The use of social media in promotion


What do the words ‘National Trust’ mean to you? Historic houses? Gardens? An organisation that older people join? All of these are accurate, but they reflect only a small part of what the National Trust is and does. What you might not know is that the Trust’s responsibilities include over 350 historic houses, 255,000 hectares of land including gardens, mills, coastline, forests, farmland, moorland, islands, castles, nature reserves, villages, pubs and even a goldmine!

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The National Trust is a registered charity that looks after special places. It has over 4 million members and every year welcomes around 19 million visitors to its properties and special places, which are open to everyone.

As a not-for-profit organisation managed by a small Board of Trustees, it is completely independent of government. Its funding is generated entirely from membership fees, donations, legacies and revenue raised from its commercial activities such as its National Trust shops and catering business.

'For ever, for everyone'

The Trust attracts ‘customers’ of different types, young and old, including families, history lovers and nature lovers. Its mission is to grow the nation’s love of special places ‘For ever, for everyone’, so it aims to inspire as many people as possible in many different ways. These might include themed events to celebrate the UK’s history, guided walks across its estates and countryside to discover wildlife, open-air performances of Shakespeare and music festivals or firework displays.

Its properties regularly appear in film sets, such as in the recent Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter films. However, its interests extend far beyond just bricks and mortar. Much of the Trust’s work reflects its interest in getting people outdoors and closer to nature, as well as wider global and environmental issues, such as increasing energy efficiency, recycling and sustainability.

'Going local'  strategy

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The National Trust aims to increase membership by 25% to five million by 2020. To do this, it is adopting a strategy of 'Going local '. This aims to ensure the Trust can respond quickly to local issues on the ground and get more people involved as members, volunteers or employees. It will also put the Trust at the heart of communities so that everyone in the UK can feel like a member.

This case study looks at how the National Trust is now adopting a new strategy and modern marketing techniques to excite a younger audience, generate new members and enhance its position as an employer with young people.

Top image ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Lower image ©Mischief PR

The marketing mix

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The marketing mix (the four Ps) is a means of assessing how an organisation can balance the four key elements of Product, Price, Place and Promotion in order to meet customers’ needs and achieve its sales objectives. Even with the best product in the  world, if a business promotes it to the wrong audience, overprices it or distributes it in a way that is inconvenient for consumers, then the business will not generate sales.

For the National Trust, the relationship between product, price, place and promotion is highly integrated:


The Trust’s ‘product’ is a mix of the tangible, such as events or craft goods in shops, and the intangible – the experience people enjoy from National Trust places.

Visitors and customers can choose to add value to their membership over the year through a wide range of other activities. This might include, for example, the opportunity to have a camping or cottage holiday on Trust land or learn new skills with Trust experts – anything from bird-watching to archaeological digs.


As a non-profit making organisation, the price of National Trust membership fees, entrance to sites and sales through its shops and website need essentially to cover costs rather than make profit.

As the National Trust has to maintain its special places for ever, it incurs significant costs of repair or upkeep. Membership and visitor fees cover only a third of the Trust’s costs. Its fundraising and commercial activities are vital to fill the gap. Keeping membership numbers high is therefore essential. Lower than expected income could result in the Trust not being able to fulfil its mission.

Membership fees need to remain competitive to demonstrate good value for money in order to attract visitors and keep members. The National Trust therefore has to budget carefully to ensure that expected income from predicted memberships will cover its costs.


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'Place' reflects the means for distributing a product or the channels through which it reaches customers. For the National Trust, like many other organisations and businesses, this is increasingly through the internet. For example, Trust memberships can be bought online or at visitor locations for individuals or to be given as gifts for others.

The National Trust website also has an online shop from which anyone can buy gifts as wide-ranging as farm produce, cards and craft items or even ‘virtual’ gifts such as helping to restore a painting or save a squirrel.


Promotion covers all the tools and techniques by which an organisation markets its products and services. For example, this might include traditional methods such as advertising in papers, as well as the use of social media (like Facebook and Twitter), websites and online networks.

Top image ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Lower image ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The purpose of promotion

Promotion may have a number of purposes depending on the needs of an organisation. For example, it can raise awareness of a brand or business, highlight the benefits or value of its products to attract sales or help to change the image of a firm.

Promotion covers a variety of techniques by which an organisation communicates with its customers and potential customers. These communications may have different forms and content to ensure that the target audience can understand and receive the messages properly.


The AIDA model demonstrates the stages of promotion:

  • Initiating awareness (attention) amongst non-customers or increasing knowledge of new offers for existing customers
  • Generating interest for and creating desire to have the product
  • Finally ensuring action to purchase.

The ultimate aim is to keep customers loyal so that over time they become ‘advocates’ and promote the product to other consumers. Customer recommendation is a very strong form of promotion.

As a business, the National Trust has few direct competitors, but there are many alternative ways for the public to spend their leisure time and money. In addition, recent research has shown that, even when aware of the Trust’s work, few young people considered it as a possible organisation to work for.

The National Trust is therefore focusing on a promotion strategy that applies equally to highlighting what the Trust can offer its visitors and members and to promoting National Trust jobs of all types.

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The Trust is using digital media and social networking sites such as Facebook to highlight the huge variety of roles it offers. These channels enable the Trust to present practical and personal insight into different job roles, such as skilled professional posts, catering staff or young volunteers, through the use of employee profiles, articles or guest blogs.

Image ©National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Above-the-line promotion

Above-the-line promotion is typically associated with traditional forms of advertising media. These might be through newspapers, magazines, TV, cinema, radio, billboards or internet poster ads.

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This type of advertising is useful for promoting a product or service to large audiences, but will reach interested and noninterested consumers alike. In addition, these forms of advertising are generally very expensive. It is also more difficult to measure the level of effectiveness of the message. To assess if the advertising has achieved value for money needs careful targeting and extensive follow-up (such as through consumer surveys).

The National Trust uses radio and places advertisements in magazines and press which are relevant to its different audiences. For example, an advert in Country Life magazine would appeal to its traditional members or the Trust might use national newspapers to promote a specific job. However, less than 36% of Trust recruitment advertising is now done in this way.

Augmented reality

The National Trust’s advertising is turning to new technology in order to reach younger potential members. Its use of ‘augmented reality’ featuring the characters Wallace and Gromit is a groundbreaking example of how the National Trust is reaching new audiences in surprising ways. Augmented reality allows mini animations of the characters to ‘hide’ in the Trust’s newspaper adverts, which readers unlock with their Smartphones and tablets.

Image ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Below-the-line promotion

Below-the-line promotion uses methods over which organisations have greater control. It covers many activities, which are more easily tailored and targeted to selected and relevant audiences. These might typically include news articles and press releases, direct mail, sales promotions, exhibitions, sponsorship or events.

Wallace and Gromit

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In order to achieve its new strategy, the National Trust is focusing on delivering an integrated promotion campaign to send its messages to clearly defined target audiences.  For example, as 2012 is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the National Trust devised a promotion around the Wallace and Gromit characters.

An exclusive film – A Jubilee Bunt-a-thon – was created in partnership with Aardman Films and premiered at Trust events during the year. It led to Wallace and Gromit parties at Trust properties, has inspired Gromit workshops for children at its sites and helped to develop special merchandise such as Wallace and Gromit jigsaws for sale in Trust shops. This type of exclusive activity has generated considerable press coverage for the National Trust, which in itself is a key below-the-line form of promotion.

Social media

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The National Trust has embraced social media and new technologically-inspired below-the-line activities to increase the ‘shareability’ of its messages. This broadens the Trust’s reach beyond existing members or fans. Different parts of the National Trust use social media for marketing and promotion in different ways. For example:

  • use of Twitter helps the National Trust to engage more flexibly and informally with the public and members and both receive and capture their ideas
  • guest articles about its activities and properties on blogs show younger people what the Trust can offer them
  • Facebook updates and employee profiles help to demonstrate the Trust’s job opportunities and widen the pool of possible applicants for jobs.

Drawing on Smartphone technology, the National Trust has launched an iPhone app so that users can always have its handbook in their pocket. This provides not only listings and descriptions of all Trust gardens and properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but also the ability to browse events and set favourites. Similarly, the current Facebook app showcases the range of special places it owns – from pubs to Paul McCartney’s childhood home, encouraging users to create their dream day out.

50 Things to do before you're 11and 3/4

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The National Trust is running a number of important campaigns which involve social media activities. ‘50 Things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4’ on the Trust’s website aims to promote the excitement of being outdoors to young people.

This campaign encourages the target audience of children aged 8-12 to take part in activities as wide-ranging as canoeing and abseiling or just climbing trees. They can collect stickers and digital badges for activities completed. The 50 Things micro-website uses avatars, games and videos to stimulate the children’s interest. To generate a longer-term response to this campaign, the Trust is asking its communities to make suggestions about other activities that should be included in the list. This effectively ‘crowd sources’ ideas for next year’s campaign so that activities will reflect members’ needs.

White Cliffs of Dover

One particularly exciting campaign is centred on the National Trust’s appeal to raise the £1.2 million it needs to buy a very special place - the last part of the White Cliffs of Dover that it does not already look after.

The Trust has created a virtual White Cliffs on its website where users can carve their names and faces on the cliffs in exchange for a donation. Supporting the website application, the Trust carried out a major direct mail and email campaign to encourage donations. This was targeted at existing Trust members and supporters as well as the general public.

Top image ©Aardman Animations Ltd 2012

Middle image ©National Trust Images/James Dobson


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All marketing activity needs to be tailored to reflect a business’ target audience. It also needs to be able to show return on investment. For a non-profit making organisation like the National Trust, ensuring its promotional activities give value for money is critical.

The use of social media aims to improve public perception, but the Trust’s campaigns have also shown savings in time and money. For example, each recruitment campaign by the Trust used to take about 53 days and cost around £2,400 per person hired. By using social media, costs have now been reduced to about £800 per person hired and the time taken to recruit is down to 42 days.

By using social media as a key part of its marketing campaigns, the National Trust is able to reach one of its key target audiences – young people – more easily and can convey its messages in a format that suits the audience.

To help it achieve clear brand awareness through its campaigns, the Trust has devised highly structured guidelines to ensure all its campaigns and activities are carried out to the same high standard, whether for promoting Trust properties to potential members or for recruiting potential applicants.