January 12, 2010

5 lessons from a crowdsourced birthday party

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Creative Commons photo by D Sharon Pruitt

How to harness the power of the crowd for a quick & easy campaign

Amy Sample WardYesterday was a very exciting day: we threw a surprise party for Beth Kanter online. It was a bit of fun mixed with experiment, and I think it was really successful. Here are some reflections about how we used crowdsourcing techniques for a very fast-moving campaign and lessons learned that may apply to your work.

Lesson #1: Design an action and invitation that’s doable and interesting — while focused on your goal.

Stacey Monk and I exchanged messages last week, brainstorming the idea of pulling bloggers together to support Beth’s birthday campaign.  We wanted it to be something fun and interesting, so people would want to join – a surprise party!  And we wanted it to be easy to do – write a blog post!

First, we created an open Google Doc where we put in the introduction language, so anyone that clicked through from someone’s blog or Twitter post would have context about what was happening (and included a numbered list up to 53, so people could easily see where to add their name and blog address).

Next, I sent out an invitation that included a simple explanation and invitation to join with easy steps for those interested.  When sending out an invitation, it’s important to remember that the language you use needs to be appropriate for those you’re inviting, as well as to their audience as they could easily repurpose the language or calls to action you use to more quickly and easily share/spread the campaign.

Here’s a copy of the initial email as an example:

Subject: Help wish Beth Kanter a happy 53rd!

Hi friends –

As you probably know, Monday is Beth Kanter’s birthday.  Stacey Monk and I didn’t want the day to go by too quietly so are hoping you’ll join us in making a big splash to celebrate!

Her birthday wish is to raise money for the Sharing Foundation using Causes and we think we could help her crush her goal of sending 53 Cambodian children to school by raising $530.  We’re trying to throw her an online surprise party by assembling a blogsquad of 53 bloggers to publish a post on Monday that shares how Beth has impacted your work and shares her birthday wish with your blog audience.  Of course, I hope you’ll make a gift to make her wish come true too ;)

We’re just hoping to make her birthday super happy by making her wish come true and reminding her just how much good she does.

If you’re interested, just:

1) Write your name and blog address on the signup form here: http://bit.ly/bethbdayblogs

2) Publish your post first thing Monday morning. Include a link back to her birthday wish post at http://bit.ly/beth53

3) Pass this invite on to anyone you think might want to join us.

And don’t forget to wish her a Happy Birthday Monday on Twitter too with the tweet she’s asked us to pass along: “Happy birthday #beth53! Let’s send 53 Cambodian kids to school: http://bit.ly/beth53

Thank you so much for your help, support and participation!

Amy (& Stacey)

To recap: Our audience included bloggers in the nonprofit technology and social impact sector; our goals were to help reach Beth’s $530 fundraising goal and recruit 53 “happy birthday” blog posts reflecting on Beth’s work. The campaign was focused on the goal and created with the audience in mind (how they behave, what they are interested in, what they could do on short notice, and how they would want to participate).

Lesson #2: Encourage participants to share, invite others and promote their own participation.

Part of using blog posts in the campaign is the strategy that in order to participate, people are promoting!  We also created and provided shortened URLs for the two links we wanted everyone to use (the link to the Google Doc where people were registering their participation: http://bit.ly/bethbdayblogs and the link to Beth’s birthday wish blog post: http://bit.ly/beth53). Using these shortened URLs and sharing them in the invitation via email and posts on Twitter meant that others were likely to use them and easily share the campaign.

We also included the hashtag for Twitter that Beth promoted in her Birthday Wish blog post (#beth53 – review the Twitter stream for the hashtag), another way that people could find and share tweets about the surprise party easily.

To recap: We took advantage of popular techniques for sharing and networking conversations including URL shorteners and hashtags.

Lesson #3: Create compositions that allow for variations on a theme.

What was key to our approach was that we did not say where people had to post, or exactly what they had to say.  We even said that they could do something else entirely! This meant more people were empowered to participate because they could make it their own.

Some people posted on their own blogs.  Some posted to community blogs like NetSquared. Others posted on Facebook (using the Notes application).  Some tweeted. And others came up with even more unique ways to get involved. (See the Google Doc for links.)

To recap: we invited people to express themselves in the way they chose while still being part of reaching the goals.

Lesson #4: Create easy ways to track and follow the campaign.

Using the URL shorteners and hashtags made sharing tweets, blog posts and calls to action easy to post and share, but it also meant that everything was easy to follow. We could follow the hashtag on Twitter using Twitter Search (http://search.twitter.com/) and could use the tracking built into Bit.ly to track clicks on the links (http://bit.ly/) (or try doing a search using Tweetmeme).

The Google Doc that served as an information and context piece for people sharing and finding the campaign also served as the sign-up sheet for participants, so people could add their own name and blog information to the campaign details without Stacey or I having to track them down. The email invitation also turned into a reporting mechanism as people would reply-all to share their link with others participating.

To recap: The methods for sharing and promoting the campaign were also designed to create easy ways of measuring participation and impact.

Lesson #5:  Say thanks!

What I found most rewarding in this campaign was that saying “thanks!” was part of it from the start: people’s blog posts and twitter messages were all saying thanks to Beth for ways her work had impacted their own. It had a deep gratitude through and through.

Because of the tools mentioned above (the hashtag and URLs and Google Doc), it was easy to reply on Twitter or elsewhere to thank people for their support and participation.  As people replied to the invitation email, I could also email them directly to thank them for participating and sharing in the celebration.  Stacey and I both sent thank you emails to the full list of participants towards the end of the day, too.

To recap: saying thanks is important – we all know that.  But finding ways to say it where people are participating (if they are tweeting your campaign, thank them publicly in Twitter, for example) will only further spread and promote the campaign.

It’s been a very fun experiment and a great way to spend the day!

A huge thanks to my friend and colleague Stacey Monk, the woman behind Epic Change, without whom this surprise party wouldn’t have happened!  And one last thanks to Beth, for giving us a reason to come together in celebration!

Note:  Beth was able to smash her goal of raising $530 by getting $4,540 donated to help buy school uniforms and send Cambodian children to school via the Sharing Foundation.  We also smashed our goal of recruiting 53 bloggers, with 66 signed up and many more participating in other ways. Thanks!

Cross-posted from Amy Sample Ward’s blog.

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Amy Sample Ward connects nonprofits with new media technologies. See her business profile, contact Amy or leave a comment.

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