How Reddit Rocked Stephen Colbert’s World

Colbert Reddit

One might look at the Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers study (sponsored by PayPal for Nonprofits) and draw the conclusion that all celebrity fundraisers are doomed to fail. But though it is true that many celebrity tweets falls short, the truth is they fail because the celebrity is not very well engaged with his/her community, unauthentic about the cause and/or unwilling to invest an effort.

We included one case study in the effort which shows that a big celebrity can rock it, the Stephen Colbert-Reddit case study. Colbert demonstrates that big celebrities can rock it if they are engaged, authentic and willing to work. These should be the three qualifiers of any weblebrity/celebrity fundraiser.

Showing the networked celebrity/weblebrity effect in reverse, a community of Reddit users decided to rally for an educated America as a response to the Republican movement in 2010. The “Restoring Truthiness” campaign was centered on political comedian Stephen Colbert and to encourage Stephen Colbert and John Daily in their rally countering Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally. The fundraiser successfully galvanized Stephen Colbert Report/Daily Show, garnering Stephen Colbert’s direct attention.

The Reddit campaign was started on DonorsChoose.org in the middle of a Monday night in September, 2010. By mid-morning the community had raised $15,000 donations. By the end of the day the campaign had raised $100,000, and had actually caused DonorsChoose.org’s website servers to crash.

The campaign was immensely successful, and soon garnered the attention of Colbert, who sits on the DonorsChoose.org board. He acknowledged the effort on his show, and deferred any possible rallies until Jon Stewart announced his Rally to Restore Sanity.

But Colbert decided to become involved with the campaign because the Reddit community’s generosity was so awe inspiring. He thanked them personally. Then on his October 5 show he said, “Make your donation to show support of my march and to support America’s kids. And keep those donations coming folks, because for every $100,000, I undo another button.”

Once Colbert engaged, the Reddit fundraiser went much further than it could have possibly beforehand. It was the perfect storm of an involved celebrity who had authentic passion for a cause and the impassioned Reddit community. The combination was fire.

After his first response there was another spike in donations. The rally was scheduled for late October in Washington. And Colbert made himself accessible, taking photos, mentioning it on his show, and answered 11 questions from the Reddit community on their site.

The final totals were astounding. When the study was drafted, 11,461 people had donated $613,580 and 291,985 students were reached by the time this report was written. The Reddit inspired Stephen Colbert campaign caught lightening in a bottle.

PayPal Research Shows Strength of Community Trumps Popularity

Paddyobrien

We live in strange times in which an online following is considered the mark of success. This era of weblebrity seems caustic at times with companies, nonprofits and individuals chasing personal brands for their time. Yet, as we dig deeper we see that real influence online does not necessarily tether itself to the most well known, rather the most engaged. Some research released today, The Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers, conducted on case studies within the PayPal network validates this truth.

The paper, my final as a Zoetican and co-authored with Henry T. Dunbar, concludes that online celebrity fundraising efforts are hit and miss. Further some of the biggest names get outpaced by lesser known web-based personalities or weblebrities who activate deep ties to their communities.

The research shows over and over again that the hyper-engaged online personality with an authentic story is the one to succeed. Here are some examples:

  • A campaign on Facebook’s Causes to raise money for a new children’s hospital. In it, a 9-year-old cancer patient with virtually no online presence generated more donations than any other individual, including television star Ashton Kutcher.
  • A DonorsChoose.org fundraising competition among bloggers —- including TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington and All Things D’s Kara Swisher —- was dominated by a blogger offering to parade around in a tomato suit.
  • The launch competition of Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees social giving website: Despite recruiting more than 60 celebrities to create “charity badges” on the site —- including Nicole Kidman and Ashley Judd -— the top fundraiser was a woman who blogs about scrapbooking and has an autistic son.
  • The PayPal-sponsored Regift the Fruitcake campaign on Facebook was won by Operation Smile with the help of Filipina singer Charice and her engaged fans. Other more notable celebrities participated, but didn’t deliver Charice’s impact.
  • TwitChange, which hosts charity auctions where fans buy mentions, follows, and retweets from celebrities on Twitter. Through three auctions in 2010, two of the celebrities drawing the most attention and highest bids have been actor Zachary Levi (of TV’s Chuck) and celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, beating stars such as country singer LeAnn Rimes and celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton.

As practitioners and communicators, we owe it to ourselves and our clients to dig deeper, and learn the underpinnings of the online social web. Real influence is more than popularity, and this paper goes a great distance to highlighting the important components of authenticity, real strong community engagement, and a willingness to actively work with a community to affect change.

The whole paper is online, and embedded below. Over the next few weeks, expect to see several full case studies outlining the principles of the paper published here. Special thanks to PayPal’s Clam Lorenz, Network for Good’s Katya Andresen, DonorsChoose.org’s Anna Doherty, Operation Smile’s Kristi Kastrounis, and TwitChange’s Shaun King, all of whom provided the outstanding content and insights that made this paper possible.

Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers