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Birthright Israel’s journey to becoming a force for positive public diplomacy

The key is to collaborate with individuals who believe in its mission and understand its value.

A Birthright Israel group. Credit: Courtesy.
A Birthright Israel group. Credit: Courtesy.
Noa Bauer. Credit: Courtesy.
Noa Bauer
Noa Bauer is vice president of global marketing at Birthright Israel.

Birthright Israel embarked on a visionary mission two decades ago: offering a 10-day trip to Israel as a gift to young Jewish adults worldwide. Fast-forward 24 years, and the program stands as an unparalleled success, boasting 800,000 alumni from 68 countries, becoming a vital pillar in strengthening Jewish identity, connection to Israel and the Israel-Diaspora relationship.

How do we measure success? Numerous studies, conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University consistently confirm the program’s extraordinary lasting impact on participants and an astounding 85% of participants describe their experience as life-transforming. From a marketing perspective, I notice two key indicators that show that we are on the right path: Birthright alumni’s continuous and growing engagement with Israel on social media and the ever-expanding waiting lists of applicants eager to join a trip.

In addition to these achievements, Birthright Israel has excelled in an unexpected area where many others have faltered: public diplomacy.

Israel, a relatively young nation now commemorating its 75th anniversary, has many accomplishments to celebrate. However, it has long struggled in the realm of public diplomacy, often unable to counter aggressive campaigns focused on the geopolitical conflict. The aggressive campaigns, fueled by hostile entities, are employing digital avatars and artificial intelligence to their advantage and are being promoted by the algorithms of social platforms. As concerning as the anti-Israel discourse on social media has been—ranging from aggression to outright antisemitism—it continues to intensify.

While many Jewish individuals worldwide tend to shy away from engaging in this discourse, or may feel unequipped to promote or defend Israel, certainly from afar, we at Birthright Israel are witnessing another phenomenon: a surge in positive social-media engagement with Israel. Through organic posts, in conjunction with marketing initiatives and online content, we discovered through an independent social listening monitoring tool that in May and June 2023 alone, the potential reach by tagging the Birthright Israel brand was an astonishing 2.78 billion. This reach resulted in 389,380 engagements, with only 2% involving negative sentiment.

The key takeaway is this: The overwhelming majority of discourse generated by Birthright Israel is positive, centered around everything that Israel has to offer. In fact, we generated more than eight times the engagements on average than any other mega-Jewish organization. What sets us apart is first and foremost, the number of people discussing our brand, and tagging us and the nature of the content related to Israel they produce.

So, how did we reach these figures? By amplifying positive engagement through UGC (user-generated content).

  1. Empowering personal narratives: At Birthright Israel, we understand the emotional power of personal stories. We encourage our tens of thousands of alumni to share their authentic experiences about their time in Israel. Gone are the days when young adults had an average of 300 “friends” in their networks. Today, we see an average of 5,000 “followers,” and as TikTok’s algorithm generates views based on interest areas (and not just the number of followers), it significantly increases the potential for content to go viral.
  1.  Identifying content creators: We carefully track participants who self-identify as content creators even before they embark on their Birthright Israel journeys. This proactive approach allows us to establish relationships before their arrival in Israel, resulting in engaged participants who generate high-quality, well-curated content across various platforms. It exponentially multiplies our exposure during the trips and the amount of content we receive to market Birthright Israel.
  1. Tapping into influential networkers: We identify individuals with substantial social-media followings and establish personal connections. We encourage them to promote their upcoming Israel experiences through their own networks. When we identify high-quality influencers whose audiences align with our mission, we invite them to experience Birthright from their unique perspectives or to collaborate in different ways. It’s important to note that we primarily work with micro- to mid-size influencers who represent various fields and write for diverse audiences. The key is to collaborate with individuals who believe in Birthright Israel’s mission and understand its value.
  1. Natural conversations, not promotion: We avoid using marketing language or structured messages. Instead, we foster and encourage open discussions about Israel, including the geopolitical climate and the recent judicial overhaul. We allow an open, safe and pluralistic culture that promotes diverse visions and versions of Jewish living associated with Israel. We urge everyone to share their own perspectives and experiences. That allows us to also learn what people really think about our programs and Israel, and enables followers to get diverse and authentic feedback from people they trust.

Yes. It’s that simple. It’s that effective.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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