At the end of 2012, the website managers at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial realized they had a problem: Interest in their Arabic-language website had dropped drastically since its launch in 2008.
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That year, the site had 168,000 visitors, but by 2012 the number had fallen to 94,000. The Internet staff understood that it was not enough to create interesting, quality content. They needed to learn how to push it at their target audiences.
“We don’t have a Facebook page in Arabic, so we sought help with audience segmentation so that we could reach people who would be interested in the Holocaust. We knew this is an audience that wouldn’t necessarily be searching for the Yad Vashem website,” said Dana Porath, director of Yad Vashem’s Internet department.
Porath contacted Yoni Shadmi, a University of Haifa researcher who specializes in dialoguing with “difficult” populations, as he put it. He asked that we put “difficult” in quotation marks. “It means people who aren’t necessarily open to your message and sometimes downright object to it and don’t want to hear it,” he explained.
Shadmi started by mapping out audiences that would be “open to the message.” He identified 13 groups with potential, such as the students, faculty and alumni of the Arab world’s 10 leading universities, Arabic-speakers interested in history or documentary films, and those active in groups promoting peace, coexistence and nonviolence.
The campaign he created for Yad Vashem comprised ads targeting Arabic-speaking Facebook users, which referred them to specific items on Yad Vashem’s Arabic website. Some of the ads led to content relevant to the Arab world, like a story about Muslims in Albania who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Another ad led to the film “We Were There,” about a joint Arab-Jewish mission to the death camps. Still another ad led to stories about Muslim righteous gentiles in Europe.
Some ads featured content that was not necessarily Muslim specific, like a link to a YouTube video with Arabic subtitles in which twins experimented on by the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz tell their stories.
Shadmi created the ads himself and then had them translated into Arabic by a Lebanese man who lives in Israel and understands the nuances of the different target audiences Yad Vashem wanted to reach. The analytic tools now available to website managers made it clear almost immediately what was working and what wasn’t. “Sometimes you change one word in the ad — the most minor change — and suddenly something no one was looking at before becomes a hit,” Shadmi said.
He notes that the term “Holocaust” was referred to differently in almost every ad. “In one place, we transliterated the term ‘Holocaust’ into Arabic; in others, we used the word ‘conflagration,’ an accepted term for the Holocaust.” Some ads referred to “the burning of the Jews” and others to “the disaster.”
The results were a pleasant surprise, he said. With a modest budget by any measure, the Yad Vashem ads were viewed by 2.4 million people from 41 different regions, led by Egypt, the territories, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Morocco, Israel, Libya and Yemen. The ads also led to a sharp increase in traffic on the Yad Vashem site, which finished 2013 with 242,000 visitors.
“The success wasn’t just because of me, but because the subject really does interest the Arab world,” Shadmi said. “There are a lot of good stories to be presented in this context. You just have to know how to do it right.”