What businesses can learn from Byte Night


For those who don’t know, Byte Night is run by Action for Children. It is the charity’s biggest annual fundraiser, and is, very simply, a national sleep-out by individuals and teams from the business and technology sector. Now in its 20th year, it is one of the UK’s largest mass participation charity events, and is the largest charity sleep-out in the UK. Last year, over 1,200 people were involved in ten different locations. Since its foundation, Byte Night has raised over £9.6 million to support homeless young people.

Personal disclosure: I will be sleeping out on Byte Night on 6th October (and if you would like to sponsor me or donate, you can do so via my https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/SASSTARS2016.

I’m not expecting it to be a pleasant experience-but its one night! But I think we in an increasingly digital business environment can learn more from Byte Night than simply how uncomfortable rough sleeping can be.

The most effective messaging is integrated and works across all sectors

Action for Children is sharing information about Byte Night, and about its broader work, via social media, on its website and the Byte Night website, and through other forms of media. The messaging is integrated, and focuses on the work of the charity, and particularly the young people that it helps. By telling personal stories about the children involved, the work of the charity is put into focus, and made more personal. Digital companies, too, need to focus on explaining how they can help their customers, and case studies are a great way to do it. And they need to do this in an integrated way, which can sometimes be a challenge in a large, complex environment. 

Individuals make great advocates when they feel strongly about the cause

Everyone sleeping out at Byte Night is busy spreading the word among their friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and we’re doing so by email, social media and face-to-face. We’re sharing information from Action for Children, but also putting out our own messages to encourage other people to consider either joining us, or sponsoring us. It’s a cause we all feel strongly about, and we want other people to understand that, and feel strongly too.

Research shows that people are much more likely to accept recommendations from someone they know than from an organisation, even a charity. Businesses wanting to succeed in the digital economy need to understand this, and move away from the idea of managed messages, or a ‘company voice’. Instead, they need to allow individuals to act as advocates for the company using their own voices and words, and to share their passionate belief in the company and its products or services. News travels fast and far on digital channels. 

Showing is more effective than telling

I—and all the other participants in Byte Night—will understand what it feels like to sleep rough, far better than if we had simply been told about it. Of course we won’t fully experience homelessness, but we will understand it better and more viscerally. The experience will stay with us a lot longer. It is the same in business, including digital business. Show people the benefits of something, whether a data lab, new analytics systems, or a new piece of software, and they are much more likely to use it. Tell them, and it probably won’t sink in. 

Everything takes time, and each campaign is part of a longer-term journey

Byte Night started relatively small: just one location, and a few participants, who raised a reasonable £35,000 between them. This year, the charity hopes to raise well over £1 million across its ten locations. This success has not come overnight. It has taken 18 years to build up to this level, with new locations and new participants joining each year, as well as more people knowing about the event. Digital communication may be instantaneous, but momentum in a campaign takes time to build, and success will not come overnight. 

Projects may need to change over time

Byte Night has changed over time with new locations and participants, but also with new people involved in the organising of the event. The formula may be strong, but even a good idea can be improved, and every project needs new blood from time to time. In digital business, even if your product or service is successful, you will still need to tweak and change it over time, if only to stay ahead of the competition. And if something is not working, you should definitely change it.

If you want to learn more about Byte Night, or about what lessons can be learnt for digital companies, please get in touch.


About Author

Caroline Hermon

Sr Account Executive

Caroline explores best practices in increasing effectiveness of organizations using data. Caroline is enjoying seeing the explosion of data volumes which leads to her interest in SAS on Hadoop. As part of this Caroline helps companies transition to ensuring data is fit for purpose. Away from work yoga, swimming and travel keep me out of trouble!

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