Seizing the day without falling off the bandwagon

Whether you're marking World Toilet Day or World Philosophy Day, IIED's web content manager has a list of dos and don'ts to help get your message across.

Matt Wright's picture
Insight by 
Matt Wright
Matt Wright is IIED's web planning and content manager
19 November 2015
International days are used to promote awareness and action on important topics. But how does IIED engage with them? (Image: IIED)

International days are used to promote awareness and action on important topics. But how does IIED engage with them? (Image: IIED)

On 19 November, organisations and individuals across the globe will be seeking to highlight issues related to 'toilets and the link between sanitation and nutrition', the theme for the 2015 World Toilet Day

But that's only if they're not putting their efforts into World Philosophy Day, which is also recognised by the United Nations on 19 November, or other days such as Citizen's Day, or even International Men's Day, which combine to result in a busy 24 hours.

At present, the UN observes no fewer than 127 different 'international days' per year, and new ones are being added all the time. 

Occasions range from International Youth Day to International Day of Older Persons (the latter aptly coming later in the year), but what is their point? How can they best be harnessed by organisations? And what have we learned from our experiences?

Seizing the opportunity

International days, or "observances" in UN-speak, are intended to promote awareness and action on important topics. At IIED, we treat these days as opportunities to highlight our work and engage with like-minded organisations that are working towards the same ends. 

We primarily use our digital channels, such as social media and our website, to profile relevant resources and bring them to new audiences, and have had significant success with relatively little effort.

Last month's World Cities Day (31 October) for example, which had a theme of "living together", provided an opportunity to highlight our work on sanitation and inclusive urbanisation.

We launched a photo gallery on the day showing how we were working with partners to document and highlight the often neglected circumstances in low-income urban communities.

We highlighted our Urban Matters blog, which focuses on inclusive cities, promoted the 254 cities-related publications that are free to download from our online library, pointed people towards a job vacancy as head of our Human Settlements Group (posted the previous day), drew attention to a data visualisation that illustrates the scale and speed of global urban transformation, and profiled a video discussing the role of informal food vendors: urban food security's invisible experts.

The variety was deliberate. We wanted to use a range of tools to get our messages across to different audiences interested in cities and, while some content was duplicated to target different time zones during the day-long event, we were also keen to avoid repeating ourselves. We also tried to use an image with each social media update for maximum visual impact.

Follow World Cities Day as it happened: all of our Twitter updates were collected in a story via Storify. Click on the images to expand them.

An excerpt from IIED's social media activity on World Cities Day, compiled on Storify (Image: IIED)

An excerpt from IIED's social media activity on World Cities Day, compiled on Storify (Image: IIED)

What difference did it make?

Did it work? On a superficial level, over the space of 24 hours our Twitter followers grew by twice our average daily rate and we saw more than three times our average number of retweets, reaching a 300 per cent bigger audience than usual. Almost four times our average number of people followed web links.

On, our key related pages recorded significant increases in traffic, and a number of publications we promoted had a spike in downloads but, more importantly, our engagement rate – the number of people who replied to and shared our messages – was twice as high as on average. 

This engagement is vital for IIED because we work in collaboration with other partners. We must be an organisation that listens and learns, and builds relationships, as well as one that merely broadcasts its research.

Based on our experiences, I’ve compiled some dos and don'ts when trying to make the most of international days:


  • Try to produce a new piece of relevant content where possible. This gives you something to 'launch' and make some noise around, which can be used as a foundation for further content
  • Repackage existing resources to help them reach a new audience – conduct a quick audit of your content. Is it relevant to the theme? Is it still in date? Would it be better in another format (can you easily convert a publication into a presentation or a short video)?
  • Make sure any related material is connected to the new content and is prominent on your website – make sure related links are relevant and prominent, and rearrange your homepage content to focus on the issue at hand for instant impact
  • Make content explaining who you are and your aims prominent – you will hopefully be attracting new audiences, so make it easy for them to find out more about you or your organisation
  • Plan which days you intend to target well in advance – the dates for 2016's international days are all already available
  • Research the correct hashtags on social media – make sure you use the right one (Is it World #CitiesDay or #WorldCities Day?)
  • Use scheduling tools to prepare content, particularly on social media – often, the annual days take place at weekends, so unless you want to spend time working on a weekend, use tools such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule updates. Also, remember to stagger updates to target different time zones
  • Engage with people – it’s not enough to broadcast to your audience. Take the time to engage with those who respond and build relationships, and
  • Cross-promote your efforts – if you are mainly using Twitter to get your message across, use all your other channels (Facebook, LinkedIn etc) to highlight what you’re doing and where it can be found.


  • Highlight content that is not relevant – little looks worse than an organisation trying to hijack a popular issue or theme to promote a tenuous or unrelated message
  • Don't promote content just for the sake of it – make sure you have a good reason and beware message fatigue
  • Don't spread yourself too thinly. Focus on days that mean something to you – IIED's huge remit means rarely a week goes by without a day relevant to us in some way, but concentrate on where you can have the most impact, and where you can best reach your audience, and
  • Don't get caught out by events – circumstances can quickly change so make sure you are available to react to any global events, such as a disaster, that might change the context of how your content appears.

Matt Wright ([email protected]) is IIED's web planning and content manager.