Using social media to raise revenue

In this guide we will focus on how social media can be used to generate revenue for a community radio station. Of course the better your station is at using social media, the more likely it will be that your audience will respond positively to pledge drives and fundraising events and that you will attract advertisers, so please refer to other guides in this series for advice and tips on how to use social media more effectively and grow your online profiles.

There are two main opportunities for using social media to generate income:

INDIRECTLY – if you have popular social media accounts, which have lots of interaction with your community, then businesses and other organisations are more likely to want to advertise with you

DIRECTLY – you can use social media as a channel through which you can directly fundraise and sell physical products.

Using social media to attract advertisers and commercial partnerships

An example of generating income indirectly is London-based community radio station Reprezent – which has one of the highest turnovers of community stations in the UK. The station is active on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and has committed and loyal listeners. One of their shows, which airs on a Saturday night, is so popular that it regularly becomes a ‘trending topic’ on twitter across the UK during the time it’s on. Station director Shane Carey explained how social media has helped them to grow their revenue, “At one point, some years ago, we were about 85% reliant on local authority funding, but once the funding cuts came into play we had to look to other sources”. Reprezent’s income now comes from a range of different places – including grants from Children in Need and the National Lottery but also from advertisers, partners and other funders who have been attracted in part by the profile that the station’s success on social media has given them. This good social media presence also helped with the success of a crowdfunding campaign in 2015 which raised over £25,000.

Brands, businesses and public sector organisations are often keen to work with Reprezent since the station can help them to reach a niche audience, which in their case is people under the age of 25. Recently the station worked with a health organisation on a campaign relating to mental health, in which presenters talked about the topic online and listeners were encouraged to get involved via twitter using the hashtag #isitjustme. In addition, Shane is clear that their social media has other indirect revenue benefits, “When we’re selling broadcast advertising packages, our online reach and profile definitely helps in the selling process” he said.

Although Reprezent’s listeners are largely a younger audience, the same principle applies to any demographic. Your station’s good social media profile demonstrates to other organisations that you are engaged with the community – and that advertising on your station will enable them to reach a specific audience, or that partnering with you will help them achieve social outcomes.

Redshift Radio in Cheshire uses social media to raise advertising revenue more directly, by including social media profile for a business as part of an advertising package. Businesses are encouraged to become a part of their ‘Hub’, which for a monthly fee, brings with it a number of benefits including social media mentions via the Redshift Twitter and Facebook accounts. Liz Southall, station manager, explains that social media is used as a carrot for advertisers, “We always present ourselves as the whole package, not just radio, but also the other channels we use that give advertisers additional reach”.

Liz is clear to advise other radio stations that for this approach to work you do need to think holistically about what businesses are likely to want. Social media visibility is an important part of the package but Redshift also connect their members in person, hosting monthly networking events where Hub members are encouraged to connect with each other.

Tips from Reprezent & Redshift

  • Think about what benefits your social media activity provides to advertisers, e.g. access to either a niche or wider audience.
  • Think creatively about how you can work with organisations to help them promote a particular campaign, e.g. Reprezent’s mental health campaign, which used Twitter as a way to get feedback on young people’s thoughts on depression and other mental illnesses.
  • Encourage advertisers to interact with your social media accounts in order to start conversations with potential customers or partners.
  • Be authentic and transparent to your social audience about any content that is paid for or otherwise sponsored.

Using social media to fundraise

Many community radio stations periodically run pledge drives or fundraising campaigns to raise money directly from their listeners and supporters. Social media can help to ensure the success of these campaigns.

In 2015, Manchester community station ALLFM held a fundraiser to celebrate their 15th birthday, making use of social media to do so. The campaign was promoted heavily on Twitter and Facebook, including taking out an advert on Facebook. Overall, the fundraiser raised almost £9,000 for the station – see the video below for some learning points, or you can read more detail in the case study.

If you are planning on having a general fundraising drive it can be a good idea to make it time limited, i.e. ‘24/48 hours to raise X’. Focusing the fundraising effort within a specific time period makes it easier to build up anticipation and excitement prior to the event, makes it very focused during the period it’s running, and also guards against fundraising ‘fatigue’. During the campaign you should make maximum use of your social channels, e.g. for Twitter create your own hashtag and encourage your listeners to use and share it.

Popular US radio show This American Life has become famous for its pledge drives. Presenter Ira Glass is direct and authentic with the community, explaining how much it costs to run the show and how much they appreciate the support. They use their Facebook page to help encourage donations. You can hear an example of their approach in their 2014 Fundraising Pledge Show – and the authenticity and transparency between 8m45s and 9m45s, or 17m45s and 19m15s.

If you are going to do some fundraising, think about how you can make it as easy as possible for people to donate, e.g. while they are looking at the Facebook page. Californian public radio station KQED uses mobile fundraising app mgive through which people give a donation that is then added to their mobile bill, with a link to this on their Facebook page.

Many charities in the UK use the JustGiving app for Facebook. You can see an example of this on the Dogs Trust Facebook page – clicking on the ‘donate’ tab at the top of the page takes you to the app where you can give a donation without leaving Facebook.

JustGiving has also partnered with Vodafone so that fundraisers can create a unique code to allow people to donate by texting this code, resulting in their chosen amount being added to their phone bill. This code is obviously simple to share through your social channels.

Another model is Oldham Community Radio’s weekly lottery, the 300 club, which costs £1 per week to enter and requires very little effort by the station once it’s set up (and none by entrants if they set up regular giving).

Ideally you want people to be able to give you money at the exact moment that they are in the frame of mind to do so, without having to fill out forms or go to a website to donate. One of the reasons why the #nomakeupselfie social media campaign raised so much money for Cancer Research UK was because the main way people were encouraged to donate was via text.

A newer tool that could help you raise revenue is ThingLink, a platform that enables you to embed interactive content into images such as text descriptions, links or video. You can see an example of how charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) uses ThingLink images here. Not only does this MSF image provide lots of background information about the cost of the protective equipment they need in their fight against Ebola (moving the cursor over each link provides further detail) but there is also a ‘donate now’ button which takes you straight to the donation page on the MSF website. When you share the subsequent ThingLink image via your Facebook page, the interactive elements are included.

A tool like ThingLink could be used not just to elicit donations but also to sell physical products. One idea could be to take a photo of any physical products that you sell, and then embed a little description about each one plus a ‘buy now’ button. There are more examples of selling physical products in the section below.

An example of a less conventional fundraising campaign is when New York-based non-commercial radio station WFMU tied a pledge drive into a mascot competition. Listeners were asked to make a donation and enter their pet into a competition to become the official mascot of the station. The resulting entries gave the team at the station lots of fuel for their social media channels and generated a great deal of attention and donations.

Crowdfunding – why & how

If you want to raise money for a specific piece of equipment or project, you may want to consider crowdfunding, which is one of the most exciting changes to fundraising for many years. Using a platform such as crowdfunder or indiegogo, you set out to raise a certain amount of money. If you tell your story effectively and are able to mobilise your online audience to support and share it, crowdfunding can be a great way to draw in funds. It’s important to think in advance which crowdfunding platform to use – as some sites are ‘all or nothing’ (i.e. where you need to make your fundraising target in order to keep the money pledged), while others don’t have such restrictions (though they will usually charge more commission).

Community radio station Source FM used the Crowdfunder platform to raise money for a new radio transmitter and raised just over their target of £4,000. With crowdfunding, individuals choose an amount to donate in return for a ‘reward’. Often the organisation seeking funding offers a number of different rewards that go up in perceived value corresponding to the size of the pledge. Crowdfunder campaigns run for a specified number of days, after which the project is either backed or is unsuccessful.

The rewards themselves are often an important component of a successful crowdfunding campaign. In the case of Source FM they offered rewards ranging from a pack of 4 limited edition stickers for a £5 donation, to CDs, t-shirts and more creative rewards such as the opportunity to “take over the airwaves at Source FM” and a bespoke “business desert island discs” reward – see We think it’s a great idea to make explicit use of your station as a resource for crowdfunder rewards – as Source FM did, and ALLFM too in their prize draw. In the US, popular public radio show Planet Money used crowdfunding to help them create a show about all the steps involved in making a t-shirt. The project was so successful that it received $590,807 in funding against a $50,000 target.

A good explanatory video is vital when you are trying to crowdfund. Whether it’s light-hearted, serious, professionally made or very simple, the video is one of the most important ways you will get the attention of the potential funder. Crowdfunder has some tips on producing a good video for campaigns here – and you can see Source FM’s crowdfunder video below. Once your campaign is live you need to ensure that you promote it really well through your social media channels, ask for your community’s help to share it, and consider offering ‘early bird’ rewards to drive momentum. You need to keep the energy and excitement up through the campaign. You can find lots more useful tips and advice on how to run a successful campaign in Kickstarter’s campaign creator handbook.


Using social media to sell physical products

You can also use your social channels as a way to raise money by helping to sell physical products.

Firstly you need to consider what kind of products might be popular with your particular audience. Mugs, t-shirts, window stickers or pens are often popular (and are simple to get made), as are t-shirts. And while it may be easiest to simply print t-shirts with the station logo, thinking a bit more creatively could result in more sales. Scottish community station Cabrach Radio printed t-shirts and stickers featuring popular slogans from the show and sold them to raise over £27,000 for a local charity. They promoted this through their Facebook page and whilst it wasn’t designed to raise funds for the station itself, it did result in them growing their Facebook page to over 40,000 likes. People responded with huge enthusiasm to the humour of the slogans. This campaign was obviously very successful – though it’s worth pointing out that popular slogans aren’t possible without popular shows, so your station needs a good audience for something like this to work!

Alternatively you might want to consider having a special design created for a t-shirt, either from a local artist or by working with a local school. You can see examples of community radio stations that have had special t-shirts designed, here, here and here.

In the US, public radio stations have been using temporary tattoos as an alternative to branded station stickers, with thousands of This American Life’s temporary tattoos given away as thank you gifts in pledge drives,

Originally only available via local regional radio stations, such was the demand via social media that they made them available on their own website.


Social media can help you to generate revenue for your radio station either by acting as another ‘channel’ through which you can talk to, and sell to, your community, and by helping to attract advertisers. It may take some time to figure out how this might best fit with your particular station, audience and situation but there are great opportunities for those stations that are willing to get creative, work with their online community, and experiment.

If you are looking for further guidance, the ALLFM case study gives a step-by-step account of a fundraising campaign – which you could emulate or adapt as best suits your station.