Are You Contagious? If Not, Follow these Six Steps

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Achoo!  Under the right conditions, a sneeze or cough can spread sickness far and wide.  All it takes is for one infected person on a plane or in a crowded room to pass the condition to dozens, maybe hundreds more.

Most of us understand how a virus spreads and epidemics begin.  But few use that knowledge when communicating to reach a larger audience. By making your communications more contagious, or “sticky,” you can increase their impact, longevity and spread.

Epidemics

The 1918 Influenza epidemic was the deadliest plague in history.  It killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS killed in 24 years, more in a year than the Black Plague in a century.

According to The Great Influenza by John Barry, the virus had humble beginnings.  It started in isolated Haskell County, Kansas.  Soldiers on leave caught and brought it to the 60,000 men at nearby Fort Pierce. Aided troop movements, it circled the globe and killed 50-100 million people in 18 months.

Information moves even faster than disease.  Within minutes the entire world knew about the 9/11 attacks. Media helped initially, but word-of-mouth spread it around the globe in minutes.  That’s because 9/11 was the ultimate sticky message, one quickly shared by friends, family and coworkers.

Going Viral

Viral videos also show how quickly information spreads.  Unfortunately, the odds of creating a successful viral video are miniscule.  In fact, Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield recommends you don’t even bother trying.

“Fishing for rainbow trout?  If you catch one,” he writes by way of analogy, “it’ll probably weigh 2 pounds. You will not catch a 42-pound rainbow trout.  Oh, it’s been done…and it’s conceivable somebody will hook another one. But it won’t be you. “

Fortunately, you don’t need a viral video or 9/11 to make sticky messages.  With a few simple tips, your media releases, direct mail and website will be more likely to cling.

Money magazine provides an opportunity to compare the stickiness of different messages. Five health nonprofits placed ads the magazine.  None were outrageous or “went viral.”

But the Alzheimer’s Association’s ad was better and incorporated elements of all six criteria needed to create a sticky and more memorable message.

Six Steps to Stickiness

How do you get “sticky?” Authors Chip and Dan Health offer six recommendations in Made to Stick. Elements of each can be seen in the Alzheimer’s Association ad above.

  • Simplicity – Strip your ideas to their core elements.
  • Unexpectedness – Being different captures and holds someone’s attention.
  • Concreteness – Specificity makes your message easier to process and remember.
  • Credibility – Are your spokespersons believable?
  • Emotion – Connect beyond facts and figures.
  • Stories – Are memorable and effective teaching tools.

While no guarantee (not all seven-footers play in the NBA), incorporating these elements will make your messages more contagious.  Like sneezing on a crowded airplane.

Popcorn Problem

The Center for Science in the Public Interest had a problem: How to convince the media and public about the unhealthiness of movie popcorn (37 grams of saturated fat per serving).

That’s a tall order.  Americans are inundated with messages on healthy eating.  How could CSPI break through the noise, and get noticed, with nothing more than dry fact (37 grams of fat)?

They called a called a press conference with the following message: A medium-sized movie popcorn contains more saturated fat than a bacon and egg breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and steak dinner with all the trimmings.

And just in case the reporters missed the message, each item was carefully laid out on a table for comparison.

The story contained nearly every element of stickiness.  The result? CSPI generated national media coverage and public awareness.  More importantly, their sticky message mobilized the public to demand healthier popcorn options at the movies.

Conclusion

Information spreads like a virus.  The stickier your message, the more likely you’ll create an information epidemic.

Creating “sticky” communications is not difficult. It starts with knowing your audience, what you want them to do (“call to action”) and what motivates them to act.

Then, following the Six Steps to Stickiness, you can generate communications that people will read, respond to, and pass along to their friends, co-workers and loved ones and others.

A barrier to creating stickiness is often an unwillingness to be “unexpected.”  The good news is that you don’t have to be outrageous to get noticed.

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New GE Study: Word-of-Mouth Referrals Improve Traditional Marketing Efforts

Marketers have long assumed content shared by friends or other influencers carries more weight than paid placements.  Someone is more likely to visit a restaurant when referred by a friend, the thinking goes, than from a television or radio ad.

Now General Electric has some proof.

In late 2011, the company compared the effectiveness of a paid advertising campaign and paid advertising campaign coupled with online-sharing.   Overall, consumers who saw the ad and received a referral from a friend were 138% more likely to view GE favorably than those who saw the ad alone.

The results of the test were originally published in the January 25th edition of Advertising Age.

“Personal referrals are far and away the most influential form of communications,” said Sparklight Communications President Joseph LaMountain.  “Yet many companies and causes fail to incorporate word-of-mouth into their marketing and communications campaigns.”

For example, organizations can raise significant levels of awareness, or funding, for an issue by asking its supporters to share  information to friends, neighbors and work colleagues.  Yet too often this valuable “human capital” is not effectively mobilized.

4 Strategies for Recruiting A-List Volunteers

We need influential advocates!

Many groups would like to have a “grasstops” network of volunteers – those with significant expertise and political connections – but few have successfully built one from scratch.

Late last year, we helped build a team of A-list volunteers for a national patient advocacy organization.  We recruited 78  volunteers from 43 states with significant health care and political experience.  Their goal is to deliver the organization’s message to key decision-makers in their state.

We focused on four things when building our Elite council.

  1. Developing Application Criteria – We started by asking, “What do you want people to do?  What skills do they need? ” These questions formed our application.  We also asked, for example, how far applicants lived from their state capital.  That’s because we want them to meet with state officials, like the governor, so being close to the capital is key.  Diversity and educational attainment are also important, so we asked that too.  All told, our 20 questions were answerable in about 5 minutes.
  2. Finding the Influentials – We also wanted applicants who are influential in their community.  So we asked a series of 12 questions modeled on those developed RoperASW research firm.  The questions are designed to identify the 10% of the people in a community that “convinces the remaining 90%” how to vote, shop and give.  By finding local connectors, we can work with their connections to reach public officials. Continue reading

Colorado Education Advocates Unveil New Tactic

By Tim Hoover of the Denver Post….

Supporters of an initiative that would ask voters in November to raise taxes for education are using an online, grassroots strategy to gather signatures that could revolutionize the petition process.

“It is the first time that I have seen this kind of tactic,” said veteran ballot-issue consultant Rick Reiter. “I’m watching it closely because I could learn a lot.”

Great Education Colorado Action is the political arm of Great Education Colorado, a group that urges more spending on education, and it has sent e-mails to supporters and turned to social networking to jump-start a signature-gathering drive for Initiative 25.

That proposal would, for five years, raise state sales taxes from 2.9 percent to 3 percent and hike the state’s income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent. If voters approved it, the proposal would generate an estimated $3 billion for K-12 and higher education.

Supporters say the tax hikes are needed to offset three years of deep cuts to education spending.

Critics say Coloradans are in no mood for a tax increase and the proposal would kill jobs during an economic recovery. Republicans have been the most vocal critics, but many Democrats have been silent on the proposal, and Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has repeatedly said Coloradans have “no appetite” for a tax increase.

The initiative filed by state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, doesn’t have the support so far of the state’s major business or education groups. That means the six-figure sums that are usually required to hire companies to conduct petition drives may not be forthcoming.

So supporters are trying a strategy that uses social network websites to ask people to sign the petitions. Supporters have set up a website that allows people to download petitions and then volunteer to gather signatures.

The kit includes instructions on how to gather 50 signatures to fill each petition and even how to properly staple the pages. It instructs volunteers to seek out a notary after gathering the signatures and then to return the signed petitions to supporters in Denver.

Every petition must bear an individual number, and the website where they can be downloaded assigns each one a unique number.

“The conventional wisdom is you need a lot of money to get something on the ballot,” said Lisa Weil, spokeswoman for Great Education Colorado. “Well, we don’t have that. What we’ve got is tens of thousands of education supporters who care about schools and affordable higher education.”

Instead of standing outside a supermarket, Weil said, volunteers can seek signatures on a more personal level. This closer-knit connection also will allow volunteers to better educate others about funding cuts for schools and colleges.

The hurdle to get an initiative on the ballot isn’t small. Supporters will have to gather the valid signatures of 86,105 registered Colorado voters, a benchmark that usually means circulators aim for as many as twice that number of signatures just to be safe.

“I think that the structure of what they’re doing has potential here,” said Reiter, the consultant, “but like all these things, when you need 11,000 people engaged in it, the management and the direct contact with those people will dictate whether this works or not.”

He added: “Hopefully 11,000 people have staplers. Because if you don’t staple it right, you’re done.”

Does a “Slut Walk” Help or Hurt the Cause?

Grassroots activists in want to redefine the word “slut.”

The movement to protest the culture of victim-blaming began in Toronto where the first SlutWalk was organized to protest a police officer’s comment that to avoid being sexually assaulted women should not dress like “sluts.”

These marches have since been organized around the world and one will hit the streets of Hamilton, Ontario in two weeks.  But will the walks achieve their goal, or simply reinforce negative stereotypes?

“The word slut is used to make women feel uncomfortable about how they’re presented to the world and to shame (them), and make them feel they need to police their bodies and police their sexualities in the way they express themselves,” said SlutWalk founder Nikki Wilson, 22, who is from Hamilton.

“We want the word slut to represent a person who is confident in their sexuality, somebody who likes sex and isn’t afraid of talking about that, who isn’t afraid of expressing that.”

According to SlutWalk Hamilton’s Facebook page, more than 800 people are planning on attending the march, which will begin at City Hall at 2 p.m. and then go into Hess Village and end at the Central Police Station.

“These marches have been a great success and they definitely send a message,” said Sparklight President Joseph LaMountain.  “But I question the wisdom of wearing fishnet stockings and other provocative clothing.  While sex generates media coverage and awareness, it could also reinforce some of the negative connotations the group is trying to eliminate.”

SlutWalk organizers could take a lesson from the gay and lesbian community.  They’ve sought to tone down some of the more outrageous behavior in an effort to “normalize” homosexuals in the eyes of the general public.  Over time, this strategy has contributed to increased acceptance of same-sex relationships in American society.

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 joseph.lamountain@gmail.com or 202.288.5124 today.

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.

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