May 20, 2009

How to get the most out of cause marketing

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Scott Henderson (photo by Ms. Jen)

Beth KanterI was supposed to lead a workshop at the Cause Marketing Forum on Social Media and Cause Marketing at the end of May. I was looking forward to it because Michael Hoffman at C3 was a sponsor and participating. Unfortunately, I had to cancel and asked Scott Henderson if he’d do on my behalf.

I met Scott online over a conversation in the comments when I wrote some reflections about David Armano’s personal fundraising campaign back in January. I also participated in a campaign he organized for Share Our Strength.

I decided to do an interview with Scott to learn more about what he is learning about social media and cause-related marketing.

Who are you?

I am a cause marketing director for MediaSauce, helping non-profits and corporations use online media to pull off their next big thing.

Tell us about the “Pledge to End Hunger” you recently launched to benefit Share Our Strength

The main goals were to raise awareness of childhood hunger in America, give people the tools to take meaningful action to help end this solvable problem, and create a case study from which non-profits and corporations could learn how to better use social media in their cause marketing.

Our primary audience was more of a profile than a group. We were seeking to find individuals who cared about the cause and would be willing to rally their respective communities (social media and in-person) to take action. Working from that profile we identified four categories:
1) Active Twitterati and bloggers from different niches
2) SXSWi attendees & ambient attendees (those following from home)
3) Individuals in the email databases of the corporations & non-profits leading the campaign, and
4) Wild cards – people separated from us by 2-3 relationship degrees who fit the profile

We chose to center the campaign around the 2009 South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi ’09). It’s an environment that attracts some of the most connected people in a wide variety of industries, creating a unique opportunity for ideas to take root in wider audiences. (Twitter found that out in 2007.) We knew there would be much anticipation and conversation about SXSW in the weeks leading up to it and believed a cause initiative could generate momentum from it.

We started by assembling a team of individuals and companies to serve as our leadership team. We wanted this campaign to focus on the issue of childhood hunger in America and the fact that many different organizations and people were coming together to take up the cause locally and nationally.

The online strategy called for a standalone website to serve as the campaign’s main hub and social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to help create traffic. To help us launch the campaign, we enlisted the help of two respected social media industry professionals to co-chair the campaign and organized about 50 individuals from a cross section of industries and niches that were actively engaged on Twitter and blogging to serve as champions. We also utilized limited email sends from Kimball Office, MediaSauce, Kompolt, Capital Area Food Bank, and Share Our Strength to their respective databases.

Our plan was to drive traffic to the website and provide a clear, easy path of action for those who visited and felt compelled to help. We made it so it didn’t cost money for person to be a philanthropist. An individual “contributed” 35 lbs of Tyson food just by signing an online pledge to take a meaningful action to help end childhood hunger in America. If 1,000 people signed the Pledge, Tyson committed to deliver a semi-truck of food to the Capital Area Food Bank during SXSWi.

People signing the Pledge had three options to act – give, volunteer, and/or share the message – and the website provided ways to fulfill each action right then and there. It had a link to the Share Our Strength online giving form, another to a zip code search tool to find local food agencies to volunteer, and multiple tools for sharing the message – including a widget that showed the current tally of the Pledge to End Hunger. We placed the emphasis on asking people to share our message, since that would invariably lead to more people to see our message, thus increasing the number of people donating and volunteering.

Knowing this campaign could get serious traction and blow past its initial goal, we planned for a Phase II. With Tyson Foods willing to donate up to three more trucks, we decided to direct those trucks to the states which generated the highest number of people to sign the pledge. To help fuel this state-vs.-state competition, we built the map on the website to show the number of pledges from each state and altered the message the pledge tally counter to include the top five states in order of their real-time tallies.

Metrics for success
Primary: # of people signing the pledge.
Secondary: $ raised for Share Our Strength.
Leading indicators: Unique site visitors, url click-thrus, Facebook cause members, YouTube videos viewed, #HungerPledge usage, and SXSWi podium mentions.

With the help of the HungerPledge Champions and email sends, we launched the campaign on Thursday, March 5, which turned to be our single largest day of traffic. In the first 28 hours, we reached 1,000 people signing the pledge. By the final deadline of March 20, we had about 4,600 people sign the pledge. In total, we raised $28,000 from 714 people for Share Our Strength – with around 95% of them being first-time donors. Over 19,000 visitors came to the website over the first 21 days and we welcomed 2,600 people to our Facebook Cause group.

Tell a clear, compelling story. Give people clear, simple action steps …

The story that we think best characterizes the campaign is the one about Michele Helsel. Michele took it upon herself to spearhead Missouri’s second-place finish. She devoted her energies to the campaign for two reasons: her company (Kimball Office) was one of the sponsors and, more importantly, her parents are long-time volunteers at a food pantry in St. Charles, Mo. When we announced that the extra trucks would go to the states with the highest pledge totals, she set the goal of placing in the top three and getting a truck for her state.

For two weeks, she leveraged every single phone number and email she had to get the word out. Interestingly, she didn’t use Twitter, Facebook, or other social media. Just old fashioned phone calls and emails. She reached to her church, her family’s Elks Lodge, her husband’s Harley Davidson club, her parents’ contacts, the local food pantry, and all her customers and distributors (she’s the St. Louis sales manager for Kimball Office). With one week left in the pledge tally deadline, Missouri was barely in the top ten. By the end, the Show Me State was comfortably in second with 509 people signing the pledge. And it was all because one person realized they could help the community and had all the tools at her disposal to rally her community.

What are the keys to success?

The most critical key to successful cause marketing is that the cause must come before the marketing. Too often, we see corporations (and even non-profits) put their brands and products/services before or side-by-side with the cause. People are constantly searching for authenticity and will shun those they think are being opportunistic. If you don’t give the spotlight to the cause or give little emphasis to solving the problem, they’ll discount your campaign right away. It’s very similar to life – we tend to admire those people who do good in humble ways.

In terms of online and social media, the main principles are:
1. tell a clear, compelling story,
2. give people clear, simple action steps,
3. make it easy for people to share your story/join your cause,
4. show real-time results to give immediate gratification,
5. be prepared to converse and respond to people with little delay, and
6. realize not everyone is going to care.

If you plan to conduct a campaign (which I hope you do), be sure to devote resources and energy to illustrate the impact your campaign makes. Too many organizations conduct drive-thru philanthropy and don’t spend the resources on showing the results of what was achieved. We’re still posting content on about the four food banks receiving the trucks.

What would you do differently next time?

From a website design perspective, we would have made a non-flash mobile version of the website. Using flash for the pledge form hindered us with anyone who came to the website on their iPhone (no flash player).

In terms of the overall campaign, we would have placed a greater emphasis on sending a series of emails to existing databases, especially to those who signed the pledge. These databases represent people who already have an existing relationship with an organization and will be more likely to help than a brand, new person. In addition to using our email databases more, we would have put a greater effort on assembling a coalition of local hunger relief agencies. Those organizations who joined the campaign midstream did deliver results and were the ones who stood the most to gain.

From a social media perspective, we would have used Facebook differently. The decision to create a Facebook Cause group was almost an afterthought for us, since we were more focused on Twitter. Simple arithmetic can show that Facebook has a significantly larger audience potential. Even barely cultivating the Facebook Cause, the membership grew pretty much organically to the 2,600 person total. While some have questioned the value of Facebook Cause, we think it has great value in creating awareness thru peoples’ existing relationship networks. Since we didn’t have the donation button activated, we can’t comment on how many direct contributions came from that group.

How are social media and cause marketing changing the nonprofit world?

Both are being impacted just like everything else. Social media make it very easy for the 1 billion who own personal computers and 3.3 billion who own cell phone to connect, communicate, and collaborate in ways not possible before. People now have greater expectations of intimacy and immediacy with other people and organizations. Further, they realize that change can happen with a much faster velocity and are no longer satisfied with incremental change. At the same time, organizations have to compete harder to gain people’s attention, which is being splintered by the seemingly infinite number of screens saturating us with media.

Non-profits for the most part have been accustomed to relying on their magazines and direct appeals to be their main connections to their supporters. They’ve mostly been able to set the schedule for communications and have often defaulted to the annual solicitation as their lifeline. Now that we’re no longer bound by broadcast messaging, non-profits are scrambling to shift their personnel and financial resources to more two-way communications. It’s no longer enough to have a static website, e-newsletters, and email solicitations. The most prevalent trend for non-profits is that they want to stop experimenting and get a sustainable strategy for integrating online media into their entire communications and fundraising operations.

In terms of cause-marketing, social media make it much easier launch these initiatives. We expect to see even more cause-marketing plays using social media – for better or for worse. It makes sense, since corporations are experiencing the same higher expectations for intimacy and immediacy. Consumers want to know that the businesses they patronize are doing something for the greater community, not just for themselves.

Because we’ll see a greater number of cause-marketing initiatives, we can also expect a greater number of failures. We’ll also see a greater number of successes. People’s expectations for the quality and originality of these campaigns will grow. It won’t be enough for companies & non-profits to launch these campaigns using strategies and tactics already used. We will also see a higher bar set for the results that need to be achieved. It won’t be enough to raise dollars and generate traffic for surface issues. People will expect to see these campaigns solve the root problems and change the social dynamics causing the problem in the first place.

I am excited about what the coming months and years will bring. I think we’re in the early stages of a complete reorganization of how we work together to solve social problems. Self-organized swarms of individuals will have equal footing with the non-profits and corporations. These self-organized swarms won’t be satisfied to wait for non-profits and corporations to lead. They will take the initiative like they did with Twestival to rally around a cause and raise money and awareness with little involvement from the non-profit. They will also begin to create more media properties like that promote the broader cause and bring various international, national, regional, and local non-profits and corporations together to create systemic change, not just local change. Savvy non-profits and corporations will realize this and adapt accordingly.

This post originally appeared on Beth’s Blog.Beth Kanter is CEO of Zoetica, a consultancy for nonprofits. See her profile, visit her blog, contact Beth or leave a comment.

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