December 3, 2012

ActionSprout: Engage supporters beyond like, share & comment

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Tailor your Facebook campaigns to ask for a Recommend, Sign, Vote For, Support, etc.

Target audience: Nonprofits, cause organizations, foundations, NGOs, social enterprises, businesses, educators, journalists, general public.

Guest post by Drew Bernard
Co-founder, ActionSprout

For years I have grumbled about the fact that Facebook doesn’t allow organizations to access the email addresses of their own fans. And perhaps you’ve heard of how the company has been treating organizations like frogs in the proverbial pot, slowly reducing the number of fans they deliver updates to in their news feeds. The idea that nonprofits have to pay to get an update onto a meaningful number fans’ walls — now down to an average of 15 percent — may be good business for Facebook, but the value proposition to organizations has become less and less compelling.

At the same time we’ve seen organizations (perhaps yours?) struggle to engage with Facebook supporters in meaningful ways using the few actions Facebook has provided: like, share or comment. I’ve had lots of discussions with nonprofit officials about the real cost/benefit of Facebook as a platform for reaching supporters and deepening engagement with them over time.

Despite all this, I think Facebook finally has the pieces in place to make a major impact on organizations’ ability to acquire and build productive relationship with supporters. That’s right: At the very time Facebook is working harder than ever to monetize, I have become a believer in its ability to make a difference. In fact, even their recently introduced Promote function provides nonprofits and campaigns with a compelling new tool for engaging your most ardent supporters.

Changing Facebook’s default functionality

Here’s why. Earlier this year Facebook rolled out its new Open Graph functionality, and my colleague Shawn Kemp went about looking into how it might be used to help organizations acquire high-quality fans on Facebook and, more importantly, build productive relationships with those supporters over time.

After months of learning and developing, we launched ActionSprout to help organizations unlock their Facebook fans with actions that move beyond like, share and comment. The Facebook app gives organizations dozens of nonprofit-relevant social actions to engage supporters with directly on their own Facebook pages.

For instance, instead of asking people to click “like” on a wall post, they can now ask them to click Recommend, Thank, Sign, Vote For, Stop, Contact, Support or one of a dozen other actions we currently support.

Referral rates: Leveraging the Open Graph to do good

Over the past few months we’ve been working with a few organizations and campaigns to put the system through its paces and discover what kind of impact it can have. And now we’ve introduced one of the most important pieces of the system: the back-end analytics dashboard.

One of the key metrics we obsess over is the referral rate that organizations are experiencing from their ActionSprout campaigns. Simply put, when a person takes an action like Join or clicks Like on the post itself, do any of their friends join them? Facebook’s new Open Graph is designed to support the viral growth of highly relevant actions. Whenever a person takes an ActionSprout action on behalf of an organization, the app fires the Open Graph and automatically shares that action with some of their friends. We also give action-takers other ways to help spread the word. But until you start seeing real traffic through an app like ActionSprout, there is really no way to know just what kind of referral rates to expect.

Case study: ActionSprout and the David Suzuki Foundation

One of the first organizations to run tests to measure referral traffic for ActionSprout was the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian foundation working to protect the diversity of nature and Canadians’ quality of life, now and for the future. The results have far exceeded our expectations.

The foundation launched its first campaign with the specific goal of testing the performance of ActionSprout relative to their standard campaign sign-up process (which drives people to a form on their website to complete a sign-up form). The call to action for all posts was to join the Fall Family Challenge by clicking a link. The link on their first post drove people to the organization’s standard Web form, not their ActionSprout app. This first post resulted in 125 people signing up for the campaign. As would be expected, the vast majority of these 125 people were fans who received the call to action from their news feed.

“The results from that are meaningful,” says Sarah Hall, the foundation’s communications manager. “After all, we can now reach out directly to each of those people via email and build deeper relationships.”

Two days later, the foundation posted a similar call to action to its Facebook page. On this post, the call to action link pointed to their ActionSprout tab. That call to action drove 119 fans to join the campaign. But the really interesting part was what happened after they started seeing fans take action. For each fan who joined the campaign through ActionSprout, the organization has seen another 1.8 people who were not previously fans join the campaign along with them.

Where did these people come from?

  • Each time a person took the action, it fires an open graph story that is shared with some of their friends and gets aggregated on their timeline. That means an open graph story is getting posted to their wall and timeline for 100 percent of action-takers.
  • After taking an action, the Foundation has ActionSprout configured to give the action taker a quick post to wall dialog. In their case, over 75% of action takers shared the action.
  • Finally, because this campaign was targeted at families with kids, many of the foundation’s fans chose to like and share the post but didn’t sign up themselves. Some number of friends of these sharers chose to join the campaign as well.

In other words, for every 100 fans who joined the campaign through the ActionSprout app, the organization also acquired 180 new campaign members, for a total of 280 campaign members.

Supporters connecting directly to an organization’s work

The thing that excites us and the David Suzuki Foundation is that those new people didn’t just click like because they wanted to give a wink to a friend who was up to something. They joined a campaign that directly connected them to the organization’s work. These people are new to the foundation, but already Sarah and her colleagues know how they relate to their work and can begin to serve and engage them accordingly.

The David Suzuki Foundation also uses Salesforce as its CRM (constituent relationship management) system, and has ActionSprout set up to automatically add or update contact records with names and email addresses of any person who joins the campaign. (This feature is available starting on our mid-level $90/month plan.) During the two-week campaign, the David Suzuki Foundation added several hundred new constituents to its database.

The other day the foundation launched an ActionSprout campaign to persuade supporters to apply pressure to Stop a potentially disastrous China-Canada trade deal that the prime minister negotiated behind closed doors. This campaign has sees similar referral rates and but with much higher overall numbers. The Stop campaign saw more than 3,000 people take the action in under 48 hours.

Isn’t this the kind of stuff we should have been able to do on Facebook from the start? We are excited to continue to see what organizations do with ActionSprout. Please drop me a line for more information.

Drew Bernard, co-founder of ActionSprout, has a passion for helping organizations build productive relationships with supporters. Follow him on Twitter at @drewbernard.
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