The Wrong Kind of Attention

In the last couple of days I came across two seemingly unrelated, but equally compelling, online items: a Kickstarter campaign by Julia Haslett, a filmmaker raising money for a New York City theatrical run of her prize-winning documentary about philosopher and social activist, Simone Weil, and a New York Times article on marketing agency BHH’s “charitable experiment” “Homeless Hotspots,” at the SXSW tech conference in Austin, Texas.

After reading Haslett’s description of her film, though, I realized that these two events are very much related. Haslett writes that a line by Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” made her wonder, “What response does seeing human suffering demand of us?" The film is, in part, Haslett’s search for an answer.

BHH might present “Homeless Hotspots” as an initiative to provide jobs for the homeless and focus attention on their plight, but I don’t think this isn’t the sort of attention Weil was talking about. The BHH program, to provide mobile hotspots to the thousands of convention-goers struggling with over-taxed convention wi-fi, gave 13 local Austin homeless men mobile wi-fi devices, outfitted them in t-shirts printed with their name and the “Homeless Hotspot” info, and paid them to hang out at the most densely packed conference areas.d8d1446b1c78e0a5cede93cd98e7bf94

The shirts also promoted a link to the “Homeless Hotspots” website, a page where people could contribute suggested amounts per minute of using the wi-fi service. But BHH’s self-congratulatory promotion of their “charitable experiment,” and lack of any articulated followup or next step in helping these people, exposes it as shameless exploitation in the name of charitable outreach.

In a blog post, Tim Carmody, reveals "The Damning Backstory Behind Homeless Hotspots at SXSW.”  Turns out that last year, a couple of BHH interns created a program in New York, “Underheard,” that gave 4 homeless men free mobile phones with Twitter accounts and unlimited texting so they could tell their stories and bring attention to the issues of homelessness. The intern’s program generated an unexpected amount of media attention and after it ran its two month course, BHH took it back from them and put it on hiatus, where it remains, although BHH has promised that there will be an update. Carmody surmizes that this “update” will be a reality TV show.

It’s hard to believe that anyone at BHH truly thought “Homeless Hotspots” would be viewed as a legitimate charitable outreach or an effective way of improving the plight of the homeless. Maybe they don’t care. But one thing’s for sure, this was a woefully misguided response to human suffering and attention of the very worst kind.

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The Power of Storytelling

tell storyQuestion:
Does your organization tell compelling stories,or recite facts?


Before you answer, read the two excerpts below. Both are taken from the websites of large non profit organizations. The first, from the United Way, illustrates the “Just The Facts, Ma’am” approach. The organization communicates with readers through statistics and strategic objectives. The second, from Heifer, illustrates the “Storytelling” approach. They follow the storyline of the impact their program made on the life of one woman, taking her from helpless to self-sufficient. Both organizations offer important programs. But in speaking the language of data, generalities, and high-level objectives, the United Way keeps people at arms-length from the emotional core of their organization. Seen through a wide-angle lens, their description gives supporters very little to connect with. By comparison, Heifer’s story is told through a close-up lens, giving supporters a one-to-one connection to the impact that their donations have.

After reading the excerpts, take a look at your organization’s messaging. Conversation or business brief?

From the United Way website:

"Family-sustaining employment is the foundation of financial stability.  Almost 25% of adults in the U.S. earn less than $27,000/year in jobs that offer no health care, vacation, or paid sick leave.  These workers often struggle to afford food, rent, childcare, and transportation, with little left over for saving. United Way and our partners are providing education, training, and sector-based strategies to connect skilled workers with jobs that offer the potential for career advancement.

United Way of Greater Cincinnati oversees The Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network, a public-private workforce collaborative that provides employers with trained workers and connects unemployed and/or low-paid, low-skilled workers with opportunities to earn family-sustaining wages. Over the past two years, the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network has served more than 2,700 people with 80 percent completing training programs and more than 70 percent obtaining jobs.”

From the Heifer website

The value of supporting a non profit organization goes way beyond the simple mechanics of transaction or investment. Sure, supporting an organization’s mission and the benefits of its programs is money well spent. But potential donors don’t form an emotional connection to a mission or a program. It’s the end benefit of those things that tug at people’s hearts, make them open their wallets, and give them the joy and satisfaction of a worthy accomplishment. And there’s no more powerful way to make the connection between an individual donation and a the end benefits and value of an organization’s programs, than through stories about individual successes.

1. Storytelling And The Art Of Email Writing

"Non profits are adding stories to their fundraising messages…and they’re not working."  

This probably isn’t what you were expecting to read in a blog post about storytelling. But keep reading. M+R Strategic Services, the marketing company that wrote the sentence is a strong proponent of storytelling. But, as they explain, “Too many organizations have a limited understanding of what “storytelling” means.

This white paper explains why storytelling is a powerful communication tool and gives clear examples on how organizations can use it successfully. One of the paper’s findings has particular relevance to the excerpts discussed above: “Individuals are more willing to give to save one person than to save thousands.” Who’d like to call United Way and let them know?
Read the white paper

2. Stories: The Source Code For Who We Are

"Stories stick because they hold real value." 

In this article from Fast Company, author, Paddy Harrington, talks about the three keys for moving beyond branding into storytelling. Also describing businesses, the information is just as relevant for non profits. Harrington argues that for organizations to survive, they need “deeply compelling stories at their heart,” and offers 3 simple principles to follow to achieve that.
Read the article

3. How To Tell Resonant Stories

"Brian McDonald calls it The Golden Theme, and it’s critical to telling more resonant stories."  

In his newsletter, Free Range Thinking, communications consultant Andy Goodman writes about screenwriting teacher and storytelling guru, Brian McDonald’s book, The Golden Theme, and how it cuts to the core of what makes a story compelling and effective. Here’s a hint: all good stories, no matter the content, have the same clear message. Goodman illustrates the Golden Theme principle with the example of a story told two ways. One works, one doesn’t.
Read the newsletter piece

4. The Golden Theme of Storytelling

"Art (Storytelling) is not to show people who you are; it is to show people who they are.” Brian McDonald is an author, filmmaker, and story consultant who has taught seminars on story structure at Disney Feature Animation and Pixar Animation Studios. His most recent book, The Golden Theme: How to Make Your Writing Appeal to the Highest Common Denominator, although short, is a valuable exploration of his unique perspective on the art, and importance, of storytelling. It can be read for free on the publisher’s website (although, once you read it, you’ll probably want to own a copy.)

Read the book online




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Curation Is The New Creation

"Curation taps the vast, agile, engaged human power of the web. It finds signal in the noise." - Steve Rosenbaum

In his recently published book, “Curation Nation,” Steve Rosenbaum argues that information overload has rendered the old adage, “knowledge is power,” obsolete. Anyone who has tried keeping up with web-published information knows that it’s like trying to sip water from a fire hose. Truth is, our all-you-can-eat access to the bulk-knowledge strewn about the online universe in blogs, newsletters, and social media updates is just as useless as no access at all. Rosenberg sees power shifting “from content makers to content curators.” In other words, the web made all information ubiquitous, which made the good stuff harder to find, which means that these days, the real power lies in curation.

"We don’t have an information shortage; we have an attention shortage." - Seth Godin

Most people have neither the time nor the stamina to wade through miles of information looking for the narrow range of content they’re interested in. By sifting through fields of haystacks in search of a couple of needles, curators provide a valuable and powerful service. But don’t confuse curation with aggregation. Aggregation is macro-collecting without refinement. Curation is what happens after aggregation. I call it intelligent filtering - editing out the truly bad and mediocre, then categorizing, organizing, summarizing, and sharing the best.

"Curation comes up when people realize that it isn’t just about information seeking, it’s also about synchronizing a community. "  - Clay Shirky

We’re all curators. If you’ve ever segmented your Twitter followers into categorical lists or posted links to favorite websites on your own site, you’re a curator. In fact, in some small way, most people online end up curating for each other. Every day, as reviews are posted and read on sites like Amazon and Yelp, and photos are uploaded and searched for on Flickr, we’re participating in a culture of curation and helping each other find the signals in the noise.

I’m a long-time dabbler in curation. For years I’ve emailed informal roundups of relevant information to friends, colleagues, and clients. But it wasn’t until recent conversations with some of them that I figured one of the big barriers keeping them from building their own knowledge base. The sheer magnitude of information was intimidating, and they weren’t sure where to start.

Wouldn’t it be cool if someone aggregated the information you needed, curated it into categories, and handed you brief summaries?” - Linda Ziskind

I thought, yes, that would be cool, so I did it. Yesterday I launched a twice-monthly newsletter for non profits and small businesses, one/five. Published on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, each issue will address a single topic and include short briefings on five relevant articles, with links to the full pieces. Whether readers click through to the full articles, or just skim the briefings, they’ll find ways to do things better, faster, and more effectively.

The inaugural issue is titled: “Organizations Worth Knowing About” and it covers five nonprofit service organizations that are invaluable sources of information, white papers, reports, case studies, and best practices. You can read the issue online:

You can subscribe to the newsletter here:

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Guest Post: How RestoreNYC raised over $130,000

by Rob Wu, co-founder CauseVox

Non profits have long recognized the value of individual networks and over the years have found a winning formula for leveraging them - peer-to-peer fundraising. These efforts are mostly associated with athletics like long distance endurance rides, runs, walks, or sports and, up until very recently, the fundraising was mostly done offline. But, with the recent growth of online crowdfunding sites, it’s becoming clear that online supporter-driven, or peer-to-peer fundraising has big potential for non profits. CauseVox is a young and nimble company that, through their own experiences in the non profit world, saw the need, and did something about it. Their solution is a customizable crowd-funding platform specifically designed for small to medium-sized non-profits.- L.Z.

$50k in 40 Days
Lingering effects of the recent recession might make some non profits a little skittish about setting aggressive fundraising goals and timelines. But this is a case study about a small non profit that did just that. In the summer of 2010, RestoreNYC, a non profit providing aftercare services to the survivors of sex trafficking, wanted to open a safe house residence before the following winter. They’d found a suitable place and were due to sign the lease on September 1st, but wanted to ensure that there was enough capital to pay for the first year’s rent. An anonymous donor pledged to match donations up to $50,000, which became their goal number. They gave themselves just 40 days to achieve it.

Donation by Donation
RestoreNYC had strong community support and a growing email list, but they traditionally relied on offline events as their main source of funding. With time as a critical factor, the organization knew it had to find a better solution to leverage their supporters and accelerate the giving cycle.

Online peer-to-peer fundraising was a solution that could do both - engage supporters and help them become fundraisers, using their network of connections to solicit donations. Research confirms the effectiveness of this strategy. The 2011 "Millennial Donors" research report, by non profit consulting firms, JCA and Achieve, surveyed nearly 3,000 non profit supporters between the ages of 20-35. They found that 56% of respondents get information about non profits from their peers. 48% perfer to give as a result of a personal request and 58% say they prefer to donate online.

RestoreNYC implemented their supporter-driven campaign using the CauseVox platform. They called the campaign, Brick by Brick.

Steps to Success
Deciding to incorporate a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign into their efforts was a critical move for RestoreNYC. Equally important was making sure it was implemented successfully. Here’s how they did it:

  • Make it Easy – The formula is simple: the easier it is to implement and use an interface, the more people will implement and use it. CauseVox’s campaign template and editor allows organizations to create their campaign page on the spot, without the need for html expertise or designers (note: the platform also accommodates custom layouts and designs). Using the online editor RestoreNYC uploaded a digitial video, the organization logo, customized the campaign page color palette, and inserted the campaign copy. They were also able to include links to Facebook, Twitter, and subscriptions to their updates. Fundraiser pages are also templatized and fundraiser can launch their pages in minutes.

  • Execute Strategically – The most successful campaigns are those developed around a sound strategy and incorporating clear objectives and timelines. The RestoreUSA staff used CauseVox’s guides on developing a strategy framework, as well as how to be "SMART" about setting objectives and getting a deeper understanding of your supporters.

  • Multi-Channel Communications – RestoreNYC used multiple channels to get the word out about the campaign and to recognize supporters and keep them engaged:
    • Email communication was used to create awareness of the campaign and send updates about progress.

    • The campaign was promoted through offline events, e.g., a kick-off dinner with key volunteers; distributing flyers at co-hosted events.
    • Restore tapped into communities of people who fit their supporter profiles, e.g., churches, bloggers, etc. Restore actively used Twitter and Facebook to give daily updates on the campaign.

  • Get Social – With an active Facebook and Twitter account, RestoreNYC was able to connect with their supports as well as their supporters’ donors on a real-time basis, reporting campaign progress, thanking donors and creating relationships with supporters and givers to learn more about their reasons for giving, as well as sharing stories about the impact their donation has made on the lives of the women that the organization works with.
  • Keep Content Fresh –RestoreNYC regularly updated content on their campaign page, as well as posted updated videos thanking supporters and donors and emphasizing the sense of urgency in meeting the 40 day deadline.

Campaign Results and Learnings
By the end of 40 days, Restore had raised over $80,000 ($65,000 online), beating their original $50,000 goal. They received the matching $50k donation giving them a total raised of $130,000. In the beginning of November, 2010, RestoreNYC began welcoming the first residents into their new safe house.

  • Easy-to-use technology enabled Restore to spend more time cultivating supporters

  • Using mixed-media and multiplechanngel for storytelling kept supporters engaged

  • Seeding the campaign with an initial group of leaders jumpstarted the campaign

  • Supporters enjoyed telling Restore’s story in their own words

  • Donations activity plateaued in the middle of the campaign before rising back up

  • Using existing communities to champion their cause extended their fundraising reach

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Fundraising Appeal Extreme Makeover: Go From Blah-Blah to Aha!

appeal letters

Is Your Annual Appeal Helping Or Hurting?
Every year nonprofits churn out bushels of appeal letters, hoping to persuade us to open our wallets. But no matter how hard these organizations work to make their message compelling and impactful, if it isn’t meaningful to their audiences, it’s just a bunch of blah-blah.

Here’s the problem: grab a random handful of appeal letters, boil the copy down to its essence, and you’ll find they they all say the same thing: “We implement mission-critical programs. We need money to continue. Please give it to us now.” With messages that are virtually indistinguishable and nothing to establish an emotional connection or relationship to our lives, the words in these appeals dissolve into pages of blah-blah-blah.

Psst - Nonprofits are Businesses. Pass It On.
Nonprofits aren’t alone in facing this problem. The blah-blahs have been the bane of business communications for decades. But recently the tendency of newly minted MBAs to ramble, use pretentious vocabulary, and get tangled in too much data has reached such critical proportions, that employer complaints have forced business schools to start teaching writing skills. It makes you wonder, if business professionals are being trained in effective storytelling skills, shouldn’t nonprofits be doing the same? It may sound heretical to some, but business sales pitches and nonprofit fundraising pitches are not that different. A donation and a purchase are both business transactions.

Skeptical? Let’s take a closer look. A purchase is defined as the exchange of items of value, such as information, goods, or services, and money. That’s technically correct, but it’s important to factor in what drives those exchanges. People don’t buy products and services, they buy benefits and solutions. Harvard Business School professor Ted Levitt illustrated this with one of my favorite quotes: “People don’t buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They buy a quarter inch hole.”

Donations, the nonprofit version of transactions, are defined as the giving of gifts, or free contributions. But, as with purchases, it’s important to understand the drivers. The act of donating is an act of doing good. And doing good makes people happy. In their book, “The Dragonfly Effect,” authors Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith argue that “…fundamental happiness is the result of an active life governed by intrinsic meaning [and] self-sacrifice,” a position backed up by research results, including a “National Institute of Health Study that found when people are encouraged to think of giving money to a charity, the brain areas usually associated with selfish pleasure are activated.” In making a donation, people are actually buying an emotional benefit for a specific and personal act of good - they’re buying happiness.

Buy a Heifer, a Camel, or a Honeybee.
A great example of an organization that not only understands this concept, but incorporates it into their DNA, is Heifer International. 4733474938_c5fcd451b7_zWith an organizational mission to “work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth,” they run dozens of programs, including gender equity, HIV/AIDS educaiton, microenterprise, and disaster rehabilitation, to name a few. But, to their credit, they don’t get caught in the trap of giving every program equal voice and weight in soliciting donations. They understand the power of a clear, simple, straightforward message: Donate money to buy this family a goat and you’ll have given them the tools to prosper.

Heifer increases the inherent joy of giving by encouraging donors to honor friends and family with donations made in their honor. An online gift catalog lists the types of gifts, from a package of honeybees with their hive, to a camel, to a “milk menagerie” - a heifer, two goats, and a water buffalo. Donors can create a printable card, or send an e-card tell friends they’ve been honored with a donation. The organization is clear that all donations go to support the entire mission, as it’s not possible to track gift animals from donation to distribution, but in offering these personalized scenarios, they create an emotional connection between the donor and the end benefit of the donation - which is a strong transaction driver.

The Four-Step Cure.
Going from blah-blah to Aha! isn’t difficult. But it does require a commitment to thoroughly review what and how you’re communicating and follow through on changes. Here are the four-steps that will take you there. It’s up to you to use them.

1. Find your story. This exercise will help you cut through fluff and doubletalk and get to the essence of the value you bring:

  • First, in one sentence, describe what your organization does.
  • Next, thinking about what your do, write a sentence describing the benefits brought about by your work.
  • Now rewrite that sentence in conversational English, as if you were speaking to a friend. This is the basis of your story.

2. Focus on the important characters and information

  • Your story has two main characters - the donor and the end beneficiary of your services. Your organization is not a main character.
  • Using the sentence you just wrote as the basis, rewrite the story from the perspective of each of the main characters.

3. Get right to the point.

  • Only two people read your appeal letter from beginning to end: you and your assistant. Everyone else skims. Get your audience engaged at the first sentence.
  • Make your point early and clearly. Leave the charts, graphs, and hard-core data for your annual report or financial statements.

4. Remember, you’re not selling the drill-bit, you’re selling the hole.

  • Throw out the laundry list of your organization’s accomplishments. That’s not what drives donations.
  • Sell the benefits that your donor’s gift enables.

Writing a great letter is just one of the requirements of a successful appeal campaign. Equally important is the follow-up - what you do after the letter goes out.If you think you don’t have time for these steps, then make time. Or find an intern, volunteer, or board member to help. Ignoring these 4 things can mean the difference between meeting your fundraising goals, or falling short.

1. Pick up the phone. A study by fundraiser Penelope Burke showed that donors who got a thank you phone call from a board member within 24 hours of the organization receiving their gift, gave 39% more the next time they were solicited than donors who didn’t receive a call. After 14 months, the calls were netting 42% more.

2. Discover motivation. Find out why donors chose to make a gift to your organization. Add the information to your donor database and reference it to personalize your next solicitation letter.

3. Show their money at work. Keep donors engaged with news about the people and programs their donations targeted.

4. Talk to lapsed donors. Give them the opportunity to come in at a lower donation level. Keep them up-to-date on the benefits of your organization. Personalize & tailor your messaging to them for your next appeal.

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Fundraising, Crowd-Style

hand and pennies

I came to New York City about 20 years ago, fresh out of grad school, jobless, and broke. Discouraged after weeks of unsuccessful job hunting, I remember thinking that if 25% of all New Yorkers would give me just one penny, I’d have enough money to live on until I found work. I didn’t know it at the time, but the solution that I was fantisizing about was crowd-funding.

Fast-forward two decades, and it’s not such a far-fetched idea. It was only a matter of time before people starting figuring out the collaborative benefits of a mash-up between online transactions, digital communities of interest, and crowd-sourced everything.

Unlike micro-lending, crowdfunding isn’t a loan. Crowdfunding is a way to source needed capital for a project and, depending on the set-up and the size of the funding pledge, funders can be rewarded with anything from simple gratitude, to a stake in the profits. If this sounds a bit like nonprofit fundraising, it’s because it is like nonprofit fundraising.

As crazy as my “give me a penny” idea might have sounded 20 years ago, today, I’d have my pick of crowdfunding websites to join and state my case. There are sites that host thousands of campaigns covering everything from funding an independent film about disasterous blind dates, to campaigns for funding sex-reassignment surgery (, And there are sites that fund only a specific category of endeavor (budding fashion designers:; open-source software projects:; small-businesses owners or start-ups:; journalists who want to pursue stories missed by mainstream media:

The results of crowdfunding campaigns are uneven, at best, and, depending on the funding model, if a project misses its goal by the stated deadline, they may not get any of the cash raised. The bottom line is, crowdfunding (or fundraising, for that matter), is a form of marketing and, like any marketing campaign, the good ones generally work and the bad ones, not so much.

Some of the projects might be a little too narrowly targeted to succeed (a film on the benefits of flossing), but, on sites where everyone gets a shot, it’s not surprising to find a little bit of everything. What is surprising though, is how few non-profits are using crowd-sourcing sites for small captial projects, event funding, or even to supplement their marketing budgets. If you’re a non-profit who uses crowdsourcing, or know one that does, let me know about it. This seems like a large missed-opportunity and, if executed correctly, a potentially valuable source of funding.

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A Minimum of Words to a Maximum of Sense*

Sometimes it feels as if you could drown in the piles, both real and virtual, of reading required to keep even the smallest grasp on what’s going on in the world of information, ideas, and technology. As with all mandatory reading, you become skilled at extracting meaning and information from a quick skim. But every so often you encounter a sentence that stops you cold. Provocative, spot-on ideas packaged in simple, declarative sentences. The formula can’t be beat. Here are a few I found this week:

"Curating is the new publishing."
Found on the website of a new web content curating tool:

"Ideas are the work of bricolage. They are, almost inevitably, networks of other ideas."
Steven Johnson, “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.”

"Newspapers think they’re just in the information business, but they’re really in the business of community building as well."
Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum, quoted in the 10/10/10 NY Times Magazine article, “Recipe Redux: The Community Cookbook,” by Amanda Hesser

"We re-formulate the mission (statement) in a phrase of ~8 words or less that includes a target population or setting, a verb, and an ultimate outcome that implies something to measure. We measure impact because it’s the only way to know whether our money is doing any good. In fact, we don’t invest in organizations that don’t measure impact - they’re flying blind and we would be too."
Kevin Starr, Executive Director of the Mulago Foundatio

"Six practices of high impact non profits:
1) to serve and advocate; 

2) to harness market forces; 

3) to inspire evangelists; 

4) to nurture nonprofit networks; 

5) to master adaptation; 

6) to share leadership.”

Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield & Heather McLeod Grant

*paraphrase of Mark Twain’s quote, “a minimum of sound to a maximum of sense.”

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Ready, Fire, Aim: 6 Things Your Organization MUST Do Before Launching a Social Media Site.

So, you’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge into social media. You’ve started a Facebook page and opened a Twitter account. You’ve put the word out to all of your organization’s members, supporters, friends and volunteers, and they’re starting to sign up as your Facebook fans and Twitter followers. You’ve even begun to post Facebook updates and Tweets about your organization’s upcoming events and fundraising drives.

But, something’s not quite right. Aside from your posts, nothing much is happening. There’s no bump in event attendance, and donations are still flat. It’s almost as if you’re talking and no one is listening. Help!

It sounds like you have a classic case of…..

Missing the target

Launching your Facebook Page or Twitter should be the very last step in the social media process, not the first  Before you launch, you need to gather the information that will keep your efforts are on target. Here are 5 key things organizations must do before launching a social media site:

1. Identify Objectives & Goals
What do you hope to accomplish with your social media initiative? Identify the stakeholders in your organization and work with them to identify all of the across-the-board objectives. Perhaps you’re looking to create greater awareness of your organization, increase membership, boost donations, develop a channel for conversation and information sharing, or all of the above. Your list of objectives will help you determine your primary target audience and develop your messaging guidelines. 

Once you’ve identified objectives, set measurable goals. For example, if one of your goals is to increase awareness of your organization, some of the criteria for measurement would be the number of new fans or followers who fit your target audience profiles; the number of times your tweets are retweeted by others; and by the level of conversation and engagement that your fans and followers have with you, as well as with each other.

2. Identify Target Audience
Most organizations have several levels of communication targets, from members and donors to prospect and the media. Once you’ve identified all of your target audience, segment them into different categories of relationship and a hierarchy of importance. This will help with developing tactics for aggregating your audience. 

3. Use a Professional Resource to Get Started
"Why do I need a professional resource to help us with social media? My 15 year old niece has a Facebook page and her 19 year old brother tweets. How hard can it be?" A topic of conversation at the recent American Marketing Association’s Nonprofit Marketing Conference were the challenges of moving nonprofit leadership away from marketing and fundraising strategies that are no longer effective; and of effectively integrating marketing discipline into overall strategy. Part of the difficulty that nonprofit marketers face are the myths and misperceptions that permeate the thinking of many nonprofit organizations, i.e.: Marketing is just tactical; you can’t measure marketing; marketing segmentation isn’t practical for most nonprofits; competition doesn’t apply to charities; if the board likes the advertising, it must be good marketing. 

I’ll add another to the list: “Social media is so easy to implement, we can handle it in-house. The intern will do it.” It’s true, just about anyone with a pulse and a computer can launch a Facebook page and a Twitter account. But the easy part ends there. Think about it this way: Say you want to trademark, copyright, or patent something that is the intellectual property of your organization. You can download free forms and templates from, or you can contact a lawyer. Either way, your forms will be filled out, but it’s likely that the do-it-yourself method isn’t going to give you the protection you need. Implementing a program that will reach your target audience and meet your objectives successfully, requires an in-depth knowledge of how social media works, including the most strategic ways to use the various online technologies, experience in implementing successful social media programs, and current accepted best practices.

This doesn’t mean there’s a large expense or a new hire in your organization’s future. In fact, the best social media professionals will set up your social media program, train your organization in how to participate, put together a manageable and easy to execute process for running the program, and then hand you the keys. And, very importantly, good social media professionals will hold their work to success metrics, and show you how to do the same.

4. Create Message Guidelines
No matter who is driving the social media train, how, and what, they communicate is critical to success. Your social media consultant, or resource, will use your objectives, your brand guidelines, your mission statement, and any other information specific to your organization to create guidelines for what should and shouldn’t be said by those representing your organization on your social media sites. This will ensure consistency in brand identity. But your consultant will also create guidelines with best practices for engaging with your Fans and followers: e.g., the appropriate way to respond to a negative comment or criticism, ways to engage users in conversation when no one seems to be talking, and how to create a lively community that people will return to regularly.

5. Develop Tactics For Aggregating Relevant Fans & Follower
With all of the attention paid to the number of Fans and followers that social media users have, it’s easy to forget that it’s not quantity, but the quality that counts. It’s worthless to simply aggregate a large collection of random people who’ve become your follower in order to get your reciprocal follow so they can boost their own follower count. The number may look impressive on your computer screen, but it isn’t going to move the needle on your objectives. The value in social media doesn’t lay in getting the biggest headcount, it’s in building strong relationships. And you need to ensure you’re building those relationship communities with the right members. Here are just a few of the community-building tactics a professional resource will employ:

  • Invite your database contacts to become Facebook Fans and/or Twitter followers. Develop an email campaign let people know where to find you online and, more importantly, what’s in it for them if they do. Create appropriate messaging for each of the segments of your list.
  • Reach out to peer organizations, industry-related groups and fan pages, inside and outside your local geography. Contact via email the ones you have personal relationships with, and connect with them, as well as with others, on social media. On Facebook this means you would make them one of your “Favorite Pages.” 
  • Search relevant keywords and hashtags for relevant target audience and follow them on Twitter. Look at their list of followers and followees to find other people who fit your target audience criteria.
  • Using Facebook FBML, create a separate, custom landing page for people who haven’t yet become a Fan. This means that if someone clicks on your Facebook link, or does a search and finds you, they won’t land on your Wall page, which is the default landing page for all Facebook accounts. You can create an engaging separate landing page describing your organization and the benefits of being your Facebook fan, with an invitation to become a fan.
  • Include links to your social media site on your emails, website, and on all print material. You can put a Fan Page promotional widget on your website and you can add an “Invite Your Friends” box to your fan page which gives your fans and visitors the ability to share page and invite their friends to become a fan.
  • Advertise on Facebook. The sidebar ads are very inexpensive and, because of their graphic and text size limit, easy to create. Best of all you can target your ad to an extremely fine degree, boosting the return on investment.  
  • Find and be found on Twitter by using 3rd party applications like WeFollow, Twellow,, TweepSearch, etc. These directories list and catalog Twitter users via their message content, bio content, or what they’ve listed themselves as in the directory. Check for a list of 3rd party Twitter directories, as well as other apps, such as trend analysis, profile directories, and more.

The list goes on and on. The point is, it takes some work, but you should be able to put together a great group of targeted followers and fans in a very short time.

6. Engage and Converse
It’s important to remember that social media is unlike any other marketing strategy, tactic or technology. It’s not a broadcast medium, it’s a place of conversation and interaction. If you’re choosing to use social media as a place only to post and promote events and solicit donations, you should look at other technology solutions and implement them on your website, or someplace where people won’t come, expecting interaction. But if your objective is to create deeper relationships with your constituencies; engage in an exchange of ideas and observations,; and, for better or worse, be open and transparent about everything you do, knowing that in this context, honesty is appreciated and rewarded with loyalty, then social media is for you.

There aren’t hard and fast rules about the frequency of posting updates or Tweets, although there is such a thing as too much and too little. Work with your social media resources to find the right pace for you and your community. Social media conversations aren’t unlike ones in real life. Ask questions and answer them, comment on statements, congratulate, sympathise, tell funny stories. Give and get information. Listen. Speak. Repeat.


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Unfortunate Quotes

It’s happened throughout history that some of the world’s smartest people have said some of the most unfortunate things. In 1943, Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Harry M. Warner, one of the founders of Warner Bros., famously said, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

In a way, you can excuse some of these spectacularly wrong observations. Based on the technology of the day, and the relatively leisurely pace of innovation, predicting the future was a lot harder back then.

These days, though, indictors of the future are all around us, just waiting to be noticed. And with all of the sophisticated information gathering, parsing, and analyzing technologies at our fingertips, it’s harder to excuse statements so off track, you have to wonder what in the world people were thinking. 

Here are a few unfortunate quotes from this past week, along with a few words of advice to the people who spoke them.

In the Oct. 6, 2010 Wall Street Journal article, “Time Warner Sees Ally in Web”, Jeffrey Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner Inc., talks about working with Google to bring cable shows to users across various devices. Good, right? Wrong. Because after he confidently bragged that Netflix and Hulu were in for some stiff competition, he went on to prove that even though he may flirt with the multi-platform vixens, he’s going home with the gal he walked in with - cable. #unfortunatequote

"When all of the content on the big screen works like the content on the little screen what will happen? The programming will trump the interface."

"Mr. Bewkes said that Hulu and Netflix, which offers a streaming television and movie service, have garnered attention because they have created a great experience for access content on smaller screens. But he said that as Google, Apple, and paid television operators improve the experience on large TV’s, people will prefer to watch on demand on their TVs.:

Jeff, you gotta find some people under 30 to hang with. Fly commerical. Take a look around you. Notice anything about where people are consuming media? Hint: EVERYWHERE. It’s not about how the content works, and it’s not only about choice. It’s about ubiquity. People will find a way to watch what they want, when they want to, wherever they are.

In the same Wall Street Journal, on the very next page, was an article about laptop PC sales being slowed by the frenzy for computer tablets. Best Buy’s CEO, Brian Dunn, commented on how the sale of iPads was cannibalizing sales of netbook computers by as much as 50%. But, Steve McArthur, a senior vice president at HP gave the contrarian view, and went on-record with this:

"It’s way too early to say whether tablets will eat into sales of other products. Clearly there will be come overlap, but H-P’s data show it won’t be huge."

I guess with all the fuss going on over at H-P, having gone through 3 CEOs in 11 years and kickout out their most recent one this past August, corporate communications is too busy with other fires to monitor every SVP. But, with more and more applications being cloud-based, faster and smaller processors, and interactive functions being baked into everything we see and touch, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that 5 years from now, lineup at the computer section of Best Buy is going to look very different than today. #unfortunatequote


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