Three ways to stop wishing for a big campaign

In the movie Big, Tom Hanks plays 12 year old Josh Baskin who puts a coin in a magic wish machine at the amusement park arcade one summer night and asks to be big. Nothing happens after making the wish so he heads home and goes to bed.

Be big

You know the story. Josh wakes up the next morning and is, well, BIG (and played by Tom Hanks).

Sometimes, your campaigns go big. You probably didn’t plan for it (though you may have wished for it). The ride may be fun but it’s probably not what you expected.

big-skateboarding-slide

Sometimes, things don’t turn out as you hoped. You didn’t raise much money. New people didn’t stick with you. The media didn’t respond as you hoped. The big suit doesn’t always fit right — you may walk away disappointed but a bit wiser.

Big. And not so fun.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question “What does it mean for a to ‘go big’ if you’re a nonprofit?” What is a viral campaign? That’s because I’m organizing a session here in Denver with the folks from Tech4Good titled Going Viral: The Ups and Downs of Hitting it Big. The program is tomorrow so you’ve probably missed it.

We don’t have to find Zoltar and wish to be big but we do need to know what “big” is, tap into what helps make campaigns go big and be ready when it happens (even if it’s not as dramatic as in the movie or the ice bucket).

So… What IS Big?

When it’s really big you know it. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was big. Very big.

Google trends - ALS
A 12 month Google search trends chart tracking ALS and Obama searches. The ALS spike is reminiscent of the Super Bowl and other huge national events.

Continue reading “Three ways to stop wishing for a big campaign”

If you watch one damn slide deck all year make it this one

Or, the science of great content that gets shared.

Only watch this if you want you want more people to read and take action on your content.

In June, a team from Upworthy gave a presentation at Netroots Nation about their approach to writing headlines and other content – all the while getting your stuff shared out the wazoo. I thought it was a terribly useful deck then, especially for nonprofit organizations that struggle to not just build a social media following but, more critically, have trouble getting their social communities to do much of anything.

The deck was updated for Rootscamp this past weekend. Check out the deck here or embedded below – but only bother if you have any interest in doing what it takes to make your social media communications get attention. Hell, all your communications could benefit from these insights into headlines, interesting writing, testing, optimizing sharing, and testing some more.

A few highlights for your consideration…

  • These folks know what they’re talking about. Upworthy launched in late-March, 2012. In eight months they have 791,000 Facebook fans, 43,000 Twitter followers, and 10,000 Tumblrs. Their early growth far (FAR) outpaces that of Huffington Post, BuzzFeed or Business Insider.
  • Middle aged women are the biggest sharers on the Internet. If your mom wouldn’t share your stuff you’re probably failing.
  • Write 25 headlines. Test the better ones. Use the best one.
  • The share image matters. A lot.
  • Make sharing on your website as easy as possible. So easy your mom could do it. Test these things, too.
  • Test. Collect data. Figure out what the data says. Test again. Repeat. Rinse. Test again.

For what it’s worth, we have seen even small sharing optimization tweaks have huge impacts on sharing when working with clients on email, websites, social media, and so on. Make sharing easy. Write great content. Here’s Upworthy’s deck:

Doubling Attendance in One Year: A Success Story

Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History attendance numbers.
I’m an unabashed Nina Simon fan, and I love this post on her Museum 2.0 blog about their growth in visitor numbers, how they pulled off the impressive growth she describes, and their plans for next year. This is the type of candid, under the hood, here’s-what-we-did-what-worked-and-what-didn’t writing that I think we need much more of in the nonprofit world.

The “five great ways to do something” lists (guilty), the “a great example of doing it wrong” posts (guilty), the big picture trends stories (guilty) … all of these can be useful, but often I find the posts that lay it all out there – good and bad, lessons learned, what they’re going to try next – to be the most helpful. There isn’t anything else like it: real social sector folks describing concretely and candidly what they actually did and what they learned.

We blogged about another of Nina’s terrific ‘lessons learned’ posts back in May in case you missed it (“Year One as a Museum Director … Survived!”).

Data Informed, Not Data Driven

This Adam Mosseri talk about how Facebook uses data to make decisions is a little dated but his observations are still extremely useful. His key insight: clear metrics and strong data-driven feedback loops can be powerful, but they have their limits as well. Facebook often uses solid empirical data to make decisions about their website design, their products, and the workflows that users experience on Facebook. They can test two versions of a website design, for example, and if design option A produces higher engagement than design option B it’s an easy choice.

But Mosseri also explains how an excessive fidelity to data-driven decisions can privilege incremental and uninspired changes at the expense of innovation and ambitious thinking. Facebook sometimes is aiming not only for high levels of engagement but for more fundamental changes in the way people interact with it and with each other. Facebook’s Timeline, for instance, inspired anger and fierce resistance among many Facebook users and sharp derision from the press, and the use of a conventional data-driven decision process would have killed it before it got very far, but Timeline is now a central and deeply-valued part of the Facebook experience.

Most nonprofits don’t seem to rely much on data for their decision-making about their websites, email newsletters, programs, and fundraising efforts, and when they do those efforts aren’t often carefully crafted and executed (some do, of course, but for every one that does there are many, many more that don’t). The remedy isn’t to swap all the intuitive and qualitative decision-making for analytic feedback loops, but to find a good balance. “Data informed, not data driven,” as Mosseri says.

Measurement and support for community, not you

Want to stir the pot amongst social media campaigners and their managers? Start a conversation with them (preferably when you’re all in the same room) about how they measure social media efforts. “Tell me,” for instance, “how you show the ROI of this work.”

Measuring social mediaPerhaps you’ll enter a coherent dialog on social media ROI across the organization (though we doubt it). If so, chances are good that the metrics discussed will be things like number of fans/followers/likes, number of comments, “people listening,” retweets and shares. You may get more programmatic correlations such as amount of money raised through Facebook or people that clicked a Pinterest link, came to the website and subscribed to the email list.

These numbers, however, say little about the value our work is adding to the life of the person at the other end of that like.

Most metrics are about us

The thing is, our social media metrics (heck, even our email and web metrics) are almost entirely about us, the organization. We assess our value and power by the number of fans, followers, subscribers as well as letters signed and cash in the door. And this informs our resource planning, staffing, program evaluation.

This is not terrible (at least not the cash in the door part).  These are informative data points if used in context.

But these are one-way relationship measurements. It’s as though we’re just in the business of selling shirts and all that matters is getting more customers in the door so we can sell more shirts.

But if I’m interested in sticking around as a company I really want to know what people think of the my shirts. How did it fit? Did it shrink in the wash? Did it fall apart?  Do you love it? Will you buy another one? Has it done the job?

How do nonprofits measure the value they are bringing to people’s lives? How do we get beyond discussions of tactics for getting more likes, retweets and impressions and move to learning about what is impacting people and creating the power to change communities? 

We must be able to clearly state how what we do relates to people’s lives. We need to understand precisely how our work matters to people before we can measure how we have helped people change their lives.

If you provide a direct service such as meals to the elderly, job training, or a bed for the homeless then you can measure the amount of such service provided. When it comes to social media, look for measures that tie your use of social media as closely as possible to that service. How many people knew about or took advantage of help based on social media? Look at social media metrics but also at client data. How did your organization’s use of social media affect use of services by your clients or audience?

Organizations that provide primarily advocacy services have a trickier time measuring benefit to audience and as a result use primarily indirect metrics. They infer from likes and shares that the audience is valuing (or not) their social media. These organizations, too, should directly and regularly query followers/supporters about the impact of social media on their actions and views.

Culture of community support

But advocacy organizations could also more directly seek guidance from social media about what advocates need, want, could use to help them be more effective. Social media (and email and the web) is an opportunity to have a direct conversation with the people that matter most to your work (and, no, we’re not talking about legislators or even your staff): your members, donors and activists.

Here are some guiding principles for helping your community:

  • Be deliberate about asking them what they need to be better advocates;
  • Provide what they ask for and test it, measure results and share feedback;
  • Be transparent with your community: share your intent and learning openly;
  • Identify and track people as they become more engaged (as well as the actions that they take to get there); and
  • Create a culture that encourages sharing advocacy stories, not just rants or odes of support. Instead of “great job” or “this guy stinks” we should strive to hear “this is what I did and here’s what happened.” (And if/when we get those stories, thank the people that share them.)

Focusing on how the community can become better advocates and supporters of one another will build and spread power, create longer lasting change, and take advantage of the interactive nature of current communications channels.

The Pitfalls of A/B Testing and Benchmarking

Improvement begins with measurement, but the ruler can also limit your audacity to try wildly new approaches (photo by Flicker user Thomas Favre-Bulle).
Google is famous for, among other things, crafting a deep, rich culture of A/B testing, the process of comparing the performance of two versions of a web site (or some other output) that differ in a single respect.

The benefit: changes to a web site or some other user interface are governed by real-world user behavior. If you can determine that your email newsletter signup button performs better with the label “Don’t Miss Out” instead of “Subscribe,” well, that’s an easy design change to make.

The practice of benchmarking – using industry standards or averages as a point of comparison for your own performance – has some strong similarities to A/B testing. It’s an analytic tool that helps frame and drive performance-based testing and iteration. The comparison of your organization’s performance to industry benchmarks (e.g., email open rates, average donation value on a fundraising drive) provides the basis for a feedback loop.

The two practices – A/B testing and benchmarking – share a hazard, however. Because a culture of A/B testing is driven by real-time empirical results, and because it generally depends on comparisons between two options that are identical in every respect but one (the discrete element that you are testing), it privileges modest, incremental changes at the expense of audacious leaps.

To use a now-classic business comparison: while Google lives and breathes A/B testing, and constantly refines its way to small performance improvements, the Steve Jobs-era Apple eschewed consumer testing, assuming (with considerable success) that the consumer doesn’t know what it wants and actually requires an audacious company like Apple to redefine product categories altogether.

Similarly, if your point of reference is a collection of industry standards, you are more likely to aim for and be satisfied with performance that meets those standards. The industry benchmarks, like the incremental change model that undergirds A/B testing, may actually constrain your creativity and ambitiousness, impeding your ability to think audaciously about accomplishing something fundamentally different than the other players in your ecosystem, or accomplishing your goals in a profoundly different way.

The implication isn’t that you should steer clear of A/B testing or benchmarking. Both are powerful tools that can help nonprofits focus, refine, and learn more quickly. But you should be aware of the hazards, and make sure even as you improve your iterative cycles you are also protecting your ability to think big and think different about the work your organization does.

And if you want to dive in, there are a ton of great resources on the web, including a series of posts on A/B testing by the 37Signals guys (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), the “Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing” on SmashingMagazine, an A/B testing primer on A List Apart, Beth Kanter’s explanation of benchmarking, and the 2012 Nonprofit Social Network Report.

The Digital Nonprofit Toolkit

For most nonprofits, a suite of digital tools can be a critical asset for enabling your team to do amazing work (not to mention simply enabling yourself to kick ass). As consultants to nonprofits that have hands in some start-ups, we don’t have the same needs and use cases as many nonprofits. But we’ve spent years working in nonprofits and are collaborating with many on a daily basis.

Here’s what we are using these days:

File sharing: We use Dropbox a lot, although Google Docs can be a good alternative if you’ve got a shared account (and we suspect that the new Google Drive is going to give Dropbox a serious run).

Email: I mostly use MailChimp…it’s inexpensive, reasonably easy to use and integrates with a wide array of third-party apps. Creating and changing templates can be annoying at times but, hey, nobody said HTML email was as easy as making toast. Documentation is solid, the Chimp folks blog frequently and seem genuinely interested in nonprofit implementations.

I am increasingly a fan of SendGrid, as well. They’ve got awesome customer service, it’s much easier for a non-techie like me to design and modify the email templates, and they are slowly rolling out free and low-volume pricing options. If you do high volume email, especially if you want to build your own internal UI, then SendGrid seems like the obvious choice.

We realize that most mid-size to ginormous nonprofits (and many small groups) are going to be using tools from Blackbaud, Convio, Salsa or other companies that mush together email, advocacy and fundraising. If you’ve got the budget and you’d prefer the combined multi-function product instead of stand-alone elements, they can make a lot of sense.

Emailing large files: YouSendIt and Dropsend are both solid. They can be pretty useful when the other party isn’t using DropBox.

Document collaboration: For all its quirks, we haven’t found anything that beats Google Docs (which is now being folded into Google Drive).

Bookmarking, Notetaking, Writing: Ted has become a consistent and almost fanatical user of Evernote (and if Instagram can be worth a billion dollars then why not Evernote?). It covers the bases, it’s easy to use, and it’s very accessible on multiple devices. Our main complaint is that its formatted content doesn’t paste well into other tools.

Cloud storage: For simple storage, I’m a fan of Rackspace, and I especially love their “fanatical” customer support. We know others who like Amazon Cloud, as well.

Backups: I use a pair of external hard drives and Time Machine, but I might end up exploring something cloud-based (maybe as a supplement to my hard drive-swapping approach). Anyone out there really in love with a particular cloud backup solution?

Social media dashboards: Hootsuite has been the hands-down winner for me, although it’s really just a Twitter dashboard. I like the UI, it’s easy to use, and it does what I want. You can include other accounts, like Facebook, but it doesn’t work as well for those (which I think is generally true of dashboards like this). Ted is happy with Hootsuite as well but is less enthusiastic about it … he finds the interface to be clunky, and there are some annoying issues when trying to manage/admin client Twitter accounts (e.g., if the client is already using Hootsuite free version to manage their Twitter account you can’t get access to it via your own Hootsuite, which is just silly).

Time tracking/Invoicing: When you’re an independent consultant or small shop tracking your time is both a pain in the arse and one of the most critical parts of surviving. We’ve been very pleased with Harvest. Heck, most nonprofit enterprise time tracking systems could learn a lot from Harvest and similar systems.

Project management: Basecamp and Wrike are my two favorite project management tools. They take different approaches, the former built more on a “Getting Things Done” type of structure while Wrike is a little more traditional, but they both have good UIs and solid features. I’m just starting a project using Smartsheet (because it integrates with a very cool public input tool we are using called Crowdbrite), which I’ve not used before … I can report on it in a few months.

Blogging/web platform: WordPress, especially when it’s used with the Genesis framework. It has its quirks, and it can be tough for non-techies to build out a site with any real customization (although I can recommend great web designers if you need anyone), but every blog I use now is built on WordPress. It’s robust, the UI is solid once the site is built, and it looks really good. We’ve seen (and built) some great sites that are much more than blogs using WordPress. It can be done. But think hard about Drupal, especially if you’re building a broad content and/or community-rich site.

Music: Because who doesn’t need music sometimes while they work … I’m a fan of Spotify and Pandora, although our local classical station (KVOD) and the terrific Santa Monica indy station KCRW get a lot of my streaming as well. Ted is a big Rdio fan, which I haven’t tried yet (but should because it’s far better than Spotify, Ted claims). He also threw in a vote for KCRW and for Denver’s KUVO. We are both fans of Seattle’s KEXP for edgy alt-rock.

Link shortening: I mostly use Bitly. It’s simple, free, and has decent analytics. Hootsuite integrates ow.ly, though, which also works fine.

Password management: It took me a while to warm up to it, and because I have multiple Dropbox accounts the Dropbox-based syncing didn’t work (they have other sync options), but I’m now a solid fan of 1Password. I keep track of one master password and it keeps track of everything else. Very handy once you get over the hump of actually using it.

Online stores and e-commerce: The combo of Shopify and Stripe seems to work well for managing online stores and the related e-commerce transactions.

What did we miss? Other great options we should cover?

Photo courtesy actna.net (which has a pretty good article on digital tools that should be in a journalist’s toolbox).

Building email lists one opt-in address at a time

How organizations build email lists is no small issue. Many groups are investing significant resources in staff, consulting, advertising, events and vendor contracts (in particular partnering with Care2, Change.org and similar communities) to increase their list size.

Open rates of opt-in and opt-out messages
Comparing open rates of opt-in and opt-out subscribers. Source: JeanneJennings.com via ClickZ.

An issue that often comes up as these programs take off is do we use “opt-in” or “opt-out?” What does this mean? Opt-in means that a new subscriber must make a proactive decision to join an email list by clicking a checkbox, filling out a form or, in the case of double opt-in by replying to a confirmation email and essentially telling you twice that they want to be on your email list. Opt-out happens when someone is added to an email list without clear prior acknowledgment and must actively opt-out if they want off the list.

We were intrigued the other day to come across a post on ClickZ looking at the results of over 300 million emails sent to sets of subscribers added to lists via opt-in and opt-out methods. Email professionals will generally discourage organizations from using opt-out methods (though, as discussed below) typical subscription practices aren’t far from opt-out and many organizations use opt-out frequently through email appends. And opt-out is pretty much assumed in political campaign marketing where lists are bought, sold, traded and given away all the time.

Opt-out is cheaper than opt-in. You may put money up-front to rent/buy an email list or run an email append against your mailing list or other house file. But dollar for dollar it costs less than opt-in. Generally, the more subscribers need to do to indicate their interest in subscribing the less likely they are to subscribe.
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Google Analytics Tips and Resources

Google Analytics is free but getting actionable data from it takes a bit of planning and time. We wanted to highlight for you here some great resources and tips for using Google Analytics in your organization or business.

Google Analytics - Make strategic data-driven choicesThe sky is the limit (of course) as you can spend almost endless amounts of time sifting through data and creating Google Analytics reports. At the end of the day though you need your website help you achieve some pretty discrete tasks. These could be things like:

  • give your readers more of what they’re looking for;
  • make information easier to find;
  • get more visitors to subscribe to your email list;
  • get more visitors to buy your products or make donations;
  • see more visitors sharing links to your blog posts, videos and social media networks.
New to Google Analytics or just want to get some insight personalized to your organization? Check out our free Analytics Assessment.

Google Analytics can help you see if you’re achieving these tasks and meeting the goals you set for your online program. But you won’t find this data by just looking at just pageviews and visitor numbers.

Here are a few tips and resources to help you measure what matters and make more data-driven decisions using Google Analytics.

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