Don’t Overlook the Power of the Phone

The new Broadway musical Sister Act has found its social media groove. It has more than 55,000 Facebook “likes,” 1300 Twitter followers, 30,000 YouTube views and a set of apps.

But as The New York Times reports, there’s just one problem.  “Ask Broadway insiders how many tickets have been sold as a result of all this social networking, and the look on their faces reads, ‘Server Not Found.'”

“You hope these sites generate good word of mouth,” said Sister Act director Jerry Zaks, but the the “best measure of our popularity and financial return is group sales.”

And according to the article, group sales are driven largely by the tried and true method of sales agents working the phones. The agents work from decades-old databases of church groups, schools, businesses and clubs and work these contacts to make sales.

“This is a relationship business and I can trust Stephanie [my sales Representative],” said one ticket buyer who sends 35 groups a year to Broadway. “I don’t know who is on the other end of a Twitter or Facebook account saying such-and-such a show is good.”

Though Broadway tickets sales are far removed from the nonprofit world, I think there’s a couple takeaways here for nonprofit leaders. First, it is important to have a robust social media presence in order to generate word of mouth and exposure for your cause.

But where Broadway excels, and most nonprofits fall flat, is the next step. Following up personally with potential supporters by phone and making the sales pitch. I’ve been amazed how many organizations fail to take this crucial step in their fundraising, awareness and advocacy efforts.

For example, a nonprofit with whom I work was organizing a fundraising walk. More than 4,000 people had participated in previous years, but had not registered for the 2011 event. But instead of setting up volunteer- or staff-led phone banks, or even paying someone to call, they relied exclusively on social media and email. Result: Money left on the table.

“Facebook and Twitter are great tools,” said Stephanie Lee, President of Group Sales Box Office said, “but the buzz from all these shows can be deafening.”

While decidedly unsexy – the Times calls them “version 1.0” on Broadway – the company’s communications plan is clearly working. Ticket orders were up 43% from last year, a track record of success few nonprofits or businesses can match in this economic client.

Do you need help reaching your audience?  Contact Joseph LaMountain at or 202.288.5124 today.


Slacktivism: Word of the Day

I think of myself as being pretty up to date on issues relating to activism.  So I was surprised when I read a blog post on this morning that used the term “slacktivism.”  I’d never heard it before.

The Urban Dictionary defines slacktivism as “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.”  Examples include wearing colored ribbons or rubber wrist bands, starting a Facebook group or creating an online petition.

There’s actually been a debate in the activist community about the value of slacktivism, one that’s been chronicled by PopTech columnist Marcia Stepanek and blogger Jay Garmon.

One side thinks that these activities are meaningless and that an individual’s time would be better spend taking actions that can result in real change.  The other side takes the view that any action, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, is important and can serve as a catalyst for more meaningful activities in the future.

I generally agree with the critics.  Nothing frustrates me more than someone thinking that by wearing a ribbon or wristband, they are changing the world.  But I also see the value in these types of collective actions.  The real challenge is acknowledging a “slacktivist’s” actions and convincing them to take the next step and do something more meaningful to “support the cause.”

2010: Top 6 Successes

Last year we published a post highlighting our top accomplishments of 2009.  It’s been getting a lot of traffic recently, so I figured that it’s about time I make a similar list of top successes in 2010.

(1) Parity for HD – In 2010, we worked with the Huntington’s Disease Society of American to persuade 155 Representatives to cosponsor the HD Parity Act (HR 678).  We also persuaded 180 candidates for Congress to complete and return our candidate survey in support of the HD Parity Act and funding for HD research.

(2) Get Seizure Smart! – We reached 2.25 million Americans through the Get Seizure Smart! campaign.  Organized with the Epilepsy Foundation, the campaign had a simple call to action: Distribute the Get Seizure Smart! quiz to family, friends and coworkers.  More than 2,000 people responded and 95% said they’d do it again.

(3) Shaking the Tree – We created a corporate and foundation sponsorship marketing plan for National Geographic Education.  We focused their messaging on “reach, results and reputation” and created an off-the-shelf corporate sponsorship package that will help the NGE team raise bigger bucks in 2011 and beyond.

(4) Generating Media – We generated significant media coverage, print and online, for the Hanover Investment Group and established them as economic “thought leaders.”  Placements include Bloomberg News, The Economist and the Financial Times while interviews with the Wall Street Journal and Reuters may lead to future coverage.

(5) Get the Bug! – The annual MV Big Flea charity event raised a record $25,665 by selling items donated by members of the community.  By being interesting and using low-cost word-of-mouth communications tactics, we’ve also generated 50,000 visitors to our website.  Not bad for an elementary school PTA fundraiser.

(6) Congress Responds – The PAD Coalition is seeking better coverage to test for atherosclerosis of the legs, also known as clogged leg arteries.  In 2010, we succeeded in having a key provision included in the Affordable Care Act (health care reform).  We also generated a letter from 15 Representatives in support of our key policy directive.

OMG! Look at the Video on this Website!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t get many emails with that subject line.  So when they arrive, I tend to open them.

It was from my friend Maria.  Our kids were in a snitch because of cancelled recesses.  It had been raining, and the Mount Vernon School’s gym is overcrowded, so the kids had recess in their classroom for a few days.

And they weren’t thrilled about it.

“I was searching online for indoor recess ideas to give to the principal.” she wrote.  On Peaceful Playgrounds, she noticed “a video featuring two Mount Vernon” kids playing the Dr. Pepper Handclapping game.

My kids.

When I first wrote about the Dr. Pepper Handclapping game, I marveled about the commercial.  How could the lyrics of a 1970s television commercial live on?  The spot hadn’t aired in thirty years, but my girls managed to learn it on a Mexican beach from a British girl living in Texas.

As Phoebe said, “what a coincidence.”

I was so interested in this example of organic word-of-mouth  communications that I recorded Mein and Phoebe performing the game.  I uploaded it to YouTube and played it for my class at Georgetown. Then I mostly forgot about it.  That is, until a few months later, when I noticed it was getting a lot of traffic.

How much? It’s been seen 42,280 times since late January 2010, about 3,000 per month. To put that in perspective, the MV Big Flea, which we’ve hawked relentlessly for four years, has had 53,397 visitors (about 1,000 views a month).

And here was the video I shot, on the Peaceful Playgrounds website, for anyone to see.  How it got here, I have no idea.  And I think that’s what makes social media kind of cool.

A Bright Idea for Raising Awareness

Nearly every nonprofit tries to raise awareness about its cause.  Unfortunately, most rely on the same old tactics which, I find, don’t really reach or educate that many people.

Most groups try to raise awareness with media coverage.  They issue a news release, call a few reporters, maybe post a video on YouTube, and hope for the best.

If you’re lucky, this can result in a couple news stories.  But because we live in a 24/7 media culture, those stories are largely forgotten the next day.

My recommendation?  Stop focusing on mass media and start using “people media” to spread the word.  In other words, get your members and supporters to spread the word, and raise awareness, for you.

While mass media is fleeting, personal communications are persuasive and can have lasting impact.  Think about it this way: What would convince you to try a new restaurant in town, a newspaper advertisement or a recommendation from a friend?

Nonprofits often have thousands of volunteers who are willing and able to spread the word.  Put them to work!  By giving them specific tasks to perform, you can reach millions with your message while cultivating an active, informed and engaged membership.

The Epilepsy Foundation used this strategy for National Epilepsy Awareness Month in 2010.  It created the Get Seizure Smart! quiz and told volunteers how to distribute it.  More than 2.25 million copies were distributed through schools, libraries, businesses, houses of worship and online.

It gets better.  More than 95% of campaign participants declared it a success and said they’d do it again.  This is also a great way to show your members the value of supporting the organization.  My guess is that a follow-up fundraising appeal to this engaged audience would do spectacularly well.

Fortunately, a word-of-mouth campaign doesn’t cost a ton of money to create and implement.  So the next time you need to raise awareness about your cause, forget about mass media and instead harness the power of your supporters and friends.

Six Steps to a Sticky Message

I just finished reading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in getting their message heard in this noisy, hyper-caffeinated, message messy world.

We are inundated with messages – as many as 3,000 a day according to some experts.  In this kind of environment, it is very difficult to make an impact with your target audience.  One way you can do that is by making your message memorable, or “sticky” as the Heaths and The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell recommend.

But creating sticky messages doesn’t come easy to many people.  And because creativity is involved, many believe that it cannot be effectively taught or learned.  Fortunately, the Heaths turn that notion on its head and have developed the following six principles for creating a more sticky message: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotion and Stories (SUCCESs…get it?).

Fans of The Tipping Point will find a lot to like in Made to Stick.  Written in a breezy, engaging style it nonetheless includes real world examples that illustrate these six principles in action.  And like another of my favorite marketing and communications books, Influence by Robert Cialdini, it backs up many of its claims with data from psychological and other medical journals.

If you’re having a tough time getting your message heard, Made to Stick may be the right place to start.

Paper Still Packs a Punch

What is it about paper these days?

Every semester I review and grade marketing and communications plans that rely almost exclusively on Facebook and Twitter.  A friend in direct marketing tells me that more and more nonprofits are forgoing the use of direct mail.  Many retailers are suspending their mail-order catalogs and only selling through their website.

I’ve long felt that paper doesn’t get the respect it deserves.  And a recent message from an old friend confirms that view.

Andy Hilt and I worked at the American Diabetes Association in the 1990s.  In 1999, we organized a petition drive and collected more than 3.15 million signatures.  In recognition of their support, we sent an Advocacy Achievement Award on parchment paper to everyone who submitted 100 or more signatures.

Fast forward to 2011.  Andy and his mother were eating lunch at Slack’s Hoagie Shack in Springfield, Pennsylvania a couple weeks ago.  And posted on the wall, near the cash register, was a framed copy of the Advocacy Achievement Award we presented to Barbara Fine of East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.  Twelve years later!

Think about the number of times that award has been viewed since it was issued in 1999!  If Slack’s Hoagie Shack averages just 100 customers a day, that means the award (and our message about finding a cure) has been seen more than 435,000 times.  I’m sorry, but Facebook and Twitter just can’t compete with those numbers.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that marketing plans completely forgo the use of social media and online marketing.  But if you’re really interested in organizing an effective marketing campaign, you can’t ignore the power of paper – posters, brochures, notecards and more – to reach your audiences.

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