showcase the voices of everyday Hong Kongers. Together, we told their emotional stories: why they cared about the refugee issue and what they were personally doing to make a difference and inspire change. The stories challenged people’s perceptions. It helped Hong Kongers to realize that refugees needed their help - and most importantly, that they could create change themselves through simple acts.

As well as generating 35 pieces of earned media coverage, the campaign inspired 300,000 Hong Kongers to join the Facebook conversation and 2,000 people to sign an online petition calling on governments to do more. It achieved a fourfold return on media spend. But perhaps the campaign’s biggest legacy was a waterfall of donations, showing that when inspired in the right way, Hong Kongers remain as generous and open-minded as ever.

This article was contributed by Edelman.