Word-of-Mouth is Most Trusted Media Source

There’s a new restaurant in town.  What will convince you to try it: A newspaper ad or a friend’s recommendation?

The recommendation wins hands down, every time.  That’s because a recommendation from a friend is a far more trusted source of information than a paid advertisement.

We know that intuitively, but a new report from Nielsen finds that consumers trust in word-of-mouth appeals has increased dramatically: 18% since 2007.  By comparison, consumers trust in paid television and radio advertising has fallen by 25% or more.

According to Nielsen, “92% percent of consumers around the world say they trust…word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.”  What puzzles me is why more groups and business don’t jump on this bandwagon and get their people talking!

The Amputee Coalition is an organization using word-of-mouth to raise awareness.  During April, the group has recruited hundreds of companies, medical professionals and individuals to distribute educational materials in their community.  The group is hoping to distribute 1 million cards and generate just as many conversations.

A campaign like this also keeps members engaged with the organization.  All-too-often the only time someone hears from a group is when they’re looking for a handout.  Studies show that the more a volunteer is engaged with a group’s mission, the more money they will give to that group.  Talk about a no-brainer!

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Our Top Ten Successes of 2011

It’s become a tradition for us to highlight our successes from the previous twelve months.  It also helps that our “Top Successes” posts are among the most popular on our site!  So without further adieu, please find below our top client successes from 2011.

10. Recruiting Grasstops Volunteers  – Every week the average Representative in Congress receives 10,000 email messages, far too many to process.  Yet many organizations continue to focus on the quantity, rather than the quality, of communications they generate to elected leaders.  We were pleased to have the chance to work with a national patient advocacy organization that sought to build a network of high-level, politically connected volunteers.  Over an 8-week period, we identified and recruited 78 A-list volunteers from 43 states.  We’re now working with the organization to engage these volunteers in state policy initiatives and the 2012 presidential campaign.

9. Bringing in Bucks & Building Support – ADHD affects millions of kids in America, but some still consider it a “made up” disease.  We worked with patient advocate Natalie Knochenhauer and her group ADHD Aware to develop a funding proposal for a national public awareness campaign.  We were thrilled when a major industry partner decided to fund the organization in the weeks leading up to ADHD Awareness Month in October.  During the awareness month, we reached more than 1.125 million people online with our messages and increased ADHD Aware’s Facebook supporters by more than 350%.

8. Raising Public Awareness – In 2011 we developed awareness campaigns for both the Alliance for Aging Research and the Amputee Coalition.  For the Amputee Coalition, we developed a campaign that will be launched in early 2012 and seeks to educate Americans with diabetes on how to avoid a lower-extremity amputation.  For the Alliance, we developed a campaign to build support for the Healthspan initiative, which will also launch in early 2012  For both we conducted strategic planning sessions, developed key messages, identified target audiences, created communications tactics and an implementation plan.  We look forward to reporting on the success of these campaigns in our Top Successes of 2012!

7. Training Future Generations – In the summer of 2011, I taught Grassroots Communications: Mobilizing the Masses to more than twenty Georgetown graduate students.  Grassroots communications is key because they allow any organization – not just those with huge budgets – to generate conversations and action on the issues they care about.  These conversations are far more persuasive than email or advertising and can more easily cut through the 3,000 marketing messages we process each day.  Teaching at Georgetown provides an unparalleled opportunity to share these strategies with a new generation of communications professionals.

6. Achieving a Regulatory Milestone – In mid-2011 the US Preventive Services Task Force announced it would review the effectiveness of screening for lower-extremity atherosclerosis.  Securing a favorable review from the Task Force has been a top priority of the Vascular Disease Foundation and its allies for more than three years.  We’ve been working with the Foundation the entire time and are thrilled to see that our analysis, messaging and lobbying has begun to pay dividends.  We’re now partnering with the American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association to stress the value and importance of this life-saving preventive test.

To be continued next week….

The Big Flea Thrives on Word of Mouth

The fifth annual MV Big Flea was held last weekend in Alexandria, Virginia.  This year the annual flea market raised an impressive $30,619 from nearly 2,000 attendees.

Since 2007, the MV Big Flea has raised $93,481 for the Mount Vernon Community School PTA. Not bad for a public elementary school where 2/3rds of the kids qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

But what’s even more surprising is the role word-of-mouth communications have  played in the Big Flea’s success.

“We don’t have a big advertising budget,” said MV Big Flea spokesperson Maria Getoff.  “We’ve spent less than $1,000 on advertising, and about $7,500 total, to organize and promote the event since 2007.  Instead, we’ve relied on inexpensive grassroots and word of mouth communications tactics to spread the word.”

Local community listservs are the MV Big Flea’s primary means for reaching thousands of potential donors and event attendees.  Organizers do their best to to make the messages “sticky” so they have staying power and spread throughout the community (see here and here).

Organizers rely heavily on other online resources: Craigslist to sell items (and promote the event), Freecycle to get rid of the leftovers, a WordPress blog for a website and targeted Facebook ads to raise awareness in the week before the event.

Old fashioned tactics like personal meetings with community leaders, yard signs and photocopied flyers also help spread the word.  As a result, despite a very limited presence in the local media, the MV Big Flea is widely known in Alexandria and attended by thousands each year.

Sending the Wrong Message: Parents Protest Budget Cuts

A local grassroots collection of parents displayed concern over Florida legislature’s plan to cut education funding this morning with a march over the Granada Bridge in Ormond Beach.

A larger march is planned between 4 and 6 p.m. today, according to a report published in the Daytona Beach News Journal by staff writer Audrey Parente.

“The point is to let legislators know there is unhappiness at the local level with the idea of cutting educational funding,” said Julia Truilo of Ormond Beach.

The local mom was among a small group of bridge marchers this morning, but said the crowd after school is expected to be larger.

“It’s a parent-generated protest,” Truilo said. “My purpose is to let folks know education funding is important.

“There’s one rule when organizing a protest,” said Joe LaMountain of Sparklight Communications, “you’ve got to deliver a crowd.  If you don’t, you wind up looking weak to the politicians you’re trying to influence.”

The parents organized in a online blog at PreserveEducation.blogspot.com listing email contacts for key legislators and the Volusia County School Board. The blog site also includes suggested slogans forbridge-walkers to include on homemade signs.

“Parents are doing right by involved,” LaMountain continued.  “But a successful protest needs more than just a blog.  You need dozens of personal meetings, hundreds of phone calls and thousands of flyers for it to work.” Continue reading

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.

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.

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