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.