The campaign, ‘#TraffickingIsReal’, was a partnership between the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Strategic Communication students and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It ran during Human Trafficking Awareness Week in October 2016, utilising social media, the IOM website, and interviews with the media.

‘#TraffickingIsReal’ won Gold in the Student Campaign category of the 20th PRISM Awards, held in May. media update’s Nikita Geldenhuys asked Oksiutycz and Azionya, who both work at at the Department of Strategic Communication, what students learnt from the campaign and how it has prepared them for careers in the communication industry.

How did your teams come up with the concept behind the ‘#TraffickingIsReal’ campaign, and what were the different factors that had to be considered during this process?

Azionya: As part of the brief, second-year UJ Applied Strategic Communication students were asked to come up with concepts that would create Human Trafficking awareness on social media during the Human Trafficking Prevention Week in October 2016.

We decided to focus on specific types of trafficking. The students were asked to bring their own clothes to get into character. They were cast according to the themes we were working on. We had three photographers. We split up and found different locations around UJ to shoot our stories.

Considering the realities of social media, we made an effort to safeguard the students and make sure that all pictures taken were done tastefully and with sensitivity towards victims.

What were the different components of the campaign?

Azionya: Using the campaign hashtag, #TraffickingIsReal, UJ students formed part of a photoshoot showcasing the three types of trafficking the project was focused on in 2016. The campaign photoshoot included images that highlighted sexual exploitation, domestic or labour exploitation, and child trafficking.

The students, in partnership with the IOM, compiled messages in the three categories about human trafficking that would be used as media talking points, as well as content to be disseminated through the IOM social media pages during the 2016 Human Trafficking Awareness Week.

The campaign followed a multi-pronged approach to drive home the message. The IOM social media pages were used, as well as the website, since these were already in place and would only be used to amplify the messages IOM distributes through these channels.

By means of several activities aimed at the general public, the community level, as well as government level, IOM took the ‘#TraffickingIsReal’ campaign forward to the media, lobbying for coverage and opportunities to engage or speak about the realities and dangers of TiP [Trafficking in Persons]. 

Throughout the campaign, the social channels, Facebook and Twitter, were updated with photos from the campaign shoot, general information, and statistics about human trafficking in South Africa to encourage open engagements with the content and dialogues.

What goals and targets did you set for this campaign?

Azionya: The main goal was to ensure that all the students developed a deep understanding of the issues around trafficking, and specifically how to communicate them effectively to their personal networks using strategic communication.

They had to create their own content in real time that needed to spark and sustain conversation around trafficking. They had to work according to a content plan, which covered specific themes, and adjust their strategy according to what was working. They also had to use the hashtag.

What are some of the challenges around raising awareness of a complex issue – such as human trafficking – on social media?

Azionya: The biggest challenge for the students was that they found it difficult to engage others on and write about a difficult topic. Their peers preferred to share more positive content and avoided difficult conversations.

How did the students’ involvement in creating this campaign help to make it more impactful?

Azionya: Not only were they and their peers the target audience, but they tapped into their personal networks to spread the message about the issue. Some of them have become anti-modern-slavery activists as a result of the campaign.

What is the partnership between UJ and IOM like and what does it aim to achieve?

Oksiutycz: In their second year, our students plan and develop a communication campaign for a real world problem and a “client”. We usually choose a social or community cause and a non-profit or non-governmental organisation that works with such a cause.

The partnership began in 2014, when Caroline approached IOM looking for a potential “client” for our second year student project. Since then, we’ve had several joint projects in 2014, 2016, and 2017 on combating human trafficking. In 2015, we also worked on a nation building campaign, which focused on promoting the positive image of migrants in South Africa.

Some of the campaigns involved collaboration with the Graphic Design students from UJ’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture. As a result of the collaboration with IOM, our students won a number of industry awards in the Student categories since 2014 – including six Assegai Awards, an AMASA award and now the Gold PRISM.

The aim of this partnership is to provide our students with an opportunity to learn and, at the same time, engage with the real issues facing the country and the world.

Will UJ and IOM be partnering on similar campaigns going forward?

Oksiutycz: This year we have been working on another human trafficking project. This time it is for combating human trafficking across SADC [Southern African Development Community] countries. It is a project with the involvement of IOM Namibia, which works with SADC on this initiative.

In addition, we have been also collaborating with IOM and the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements (GDHS) on the informal settlements project. Our students did comprehensive research in Zandspruit on the needs of the community and are working on a communication campaign. It focuses on providing information about the services offered by the GDHS to people living in informal settlements around Gauteng.

We hope to continue this partnership with IOM for years to come. IOM has been a wonderful partner. They make an effort to come and talk to our students directly, devote their time to listening to the students’ campaign pitches, give feedback, and acknowledge and recognise the students' efforts.

You can view the campaign on Facebook and Twitter using #TraffickingIsReal.

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