Tag Archives: online marketing

@goodlaura explains it all to us: Sacramento Charity Daily

In yesterday’s blog post, I shared my recent discovery of Sacramento News Daily and Sacramento Charity Daily, which Sacramento non-profits should consider as they work to engage more people in supporting their missions.  To take advantage of Sacramento Charity Daily, non-profits have to tweet and include links to longer articles they post in blogs or on their websites.

Laura Good, a.k.a. @goodlaura, was kind enough to respond to the questions I sent her.  If you don’t know Laura, you should.  The woman has 6,819 people following her on Twitter and has sent 47,830 tweets – a number that will no doubt increase by the time you read this (no wonder the first line of her Twitter profile is “Twitter Junkie”).

Here’s a key bit of advice worth reading, as well as her full responses to my questions, below (and waaaay at the bottom some links you should check out):

My advice is that charities invest time in establishing a Facebook Page and a Twitter account, if they don’t already have one.   And once those are established, that they try to post content at least once a day during “prime time” – about 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (anecdotal—this is my own observation) Monday through Friday.  Weekends are the absolute worst time to post content as activity on both Facebook and Twitter drops way off.  Posting time is a little less important on Facebook but it is absolutely critical on Twitter.

1)      When did you launch Sacramento News Daily and Sacramento Charity Daily to the public?

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was several months ago—maybe October or November.

2)  Your Twitter profile says you’re a program director with SARTA.org.  SARTA has a very nice website that does a great job of feeding news relevant to the organization’s technology focus.  Is that how you became interested in the potential of aggregating and feeding relevant content via the Internet?

I don’t think that what I do for SARTA influenced my decision—I was actually very passionate about the power of social media before I started working for SARTA in September of 2008.  I’ve applied my passion to SARTA’s website and social media presence as well as to my volunteer role with the Sacramento Social Media Club.  I post much of the social media content for Sacramento Social Media Club and for 2011, I am the volunteer Executive Director.  Back to the question… my primary interest area in social media is in connecting the community/building community.  I follow/friend people and organizations in the Sacramento region and promote causes and events I think would be of interest to those in the region via Facebook and Twitter.  I have a particular heart for philanthropic organizations* and try to use my social media influence to help promote them.  This is why I created the sac-charity Twitter list and the Sacramento Charity Daily.

(*Laura later clarified that she loves animals and animal-related causes fall within her definition.)

3)      Sacramento News Daily and Sacramento Charity Daily appear to be running on a platform called paper.li developed by SmallRivers.  (Nice looking, by the way.)  Did you reach out and find SmallRivers or did they reach out to you?

I found out about paper.li through a tweet from someone I follow on Twitter and then did a little research on my own about the application.  I started the Sacramento Daily News first, as I had already cultivated a pretty good list of local media on Twitter and then began cultivating the Sacramento Charity list with the idea of promoting them via the paper.li app.  A lot of the “papers” created are a bit worthless in my opinion – for example you can create one that aggregates information from everyone you follow on Twitter.  I want my papers to have a real focus and be of value to those who take the time to click on the promo tweet and then read them. This is why I’ve only created paper.li papers from my cultivated lists.  I also have one called “Sac Family Fun Daily.”  The goal for that paper is to promote activities in the Sacramento region that families might enjoy.

4)      Why did you decide to create Sacramento Charity Daily as a separate online news channel, vs. making it a component of Sacramento News Daily?

Sacramento News Daily only includes those who are professional journalists and/or news media organizations like News10, The Sacramento Bee, etc.  I review the paper from time to time to make sure that those I’ve included on the list really are tweeting news. If they are using their twitter account for more personal reasons, I may decide to take them off the sac-media list.  Not that there is anything wrong with personal tweets—most of mine are of that nature.  I just want to make sure the “paper” really is news. I created a separate paper for Sacramento Charity Daily because I didn’t want to bury news about Sacramento Charities in the Sacramento News Daily paper.  I have 163 accounts on my sac-media list and only 48 (so far!) on my sac-charity list.  I think that each of the papers may appeal to a different audience.  People who don’t really care to see a summary of Sacramento news from Twitter may care quite a bit about what local charities are doing.

5)      Do you find all of the content you post from tweets? Or do you use other sources besides Twitter?

Paper.li allows me to create the twitter list that the ‘paper” will pull content from. There is no way for me to add other content to what is reported each day, other than creating an editorial note (which I have not yet done).

6)      And now for advice. Most nonprofits post news on their websites.  How do they let you know when they’ve posted something interesting?  And, pragmatically, is the link to the organization website good enough, even though there will likely be other stuff on the page?

As you see from my answer to Question 4 there isn’t a way for me to add info from outside of what an organization tweets.  If they have a twitter account (and are based in the Sacramento region) they should let me know so I can follow them and add them to my sac-charity list. Then, they should tweet at least daily including links (paper.li only includes tweets with links to web content).  I don’t include all regional non-profits on my sac-charity list. I am primarily looking to promote philanthropic organizations that help individuals.  Originally, my list was broader than that but I’m working to fine tune it.  I have added some national charities that were “nominated” by Sacramentans to be included on the list but as more Sacramento based charities are added, I may remove them. For now, I also have non-profits that support the arts in Sacramento on the list.

Sacramento is Number 4 in the nation for  business use of Twitter. It makes sense for charities in this region to have a presence on Twitter because our community is so engaged on Twitter.  My advice is that charities invest time in establishing a Facebook Page and a Twitter account, if they don’t already have one.   And once those are established, that they try to post content at least once a day during “prime time” – about 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (anecdotal—this is my own observation) Monday through Friday.  Weekends are the absolute worst time to post content as activity on both Facebook and Twitter drops way off.  Posting time is a little less important on Facebook but it is absolutely critical on Twitter.

7)      Are you the editorial decision maker?  Or is the process automated?

The process is automatic on paper.li. The only editorial decisions I make is who is on my sac-charity list and what time the paper is produced/broadcast via twitter each day.  I don’t even decide which twitter users from within the list will be featured in the daily tweet.  The good news about this limitation is that I can spread the word about charities with very little effort on my part, other than cultivating a good Twitter list.  I can add an editorial comment to the paper but I’ve never done that.  There is also an option to create a paper using different criteria than a twitter list – #tags for instance.  And there is a more advanced feature I have yet to try that lets you specify who to include and to filter on key words.

8)      What kind of content are you looking for?

It’s my hope that charitable organizations within the region will tweet about their cause and include links to web content that further explains their cause, activities, fund raising campaigns, events, etc.

9)      What length should news items be to be most compatible with re-posting on your daily news sites?

I don’t think this matters in what paper.li decides to include.  The key is that it is web content and a link to the content is tweeted.

10)      What do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t?

A lot of charitable organizations have limited resources – both people and funding. Social media is a low cost way to both share the message and to engage with those who care about your cause.  You don’t have to be an expert to create a Facebook page or a Twitter account—nor do you have to pay an expert to do it for you. If you’d like some advice, there are many low cost and even free seminars that provide tips on how to create an effective Facebook Page or Twitter account.  The Sacramento Social Media Club has monthly events and quarterly workshops that do just this.  There is a lot of great content on the internet on how non-profits can effectively use social media.  I also recommend that non-profits look at how other non-profits are successfully using social media and learn from them.  And  a final tip – if a charitable organization has a Facebook Page or Twitter Account, it should be featured on the home page of their website with a link to “Like” or “Follow.”

Additional info:

My Twitter account:

http://twitter.com/goodlaura

Sacramento Social Media Club

Twitter:  http://twitter.com/SMCSac

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/SMCSAC

Links to My Twitter Lists mentioned in this article:

http://twitter.com/goodlaura/sac-charity

http://twitter.com/goodlaura/sac-media

http://twitter.com/goodlaura/sac-family-fun

Links to my Paper.li “papers”

http://paper.li/goodlaura/sac-charity

http://paper.li/goodlaura/sac-family-fun

http://paper.li/goodlaura/sac-media

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8 things I learned about Facebook Causes at NTC 09

Our local United Way just launched its "Live United" campaign on Facebook Causes

Our local United Way just launched its "Live United" campaign on Facebook Causes

With nearly three-quarters of nonprofits having a presence on Facebook, I was curious:  so what’s the big deal?  Susan Gordon, Senior Nonprofit Coordinator for Causes, the free Facebook application, enthusiastically offered best practice tips during the very last time slot of the recent NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco.

But wait (you say)!  Didn’t I just read a big article that Causes is no good for raising moneyShouldn’t I spend my resources on something with a better return?

After the dissing of the article died down (blogs abuzz…), many users of Causes at the NTEN conference spoke to the value of Facebook as a part of their marketing mix.  Look, no nonprofit has a lot of time OR money, so when these fundraisers tell me it’s a critical part of their toolbox, I listen.  Many believe that people learn about them through Causes, begin to care about the cause or organization, and give through other channels.  By the way, Causes takes a fairly hefty cut  (Facebook takes a small cut of donations, and there’s a transaction fee charged by Network for Good, which processes the money) — but you’re likely acquiring new donors that you wouldn’t have reached any other way.  For small donations, it compares fairly well to the administrative cost of mailing appeals, sending thank you’s, etc. (postage and cost adds up for snail mail donor acquisition, too).

But wait (you again?)!  Doesn’t it take too much time to keep up with Causes?  Angela, who maintains the “Save Darfur Coalition” Causes page (along with a lot of other responsibilities), says she only spends 10 minutes a day on Causes — and they have 1 million Facebook friends.  She says she takes a hands-off approach, checks out new users (and thanks them), and does a little moderation of members’ posts.

Without further adieu (now that you’ve stopped interrupting), here are Susan’s best practice suggestions:

  1. Get the name right.  The name should use an active verb and grab attention, like, “Educate girls in Africa,” or “Stand up for hungry children!”
  2. Find the exclamation point key and use it often.  Susan says that part of the culture of Facebook is enthusiasm.  Exclamation points sell!
  3. Turn it into a campaign.  Set an achievable goal – like raising $10,000 — and find a creative way to engage people to invite their friends.  The “Power of Ten” campaign asked 10 people to invite 10 other people to send $10 each.  One of Susan’s co-speakers, Ryan, noted, “Always have a fundraiser up” (not just a generic cause/organization page).
  4. Consider an incentive, like a drawing to attend a conference, a free downloadable CD, etc.
  5. Use the announcements feature and keep followers in close touch.  Susan says you can’t announce too often, but make the content different each time (and short) – oh, and with exclamation points!
  6. Post on the wall.
  7. Activate your offline network.  Tell people what you’re doing by email and at events.
  8. Reach out to the hall of famers — those that recruited the most friends to the cause — and message them on the Care Wall.  Facebook is VERY careful about not allowing you to message people you don’t know, but Causes found a way to allow nonprofits to communicate with followers through the Care Wall.

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Chicken or egg dilemma for nonprofits – what’s first: website, email, Facebook, Twitter?

 

Kathy Gill tweets - what's first?

Kathy Gill tweets - what's first?

I listen when the universe sends me the same message twice in one day.  Yesterday morning, I saw the Twitter post (pictured) from Kathy Gill, University of Washington’s social media senior lecturer.  Attending NTEN’s “Effective Online Communications,” John Kenyon, consultant, asked (and answered) the same question about which online communications component should come first.

Here’s what he said:  “Your website and email are the foundation of your online strategy.”

Here’s what I had tweeted back to Kathy earlier in the day:  “For commercial co, optimize website 1st, then blog and newsletter.”

Came across a summary of a new study (hat tip:  Mack Collier) that suggests blogs are going to play an even bigger role for commercial enterprises going forward.

For a nonprofit, I agree with John.  Make the website sing, and build off of that!  (Kathy, if you happen to see this post I want to know what answers you received from your Twitter followers!)

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How much email is too much when it comes to fundraising appeals?

Screen shot of Common Knowledge's home page

Screen shot of Common Knowledge's home page

Jeff Patrick, president and founder of Common Knowledge, a consulting firm, promised that one of the four case studies he would present at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference yesterday would be “a juicy one,” but all four went a long way toward satisfying one’s appetite for solid results.  Here are some of the delicious tidbits that appealed to my palate:

 
You can’t send too many email appeals.”  Knowing that fundraisers and direct mail experts assume that more frequent email appeals will wear out donors and lead them to unsubscribe from email lists, Jeff worked with a national veteran’s group to test whether high frequency email (2 direct appeals and 1 cultivation email with a “soft ask”/month) performed better or worse than low frequency email (1 appeal/month) in combination with printed direct mail materials.  The suprising result:  over a three month period, 23% more was donated by the group that received high frequency email.  (Test groups of equal size received either the low or high frequency email campaign.)  It’s true that the % of those opening these solicitation emails was a little lower among the high frequency group, and their average gift was lower, BUT because they were asked more often, more was raised.  Jeff’s tip:  don’t evaluate a tactic based on a one time experience; run the test over a time period.  He concluded, “Asking more (often) is okay as long as asking more has cultivation in it” — that is, information and stories that develop interest and relationship with potential donors.
 
A fast way to double your fun – well, almost – by using both online and offline channels in combination.  Jeff also presented a case study that demonstrated a way to jump start email list acquisition by using a company like FreshAddress to append household/address info with emails.   These list suppliers match your info with an email address and go through the work of getting people to opt-in to receive email; the non-profit only pays for email addresses they receive at the end of the process.  Remember that these constituents already know you, so you’re not spamming them.  They may unsubscribe at a higher rate (e.g. 1.5%) but they still give more just because you started communicating with them with an online channel.  Why acquire email addresses of existing donors?  Often, non-profits have large list of past donors with which they communicate by snail mail, but for whom they have no email address.  Jeff says that strong evidence points to the value of communicating BOTH online and offline.  Get this:  if you ask for donations both online (via email) and offline (via snail mail), organizations yield roughly 1 1/2 times the revenue than if they had used just one channel.
 
Got a new donor or contact?  Jeff recommends “rapid onboarding.”  Anytime someone shares the gift of their contact information with you, communicate rapidly and frequently with them over their first 30 days with you.  Jeff recommends sending cultivation emails twice a week for that getting-to-know (and love)-you period.
 
Jeff also did a show-and-tell of a Facebook Application he created for the Alliance for Lupus Research on Facebook.  I won’t explain it well but I hope that Jeff will blog about it in the next week or so, and if he does, I’ll share the link with you.  As he points out, Facebook is a great platform where people “meet up” in an environment that is almost SPAM free.  He effectively created a microsite for ALR within Facebook that went way beyond what you can do with Causes.
 
P.S.  Common Knowledge is also serving up a new white paper that looks interesting, Social Networks for Non-profits:  Why You Should Grow Your Own.  Check out the description about it here.  And just yesterday, Common Knowledge and its partners, NTEN and ThePort, reported that almost three-quarters of non-profits have a Facebook page, plus a whole lot more good data about social networks in the Nonprofit Social Network Survey report.

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Quiz: what do these two Facebook status comments have in common?

Example 1:  Bill listed his status as “checking Facebook because the thing is so damned addictive.”

Example 2:  Wendi updated hers to say she was “annoyed by the ‘Born in the 60s, no wrinkles’ FB ads. They suggest intervention which most of us haven’t had.”

Answer:  They both exemplify emerging trends regarding Facebook usage.  Hat tip to Beth Kantor for turning me (and her bajillion other readers) on to a new report from Neilsen (of ratings fame) that explains these comments and a few other things.

No wonder Bill can’t get off Facebook.  Facebook has the highest average time per person of the 75 most popular ‘member community’ sites in the world.  Time spent on social networks and blogging sites is growing at 3 times the rate of overall Internet growth.  The average time spent on Facebook per person is 3 hours, 10 minutes.

Wendi is perturbed that some advertiser is using Facebook’s veritable goldmine of detailed personal information (like the fact she was born in the 60s) to pitch something to her.  She should expect more of this until advertisers start to understand some of the subtleties – like, uh, Wendi considered it insulting.  Time spent will become more valuable than pages viewed, and advertisers will soon figure out that Facebook is a great place to be.  Unfortunately, there’s good evidence that Wendi is not alone in experiencing the annoyance factor.

Both Bill and Wendi are over 40.  A lot more people my age are on Facebook, which is now the most popular social network in the world.  The greatest growth is occurring in the 25-49 year old segment, and FB added twice as many 50-64 year old visitors as <18 year old visitors this year.

What’s it mean for non-profits?  In a post on the 17th, I talked about the increasing importance of pay-per-click advertising.  That advertising won’t just be on search pages like Google.  Look for more opportunities to test very targeted advertising on Facebook.  But watch out for the Wendi factor and make sure you identify people who have an interest in causes in your area.  Don’t just define them by broad demographic categories.

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What non-profits can learn from Dave Mering and celebrity mothers

Turns out that radio audiences are also in decline, the victim of ipods, MP3 file sharing and social media.  Advertising expert Dave Mering of Mering Carson (Sacramento, CA) weighed in on the future of local news via email:  “What makes this future so scary is the loss of readership among young people. Many see no need at all to pick up a newspaper on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, preferring instead to get their news over the internet or by mobile device or through alternative news sources on television. …(V)iewership of local news has declined as well. Whether all four of the major affiliates will continue to maintain news products is in serious doubt, as it becomes more economical at some point to walk away from expensive news programming in a declining viewership environment and replace it with cheaper alternatives such as local talk or syndicated programming.  The real question is who will become the dominant player in local news over the internet and can that business model play out financially.”

These points strengthen my theory that people will have to find what they want through more sources, and they will have to find efficient ways to keep track of it all.  Here are more breadcrumbs for our trail:

  • Last week, Julie Appleby of USA Today announced she is leaving that pub and moving on to be a senior correspondent with Kaiser Health News, a new, foundation-funded news service to provide in-depth coverage of health policy issues.
  • Yahoo is finding some success with online programs aimed at “needs” they have identified.  They find “needs” by mining search queries and traffic data; then they develop niche Web shows like “Spotlight to Nightlight”, a show comprised of short segments about celebrity mothers.  (Ick.  Obviously I am not the target audience.)  These shows are less expensive to produce that TV-style programs, short (for the attention-span challenged) and can be watched at any time according to user convenience.
  • Though it’s reportedly not very useful yet, Twitter is getting around to adding search functionality.  Once there’s an algorithm that distinguishes the junk from the useful, it will make micro-blogs more accessible and useful, even for people who aren’t spending their day following others on Twitter.

So what?  For non-profits, it underscores the importance of figuring out how to reach people through online environments rather than through traditional newspaper, radio and television news.  If Yahoo can find audiences through search queries and traffic data, methinks a few local news corps may be able to figure out how to do the same thing for local programming.  Or, a few national outlets – like the NY Times – will figure out how to use this data to develop locally-appealing niche programs.

It brings to the fore the importance of survival in an online world.  Look at the strategies in the past two posts – online participation, etc.  As a starting point, if your website isn’t in good shape to serve up interesting content to those you attract (which means having both content and some degree of effective optimization for search), better get cracking.

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The “good”: 5 emerging opportunities for non-profits from changes in mass media

My last post appealed to the Eeyore in you.  This one appeals to your inner Tigger.  (I can’t write that without hearing Tigger’s voice:  “T-I-DOUBLE GUH-ER”)

Unfortunately, it’s hard not to imagine the continued collapse of traditional newspapers  (read the Bee’s lament, here – which, tellingly, was a reprint from another publication).  As Sandy (she with the fresh new media graduate degree) pointed out, “The real estate and automotive industries have basically been the only thing supporting the ‘meatspace’ newspapers but as money gets tighter in those industries they also have been moving pretty quickly to the online environment.”

So here’s what I would consider a “good” scenario for news distribution.  And why do I consider it optimistic?  Because change shakes up the hierarchy.  Organizations that don’t “get it” will lose ground with their intended audiences, and organizations – even small ones – will gain ground if they are fast-moving and seize upon emerging opportunities.

  • Some newspapers will be left standing but they will become regionals or nationals.  The New York Times is certain to be among them.  With a strong national content delivered both print and online, these stalwarts will be positioned to expand online into large metro markets, a la   www.chicago.nytimes.com.  (Don’t try to follow that if it appears as a link – I’m hypothesizing!)
  • Likewise, there will be at least one strong news-oriented radio station and relatively strong TV news program.  (The economics of radio are more favorable for radio than TV, but I expect at least one TV news program to survive.)
  • The Jon Stewartization of news will continue, merging somewhere along the way with personality-based radio shows.   Just imagine the opportunities associated with juxtaposing info about your favorite cause alongside the banter of morning radio anchors,  such as Mark and Mercedes’ recent discussion about what proportion of people will pee in the shower or use the “farmer’s hankie” (100.5 The Zone, here in Sacramento).
  • On television, look for a similar “View-ization” or “Oprah-ization” of local, personality-based shows that incorporate current issues and events.  In Sacramento, Good Day Sacramento probably is the furthest along in this direction.
  • News outlets are all aggressively trying to incorporate the other mediums for communications, and to prompt dialogue.  The Sacramento Bee now has a small battalion of bloggers that they’ve recruited to blog about everything from sports to technology to non-profits.  (Watch for United Way’s Gabrielle Stephenson’s posts.)  “The Swarm” blog is aimed at letting you “mix it up” with The Bee’s editorial board although it sure looks like more telling than listening to me.   The Bee’s Forum has an online component where the editor moderates discussion each week. CNN is turning the we’ll-tell-you-what-we-think-and-you-comment model on its head with ireport.  CNN is using a website and a Facebook page as a way of collecting ideas for stories directly from the audience and then turning it into a news report.  While the show is on the air, they show comments coming in from these live sources as they speak.  The proverbial tail wags the dog.
  • People who really need to understand something deeply will find good sources.  They’ll find bloggers or publications (online or offline) that they trust.  Or hire consultants to acquire and consolidate good information as a time-saver.  Most likely, they’ll pay — or at least pay more — for the access.
  • They’ll also find sources that cater to their specific interests.  They might subscribe to an online political publication, a car e-newsletter and a local restaurant review blog.  (And they’ll miss the convenient good-old days when they could get most of that in the local paper.)
  • They’ll also turn to people that they trust.  Opinion-leaders will be the people with lots of followers on Twitter, large numbers of readers to their blogs, and so on.  Sure, they’ll be the standard cadre of grass-tops (people who know people in office) but we’ll also be looking for people who just seem to know what the heck is going on with respect to social and demographic trends, technology, the economy, politics and so on.

And I’ll throw in some related trends that may smerge with these media developments:

  • Search(a la Google) will continue to be massively important because people will have to seek and find information.
  • As people get back to basics in a down economy, they will continue to try to support the things they already care about — education, for example.  They may try to give more to offset those who are giving less, or they may volunteer more to make up for what they cannot give.
  • After years of “thinking globally” messages, a “hyper local” trend will emerge.  More than local-vores or buying local, this will be an upsurge in concern about one’s own community as economic threats to local communities become more evident.  One doesn’t need Oprah to notice the shuttered storefronts.
  • The use of “readers” and personalized home pageswill grow.  If you can’t get the information you care about in one convenient cover, or through one news outlet, you’re going to have to find multiple worthwhile sources.  But managing them through your email inbox will quickly become untenable.  Imagine a home page with blocks you create where you can see the headlines from all of the sources you care about.  You’d read it in the morning, like a Kindle, but with customized content.  (And, PS, you’ll be able to use your Kindle or your iphone if you don’t want to sit at your computer screen.)

Here are some strategies that a non-profit might pursue in this new post-newspaper world.  But before I do that, refresh your memory with the list of strategies in the “bad/ugly” scenario post (you should see a line at the top of this post with yesterday’s title and an arrow point to the left).  THOSE STRATEGIES ALL APPLY HERE, TOO.  And here’s that tip again:  you can’t do all of these; choose those you think could differentiate your organization and would deliver the greatest impact for the least amount of time and money.

  1. Ugh.  (I recoil a bit at this one.)  Start thinking of news-light ways to get your message across.   If you want to reach a younger demographic, how can you create an activity that is quirky, fun or just plain silly enough to warrant people posting about it on their Facebook wall or talking about it on The Zone during the morning hours?  Almost every single news outlet right now is actively looking for “silver lining” or inspirational stories to offset the doom-and-gloom stories that are making their audience tune out.
  2. So the news media wants to start a conversation with us.  Be prepared with spokespersons – some staff, some volunteer – who are familiar with your message and facile in particular formats.  Have your “fun, hip” spokesperson ready for news-light TV and radio.  Have an expert ready for more serious news features.  Have a Spanish-speaking spokesperson prepped for Univision.  Have a left-leaner and a right-leaner (looks like some of those who have given up on newspapers felt they weren’t balanced and were too liberal.)  Have someone else who’s a whiz with blogging tracking and jumping in on news websites (and have them do it often).  Seems to me it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to find one or even two spokespersons that are attractive to, and good at, the full range of formats from radio to TV to print and online.
  3. Anticipate that more unauthenticated negative comments will be made about your cause or organization and ramp up your organizational listening.  More self-published reporters mean fewer editors – editors who used to insist on fact-checking.  Come to an internal point of view about when you will correct the record and when you will simply count on short attention spans and let stuff slide (for example, when you are dealing with a blogger who likes to rant – or Rush Limbaugh).
  4. Make your website more of a destination – which means enhancing content.  If you’re a food closet, for example, can your website become a credible source of information about hunger in general?  If you’re United Way, how can you showcase the many causes and organizations in a local community?   Can you recruit citizen journalists to help you develop a stronger voice for a particular group or cause?  Or maybe pay some of those unemployed journalists as freelancers?
  5. Start thinking about who the new local opinion leaders may be, and cultivate a relationship with them (ideally:  a face-to-face one).  Whose emails are often forwarded to you?  Who gets quoted in conversations?  How can you make them knowledgeable about your cause or organization?  (PS one of the best approaches is to ask for their input or feedback.)

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The good, bad and ugly of mass media turmoil: first, the ugly

One of the great underutilized strategic planning tools is contingency planning.  In this blog post and the next one, I’ll walk through scenarios about what the endangered future of mass media means for non-profits, ranging from worst case to best case.  Consider this one “the bad and ugly”.  The goal of the exercise is to choose a course of action that will be most “robust” (strategic planners love that word) no matter what happens.  So whether you think there’s a pony in there somewhere* or not, you should read this post.

In the most negative scenario, the doom loop continues, with further erosion of network news audience (local and national) and newspaper circulation, and the flight of advertisers.  Staff cuts, consolidations, and closures ensue.

  • Mass media collapses to the point that it is untenable as an avenue for raising awareness of an issue or organization – particular those that are not visually interesting or endearing.
  • Audience fractures into a thousand splinter online publications, cable channels and radio stations – destroying the cost/benefit of traditional public relations approaches that focus on newspaper and television angles.
  • Cheap programming rules – with TV news formats edging closer to the production value of Wayne’s World.  They won’t have a news photographer to send to your event.

What would be the imperatives for a non-profit that needs to get its message out?  The biggest challenge will be efficiency of reach, and underlying that, the skills of its staff (addressed at bottom).  In the past, non-profit staff with traditional PR skills have been able to devote a reasonable amount of time and energy to pursue media targets with big audience and influence.  In the “bad/ugly” scenario, there just aren’t enough big targets, and there will be fierce competition for the few outlets with decent share.   Special woe to the cause that really needed the depth of a newspaper feature due to confidentiality issues (e.g. children’s mental health) or lack of appealing visuals (e.g. end-of-life issues, HIV/AIDS).

Here are some strategies that a non-profit might pursue to try to tackle the problem of efficient reach (tip:  remember strategy is about making choices, not doing all of these things):

  1. Develop an aggressive online participation strategy.  This is a big fat “duh”.  What it really means is:  a) enhancing websites as core infrastructure – which includes attention to content and searchability, not just a pretty homepage ; b)  developing a presence on social media platforms where target audiences are already, be it Facebook, Twitter, Ning or whatever else comes along; c) using organizational listening and participation as a means of finding people who may be able to take your message to their followers and friends.
  2. Track the near-certain rise of niche audience publicationsin the online and offline world.  As free media content deteriorates in value (e.g. USA Today), business people and influentials will be forced to subscribe to get the news they care about (at least conveniently).  Niche outlets will pop up as dot.org’s (VoiceOfSanDiego.org), dot.com’s and even blogs (some by individuals and some that emulate online dot coms, as in www.californiabeat.wordpress.com).  Some of it will be free (grant-funded or supported by advertising business model), and some of it will cost.  We pay for Zagat’s and Consumer Reports now; why not business and political news?
  3. Develop story pitches that reflect the interests of these niche publications.   This will be no small task; it will take time and thought.  In my previous post, I shared some info from a blogger who talked about the importance of understanding her focus and interests rather than sending a generic news release.   You can imagine that capturing the interest of the ex-newspaper journalists at VoiceOfSanDiego.org would be quite different than attracting the interest of an online personality.  (For more about VoiceOfSanDiego, read this article from the NY Times last November.)
  4. Do most of the work of writers and photographers to support a story idea – from writing it in various lengths/styles to providing great photos that can be used in a news website’s slide show feature.
  5. Invest in database marketing and growing direct communications channels, especially e-newsletters, e-mail and blogs.  And don’t count out podcasting and youtube videos.   (I’d say direct mail but there’s growing evidence that it is declining in efficiency.)
  6. Develop a cadre of brand/cause ambassadors, people with passion about your cause who will plaster it on their backs (e.g. thanks to the cool t-shirt you gave them).  You arm them with talking points and help them understand the impact of what they can do as message carriers.  Think about what’s in it for them and try to give them that (for example, they may be interested in socializing with other like-minded people, in learning more about the cause a la continuing education, or in competing for prizes and recognition).  It won’t work for every cause but it will for some.
  7. Screw non-paid media and start learning about online advertising including pay-per-click.

The biggest challenge you may face in this scenario isn’t money.  It’s staff knowledge and skill.  And perhaps interest.  Sandy, who has a current master’s degree from UW in new media, told me, “I have noticed that at least in my neck of the woords, non-profit workers haven’t caught up with the skill sets they need to be effective in this environment.”

*The old story goes:  A mother and father were concerned about their two boys.  One was a dedicated pessimist, and the other, an optimist.  They decided to take a new approach to Christmas gifts in the hopes of moderating their sons’ extreme personality traits.  They would give the pessimist a treasure trove of the most desired toys, and the optimist, something not even he could find the good in.  On Christmas morning, the pessimist came downstairs to stacks and stacks of gifts.   One by one, he dismissed them, “The toy fire truck will break, the bike will get a flat tire and I’ll never be any good at that video game.”  All the while, the optimist was looking around for his gifts but saw none.  “Yours is out in the garage,” his Dad said.  He ran into the garage and was confronted with the spectre of a six foot pile of horse manure.  Immediately, the boy dived into the manure and began digging furiously.  “What in the word are you doing,” the father asked.  “With all of this shit, there must be a pony in here somewhere,” he exclaimed!

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Microsites to promote a cause? Not so fast! (And microsites, explained)

I’ve recently noticed two examples of websites that were established by specific organizations using separate campaign identities (and URLs) rather than the parent organization’s website URL and identity.  Both are really cool campaigns — the Sacramento Tree Foundation has staked out its goal of planting 5 million trees, while CARES has established the ambitious goal of eradicating new HIV infections in 5 years:

Here’s the Sac Tree Foundation campaign, greenprintonline

And here’s the CARES campaign, areyouthedifference

I could think of pros and cons associated with separate websites, but I decided to reach out to Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.  (My Monday post included an excerpt from one of Rand’s recent posts on SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog.)  Busy as he is, Rand weighed in.

The verdict:  from a search perspective, go with a subfolder (e.g. www.sactree.com/greenprintonline) rather than a separate microsite (http://greenprintonline).

Rand pointed me to two recent posts on SEOmoz’s blog describing the distinctions between subdomains, subfolders and microsites in this post, and this post.

Here are the pros and cons I saw when thinking about the use of microsites:

Pros

Flexibility – the sponsoring organizations may have limited flexibility to modify their main site; it may be easier to build a functional microsite, with links

Enables a national organization to set up a tool that can be used/modified by a local organization

If the organization has limited brand recognition and appeal, could attract new interest

Possibly could be used as a transition to a new brand

Enables collaborative effort with more than one non-profit (less arguing about who “owns” benefits of halo)

Cons

If you click through a link from the main site, it could take a whole lot of clicks to find the information (wears out patience of user)

Challenge of managing two sites instead of one for resource-constrained organization

Could muddy image of main brand

Split traffic

Some could wonder who the sponsor really is; lacks credible image of established NFP

At breakfast recently, I batted around the idea of a website that could serve as a clearinghouse for information about human service agencies affected by the potentially humongous Sacramento County budget cuts – kind of a virtual coalition.  I’ve thought about the same thing as a way of pooling information about the incidence and effects of hunger in the area.  That still might be a good idea, but I’d recommend against establishing campaign microsites if there is only one sponsoring non-profit.

PS The Sacramento Tree Foundation also includes a subfolder/page on its main website.

I’d be very interested in any experience that you want to report – pro or con – with cause-related microsites.

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Why your website matters more than social media

Since starting The Philanthrophile back in October, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, thinking and writing about social media… along with the rest of the world.  Social media is hot, steamy hot.  While I think it’s important and MUST be a part of the tactical mix, it shouldn’t be top priority for a small non-profit.  Presuming that your organization has its mission and strategy figured out (hint:  that comes first), and knows what outcomes it is trying to achieve…

Da da da daaaaah!  (Marine Corps band trumpets here)  Your website should be top priority.

Why?  Social media doesn’t yet compare with the power – and numbers – of search.   We now Google for everything, even the stuff that might just as easily be found in the contacts section of Outlook. 

As Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz posted today on the SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog:

Social media is great for:

  • Connecting with your users (assuming they’re already on social media platforms and talking about you)
  • Building another channel for communication, branding & messaging
  • Appealing to early adopters
  • Wasting time on non-business essential communication 🙂

But it can’t do what search/SEO does:

  • Answer a direct need precisely when it’s requested in a scalable fashion
  • Gain visibility from virtually all Internet users with an interest in your brand/product/sector/content at once

if you’re ignoring other important fundamentals of online marketing, like:

  • Building a website with a unique value proposition
  • Create amazingly useful content that people want to share
  • Conduct effective email marketing
  • Find ways to scalably acquire new users & retain existing ones

A website is home base, the platform for your marketing and communications efforts.   Here’s another blog post worth checking out from the Non-profit Tech Blog that puts websites into a “Maslow’s hierarchy” of needs.  Note that Customer Relationship Management (e.g. database/campaign management) and social media are ranked as less important than websites.  NEXT:  HOW TO TIPS FOR EVALUATING AND POSSIBLY RE-VAMPING YOUR WEBSITE, AND THEN:  ARE MICROSITES A GOOD IDEA FOR NON-PROFITS (AND WHAT ARE THEY, ANYWAY?)

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