telling the story of srebrenica - offline and online

Some communications tasks are straight forward. Others need careful handling. So, how do you communicate the memory of an event whose darkness musn't be forgotten?

by Tony Moran

Humanity has lived through the darkest of times, but few events have stained our collective soul more than the Srebrenica genocide. Over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically murdered in July 1995 during the Balkans conflict – just because of who they were.

The UN described Srebrenica as ‘the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War’.

Lessons learned from the genocide demonstrate how hatred and intolerance can flourish if left unchallenged - even in a country such as Bosnia and Herzegovina where people of different faiths had lived peacefully together for many years, yet an integrated society disintegrated.

Remembering Srebrenica is a UK charitable initiative that aims to raise awareness of the genocide in the UK, whilst using those lessons from Srebrenica to inspire our citizens to take social action in this country that creates safer, stronger and more cohesive communities.

We had two main communications aims for this year’s 20th anniversary of the atrocity. Firstly, we wanted to get as much ‘traditional’ media coverage for more than 200 memorial events across the country in the week leading up to the EU-wide Srebrenica Memorial Day on 11 June.

With such a powerful and compelling story to tell, we secured widespread coverage across regional, national and international media. We engaged journalists through the strength of our narrative - particularly given the presence of Srebrenica survivors like Nedžad Avdić. Aged just 17 when the genocide happened, Nedžad miraculously survived being shot and left to die. 

Added poignancy and power came through the stories of courage and strength told by Srebrenica Mothers, who lost husbands, sons, fathers and brothers in the genocide. In total, eight Mothers attended events across the UK, including a memorial service at Westminster Abbey and high-profile events in Cardiff and Edinburgh. Together, we created an estimated 66 million opportunities for people across the UK to access our messages via broadcast, print and online outlets.

Secondly, we needed to grow our online engagement with people across the UK and beyond. We’re part-funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and have met a number of communications goals and targets set by them. We’ve achieved steady month-on-month growth, albeit with a major surge in followers around Srebrenica Memorial Week.

We created ‘#Srebrenica2015’ to drive the conversation on Twitter and saw lots of people engaging with us in the run-up to Memorial Week – particularly around events such as our memorial football tournament for schools. This was supported by our ambassador, Bosnian international goalkeeper Asmir Begović who tweeted updates to his 194,000 followers. Following our football theme, our photos of soccer superstars sporting Remembering Srebrenica T-shirts created lots of interest – particularly French international midfielder Abou Diaby, who was our top Tweet in July.

We’re now approaching 4,000 Twitter followers and over 1,400 users actively engaged with us through ‘mentions’ in July. A healthy Thunderclap helped Remembering Srebrenica to trend as the third most popular topic on 11 July - creating an immediate ‘social reach’ of over 300,000 Twitter users.

Facebook has proved particularly popular, with our page reaching 2,000 likes in early June and now heading towards 5,000 likes. Our followers have shared imagery and videos posted to Facebook – particularly during Memorial Week, when our content prompted hundreds of people to share with online friends.

Our You Tube channel attracted almost 5,000 views during this year’s memorial week - trebling in comparison to 2014 – thanks to some great documentaries, including ‘Remembering Srebrenica: 20 Years On’ which tells Nedžad’s story and that of Srebrenica mother Hatidza Mehmedović. People watched almost 800 hours of video content on the channel - six times the amount in 2014.

Using the WordPress platform, we revamped our website – www.srebrenica.org.uk - and made it more mobile-friendly.  The site is designed as a ‘one-stop’ portal for anyone interested in discovering more about the genocide and our work. It contains news, case studies, video testimony, survivor stories, history and much more.

The site has attracted over 34,000 individual users accessing some 103,000 pages of information about the genocide and lessons we can learn in 2015. Comparing this year with last year shows that the number of site users is up five-fold and the total number of pages viewed has more than tripled.

We’re delighted with the way people across the UK and beyond have engaged with us online – whether through conversation on Twitter, sharing content on Facebook or learning more about Srebrenica through watching video on YouTube.

Telling the stories of Srebrenica and engaging with people online has been helped by the fact that 2015 is the 20th anniversary of the genocide. Our next challenge is to build on the momentum gained this year and continue to grow our engagement with people online as we prepare to mark the 21st anniversary in 2016.

Tony Moran is director of communications and engagement at Remembering Srebrenica.