Last summer, I participated in one of the most memorable experiences of my life, Birthright. For those of you who have not heard of this organization, Birthright, also known as Taglit (which in Hebrew means “discovery,”) sends Jewish students and young adults ages 18-26 to Israel for free. Though it may seem unlikely to pass up the chance to have a completely subsidized $3000 trip given to anyone who has at least one Jewish parent and identifies as Jewish (full eligibility rules can be found here,) the organization continues to struggle to grow beyond its current numbers and attract Jewish men and women to sign up before they turn 26 years old. With increased donations and funding from the Jewish community, Birthright has loosened its eligibility rules (before last year, I was ineligible since I had already been to Israel on an organized trip). With the change of these rules, Birthright has turned to social media to try to get the word out about the trip, with the hope that more individuals who may have otherwise ignored this opportunity will eventually apply. Here are the most recent Birthright participation statistics:
I was inspired to write this blog because yesterday I found out that I will be staffing a Birthright trip in May and June this summer through the Birthright trip organizer, Israel Outdoors (there are many different companies that organize trips for the umbrella organization, Birthright). I am very excited for this opportunity to give back to the Jewish community and give the participants the support my staff members gave me last summer. However, I understand that in order to get them excited for the trip, keep them engaged during our time in Israel, and encourage them to stay connected after we get back, I will need to use social media (and particularly, the already existing methods in place by Birthright) to my advantage. Here are the main takeaways and changes I have seen in researching the organization’s social media strategy:
- Focus on friendships and learning
The staff member from my Birthright trip last summer, who I now work for as a recruiter for the MIT/Wellesley Hillel (and Boston area colleges) trip, told me that it has become much harder to recruit students these days because they are no longer motivated to apply solely based on the free nature of the trip. Recruiters on college campuses are struggling to get students who might not be in touch with their Jewish heritage or who simply do not want to leave the US for 10 days and travel to some foreign place that has no personal meaning to them. Birthright’s social media strategy reflects this changing dynamic. Whereas last year, I would see advertisements on Facebook of some picture of a boy riding a camel with the words “FREE 10 DAY TRIP TO ISRAEL” written across in bold all-caps letters, this year the advertisements are much more concerned with friendships (for example, showcasing pictures of friends in the US, who had met on their trip and stayed close afterwards). Friendships thrive on these intimate and transformational trips and the advertising reflect this desire to make friends with whom you share deep connections that many students have in college. Additionally, the message for “why do Birthright” is now much more focused on the educational components of the trip (since current college students are more globally minded).
- Keeping social during the trip
I have been on many group trips before, but Birthright was the first to be social online the entire time. The buses were equipped with WiFi and we were encouraged to use our phones on the bus and post pictures to Instagram and Facebook using the hashtags #Taglit and #Birthright. Additionally, each bus had a blog that we updated daily. Someone was given the role of blogging about each day’s activities so that our friends and family could follow our travels. These methods helped spread the message of Birthright to thousands of people on social media. I will definitely encourage my participants to blog, Tweet, and post (as we have been doing in this class) throughout the trip as a way to share their experiences and have a catalog of their memories from Israel.
- Telling stories after the trip
Sharing one’s experience ultimately is the main objective of Birthright. It is impossible to come off this trip without being touched by the rich history and culture of the State of Israel. I wanted to share my stories of the unforgettable places I visited, the stories I heard, and the friendships I formed. Birthright has reached out to me on social media and reunions are often planned on Facebook. Birthright launched a site designed for past participants to share stories about their trips. It tries to maintain the strength of its network of over 400,000 Birthright alumni through social storytelling and networking.
If you or your friends might be interested in going on a Birthright trip, please feel free to reach out to me. The application for Summer 2015 trips closes on March 31st so be sure to submit your application if you’re interested (there’s no commitment to going if you apply). Here is the link. You can also follow Birthright on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.