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.

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.

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!

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.

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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