The ROI that would be king

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more.

crown2The pursuit of social media ROI (return on investment) continues to vex me. Last week, my blog post featured some comments about its confounding elusiveness and sparked lively discussion—on and offline. It’s still a very hot topic—at conferences, webinars, cocktail parties, bunko nights, and marketing strategy meetings going on as I type.

Once again, I turn to one of my master media mentors—Clay Shirky. He says:

“A revolution does not happen when a society adopts new tools. It happens when a society adopts new behaviors.”

And I think that quote sums up the core conundrum. At the end of the day, social media is really not “a program” at all. It is a fundamental shift in the way customers, donors, constituents, and employees consume and produce information. It’s behavior—a change in the way we are in the world.

Therefore, the future of marketing is not about telling people things—but about doing things with and for people. Think about it. How do you calculate ROI on messaging coming from your target audience? How do you calculate ROI (an old media metric) in a new media environment? It’s a brave new world, indeed—where we are “creating an environment for coordination and collaboration.”

Even if you consider the question in old media terms, isn’t it like trying to figure ROI on your phone, your conference room, or your fax? Few of us really think about these things in relationship to ROI. But since it’s the Internet, there is still a certain geek mystique. We are a little squeamish and feel the need to “ROI everything”—even if it means constructing elaborate parallel expense models based on paid Google adwords or other media buys. But the truth is, social media will soon be the rule—not the exception. Cost of doing business. David Spark addresses some of these issues from a refreshing perspective on socialmedia.biz. The requirement that everything fit in a discrete ROI queue is simply unrealistic and soon, anachronistic.

Perhaps, a 21st century take on this question would be Return on Engagement—taking the focus away from the justification of hard costs and considering opportunity costs. What do we sacrifice if we are not involved? What are the benefits—tangible and intangible—of spending your time monitoring and creating conversation? What business or donor involvement have you created?

Rules of Engagement

talking Still, even in the ROE context, just having a blog, Facebook account, or Twitter profile does not a social media strategy make. The fabric of social media success is woven from many threads and yarns, including compelling content, irresistible contests/quizzes, provocative video/photos, and authentic voices. You wouldn’t use just one traditional channel to market your product or organization, so it is probably not useful to think that one Twitter account or a blog post by itself can somehow produce ROI—or even ROE—overnight. Attributing a direct revenue equation to an isolated social media marketing activity simply isn’t relevant or accurate. Though weak individually, coordinated social media activities can certainly move the needle.

Engagement fosters affinity, trust, commitment—and ultimately, investment. Marketing has become equal parts science and art. Remember, creating a blog on WordPress of Blogger is free. Right now, Facebook and Twitter are free. So, social media’s costs are mostly labor, time, and creative energy. Therefore, social media success really comes down to commitment, clarity about your objectives, and getting over your fear of exposure—a horse that has already left the barn, I might add. Also, it helps if you have something to say that will interest your audience. Whether you call it—ROI, ROE, or RBI (wait, that’s baseball), here are some thoughts on how to plan, launch, and execute an effective social media plan:

• Focus on conversation, content, and benefits—not tools and technology
• Highlight intangibles
• Justify qualitative, as well as quantitative objectives.
• Compare costs of alternatives, benefits, and of not doing anything.
• Use pilot projects to test and evaluate
• Streamline data collection
• Get buy-in by using a cross-functional team or committee
• Release your fear

The pre-social media business universe was built on linear measurement. I think it’s time to consider using a different kind of yardstick—something with multiple dimensions and constant movement, something we have yet to invent. If small is the new big and free is the new economic engine, what are the new metrics? Is it time to get comfortable with a whole new level of ambiguity. What do you think?

Finessing Facebook

facebook-currency
ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Find her at SocialFuse.

Randi Zukerberg of Facebook delivered the keynote address at the recent Summer of Social Good Conference hosted by Mashable! It was the quintessential industry summit for social media and cause geeks. Randi’s presentation was covered by the Wall Street Journal – conjuring up the ubiquitous question I hear in the field – “I have a Facebook page. Now, what?” And that is the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Actually, $4000 would be nice—or even $40, for that matter.

Given this conundrum, one of the most interesting announcements was Facebook’s plan to pilot “virtual charity giving” to users. Initially, the proceeds will support micro-lender Kiva, Project Red, the World Wildlife Fund, and Tom’s Shoes. Plans are to roll out the feature more broadly after testing.

In a test starting this week, these alpha organizations will each offer 1-2 gifts at $5 or $10 each. Facebook users will be able to buy these gifts for friends, and the proceeds will go to the charity associated with the gift. This is essentially an extension of an increasingly popular offline concept – the idea of giving a gift to a recipient’s favorite charity as a present.

This isn’t the first time Facebook is experimenting with virtual gifts for charity—earlier this year, they launched a similar initiative upon hitting the 200 million member milestone. However, as Facebook moves further into gifts and payments, perhaps rivaling PayPay, charity gifts may become a staple of the site.

According a Facebook, “This is an alpha initiative and is not available to other charities at this time, but we may open up the program to new partners in the future pending the results. It is our goal to give our users a way to support the causes and issues that are important to them on a global scale.”

Still, nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter reported, “Skeptics in the audience tweeted about the limitations of tool-centric campaigns and wondered if, at the end of day, there was any on-the-ground social change. Or was it all hype?” To these folks, I say that the tools are only as effective as the strategy which drives them. They are just hype if they are not seen as an integrated component of an overall engagement strategy.

It’s really all about expectations. A one-off viral campaign may pull in a thousand dollars, a couple of hundred, or none — but the process of building awareness and affiliation for the duration should be is a core value. Creating real commitment takes time—and typically, a variety of contacts and “touches,” a we say in development. As a seasoned nonprofit professional, I cannot overstate the importance of the cultivation process. Seldom do you meet a new visitor at the door for your museum and say, “Excuse me, can you give me $50,000, today.” You date before you marry. Yet, there are cause sites on the web that are attempting to raise money in more of a “one-night-stand” style. “Hey, you know me. I like this organization. Give me money.” But to be effective in the long term, organizations must learn to capture that casual flirtation in the Facebook discussion sting and weave it into the overall cultivation effort. That’s why seamlessly integrating the Facebook page with the organization’s website is so important.

After all, Facebook has exploded in popularity, because it gives our intimacy-starved lives a way to forge and maintain human relationships in a frantic, chaotic world of drive-thrus, drop-offs, and pick-ups. We are communicating but not interacting. Though they may seem trivial at times, these online conversations are feeding us and the things we hold dear. But after all is said and done, nonprofits must first state their cases for support—then ask for investment.

So, even with the newest “virtual giving gadget” on Facebook, I still believe the gold in the online interactive community is just that – interaction. We are offering like minds and hearts ways to connect around life-changing missions. Isn’t that what we truly thirst for—shared passion and an authentic soul connection? You may be thinking, “Golly, Elaine, it’s a stretch to consider that self-actualization is a viable byproduct of Facebook, but the act of participation can help donors and advocates move along that path more rapidly.

Here are a few other high-level thoughts:

• Don’t rely on groups on Facebook. Be sure to create a “Fan Page” to take advantage of the viral potential. See the example of my SocialFuse landing page.

• More than 8 million Facebook users become “fans” of new pages each day, and the site’s fastest-growing demographic is users over 35, who are more involved in fundraising efforts.

• Be a little less “formal” and try a few fun updates and other content that communicates truth and personality sans spin—especially photos and videos.

• Try not to clutter your pages with too many applications. Leave room for conversation.

In addition, big companies, including Target, Intel and Kellogg, have been polling the site’s 250 million users as to where they should be donating money or goods, so an engaged Facebook fan base can benefit organizations on many levels.

What do you think? Let me know how you are using Facebook?

No more waiting in the weeds: Make time to grow your social media garden

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Find her at SocialFuse.

gardenI recently read Josh Catone’s Mashable post on the “5 Essential Tips for Promoting Your Charity Using Social Media.” I applaud Josh’s concise synthesis of the basic-level concepts defining social media. But I really think it’s time to help organizations get specific and tactical. We need to move from musing to mastering. Many of the organizations I advise are still befuddled and overwhelmed by social media. They seem to view social media as some separate, daunting frontier they need to confront and invade. However, in many ways, social media is really just a new, better way of helping nonprofits do what they do best – engage. It’s made for us! We need to move the conversation from “Why should we?” to “How should we?” It’s now more of a functional shift than a philosophical one. Josh’s recommendations are well-taken and commonly held. Yet, here are some additional thoughts to ponder to take your strategy to the next level:

Build a Plan and Work It.
Josh instructs that you’ll get a much better return on your investment in social media if you take the time to actually engage your followers, friends, and constituents. He warns that we should not just broadcast information. We should consume it, as well. Indeed, this is the way social media works, but the question is – How do we work this? To foster relationships, organizations need to officially delegate responsibility for regular care, feeding, and cultivation of online communities to staff, trained volunteers, or perhaps, an outside agency or consultant. Simply creating a Facebook fan page or Twitter profile will not produce results. Start by assessing the following:

• Your Goals – SEO, PR, traffic (to drive awareness? advertising click-thrus? conversions?)
• Your Audience – Where do your constituents/stakeholders live? What do you want them to do?
• Your Resources – You, interns, staff, agency, consultant? Budget? Communication tools?

Social media is organic – much like a garden which must be regularly tended and even weeded. It’s all about activity and careful attention. Here are some specific tasks to help your garden take root and thrive:

• Create and update blogs and tags at least once a week.
• Respond to all blog comments within 24 hours.
• Pose questions in and respond to queries in relevant Linked In discussion groups.
• Tweet at least once daily and retweet (RT@) content relevant to your mission.
• Respond to Facebook comments promptly, and update Facebook status at least daily.
• Post high-value content, such as videos, articles, and blogs across key social media platforms.
• Identify the A-List blogs and cultivate positive relationships with as many as possible to persuade them to blog about your issue. Or guest blog for them.
• Drop html links with target anchor text related to a specific call to action, relevant product, or web resource for an additional SEO lift and traffic increase.
• Start and update a custom, branded community such as Ning to drive engagement and enhance SEO on your own site.

Create a Human Persona.
Social media is your opportunity to put a face on your organization and to humanize interaction. Those who are immersed in social media are not really looking for a press release or canned “mission statement.” They are hungry for intimate, behind-the-scenes, authentic access. Think about ways to make the private public. This is the messaging that will attract and embrace.

Create Valuable Content.
Josh recommends sharing only the highest quality content. This is key. I was speaking with a friend just today about the challenge of being inundated with information. With so much competition for the attention of constituents, you need to make sure the content you publish and share is relevant and real. So, be sure to consider the context and the medium. Perhaps, consider experimenting with videos on your website – feature video testimonials from donors and/or recipients. Social media is about storytelling – truth that touches the heart.

Create Community Instantly
Social media gives you the power to spread information quickly. Using social media platforms to issue a call to action online can trigger viral campaigns rapidly, economically, and effectively – enabling you to reach new audiences. Plus, using tools, such as #hashtags on Twitter, can help you create improvised communities around issues on the fly. Hashtags are a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to your tweets. They’re like tags on Flickr, but you add them directly to your post. You create a hashtag simply by prefixing a word with a hash symbol: #hashtag. Read more about them on Beth Kanter’s blog.

Create a Social Media Culture.
Just as everyone in a healthy organization is a salesperson, everyone in your organization should help cultivate your social media presence. As Josh says, if everyone at your charity is connecting with people on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll be able to engage many more people than if just a couple of folks are tasked with using social media tools. But, in the realm of the tactical, you should not expect this to “just happen magically.” Create a social media policy – even if it consists of a simple public relations calendar of messages, events, or campaigns to discuss organization-wide. Include your staff, donors, and even recipients. And don’t forget your board of directors. Nonprofits are constantly seeking ways to engage boards in resource building, and social media is a great way to involve boards of directors – especially when it comes to tapping into their potentially powerful spheres of influence.

“That is well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”
-Voltaire

How are you cultivating your social media garden? What’s helping you thrive? Let me know if you need help planting the seeds. Find me at SocialFuse.