We have all heard about the power of a tweet (Conan O’Brien sells out a 30 city comedy tour using his twitter account), the force of social media (Barack Obama raises $500 million) and how timely appeals can raise donations (Red Cross raised over $140 million for Haiti using SMS).
Impressive results because they highlight a cost / benefit multiplier that exceeds our expectations. Conan O’Brien’s campaign created substantial return for what amounts to essentially free advertising. One could argue that the true cost is higher: writing tweets, creating a following, gaining the public sympathy of Coco as an underdog abused by NBC, retaining the attention of his community with self-deprecating, humorous tweets, … But, with the exception of the time to announce the concert tour, these costs were essentially already sunk.
Similarly, Obama’s campaign of effectively using social media and leverage his supporters which allowed him to outspend all other candidates.
We are witnessing the birth of a new communication tool that is both effective and cheap to empower not just donors, but also volunteers, participants, contributors, board members and staff to our cause. And by empowering our constituents, we are also creating new ways to accomplish, communicate, promote, manage and coordinate our goals. There are several hurdles:
- We are still using traditional methods to evaluate its effectiveness. On Feb 28, Conan wrote: “This is only my 5th tweet and I’m already exhausted. My God, how does Ashton do it?” I can hear a CFO ask why would Conan bother wasting his time with “I am sitting on the sofa” type drivel. Yet less than two weeks later, Conan wrote: “Hey Internet: I’m headed to your town on a half-assed comedy & music tour. Go to http://TeamCoco.com for tix. I repeat: It’s half-assed.7:21 AM Mar 11th via web” and later “Alert! Teamcoco.com is jammed with too much traffic. If you can’t get on, go to http://ticketmaster.com to buy your tickets. See you soon.7:52 AM Mar 11th via web”.
- How do you engage with your followers? Recognizing Conan’s success, one can hear a CFO conclude that Conan was engaging with his followers with daily anecdotes and building up their ranks, and ask “how are you planning to engage with your followers”. In the case of the Red Cross, should you tweet about earthquakes in general so that you could pounce when Haiti got hit? Of course not. Tracking emergent success indicators is a hit or miss proposition that largely depends on how goals and missions are aligned.
- Which brings us back to what’s the best way to evaluate a social media strategy or how can we become more effective at finding members and communicating our message. Seems to boil down to be personal, authentic, casual, friendly …
But there needs to be another, more important conversation. As we find new members, build, connect and engage with our communities, we need to learn what sort of constituents we are hatching. Which track do they follow? Are they boosters, advocates, influencers, volunteers, donors, future board members, future staffers, … Each provides different returns, lead times and contributions. Some donors will be recognized as habitual, others occasional. This is not a homogeneous group. Their interest and participation diverges. It is unlikely an intern, who knows how to promote his facebook page with his own friends and family, will know how to address each constituency appropriately.
The trick then, is to create a presence, call it a basic profile that allows each constituency to indicate their interest and select their path. That’s hard because it requires learning what resonates with each group.
For federations, it’s harder. Each affiliate has to discover in addition, how they are distinguished from other chapters and regions. More about that in Part 2.