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.
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.
Inspiring Generosity seeks to catalyze a critical industry breakthrough for nonprofits in online fundraising. Currently, the industry is stymied with past attempts for social fundraising not achieving significant scalable success. The exceptions garner excitement, but are not creating widespread industry best practices.
In large part, we believe that social fundraising has yet to break through because the technology has not been intuitive, and approaches towards donors have largely been transactional and not relational. If you think about the latter reason, this is a larger issue facing all companies and nonprofits: Trying to force traditional marketing approaches into social as opposed to using these tools for relationships.
To do more than simply market on a blog — even going so far as to give your competition hat tips –takes some guts. Razoo, under the guidance of new CEO Brian Fujito, is returning to its core values of inspiring generosity. Together as a sector, done right social fundraising is an act that can strengthen the entire social good ecosystem and society as a whole.
There are times when a cause campaign is not about mutual reward for brand and beneficiary, rather responsible citizenship. Disasters are such times. There’s no greater example of this than the current triple crisis of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan. Using online tools, it’s easy to participate in charitable activities, and help situations like the Japanese crisis.
When your cause or company’s employees and stakeholders want to act and participate on the frontlines of the relief effort, there are several things you can do. Whether it’s leveraging your online community, offering financial resources or volunteering, almost every person and organization has assets to offer.
Before going too far, please ensure that the organization is motivated by a clear desire to resolve or provide relief to a devastating event. If your goal is to market or strengthen the social responsibility factor of your brand, the disaster campaign could easily achieve the opposite and tarnish your brand with an opportunistic hue (consider Spirit Airlines oil spill faux paux). Disasters are a time for social responsibility and altruism.
When the Deep Horizon oil spill occurred and companies began stepping up their response, Dawn dish soap stood out. Dawn soap products were donated as a means to clean birds, and the effort was well received publicly. The company simply publicized it was donating the products. Further Dawn’s bird cleaning ads can be considered in good taste because they had been deployed prior to the oil spill accident. In fact, because life matched brand promise, the ads were strengthened.
Here are some tips if you are considering participating in disaster relief…
Spur of the Moment
If an event happens such as the Japanese earthquake that’s so compelling it inspires you to act, the best thing to do is to affiliate with an entity that is well prepared. For example, the America Red Cross literally exists for crisis situations and its business is preparedness. If you prefer a less organized effort, consider Crisis Commons and the fantastic job they do getting coders and other techies to help out in crisis like the Sendai earthquake.
The point is that there are dozens, even hundreds of causes and organizations that prepare for such events. Rather than reinventing the wheel on the fly, find and support them in the ways that they suggest.
Many of the more experienced players have grassroots systems for you to participate in and fundraise. Further, independent fundraising platforms like Crowdrise, Razoo, Causes and Jumo allow you to set up your own social fundraising campaign autonomous of a charity’s oversight.
One of the best things a communicator can do is create a crisis communications plan for missteps and disasters. Similarly, preparation to help in advance of disaster situations makes sense. This allows the organization to literally pull a book off the shelf and follow directions or adapt them to unique situations. Network for Good was able to send attendees to SxSW AND prepare its network for recovery efforts thanks to prior planning for crisis events. As of last evening, Network for Good had raised $4.3 million for its group of earthquake causes.
With a pre-determined crisis plan, you can deploy resources in a manner that better plays to your strengths. Further, the nonprofit or company can save funds and allocate other resources for that unfortunate day in advance, ensuring impact.
For example, Google has a crisis preparedness team for disasters. The team has been actively engaged in the Japan crisis since the earthquake, using tools like Person Finder, Checkout for direct donations the Japanese Red Cross, maps via Google Earth, and news aggregation. Google’s impact is significant and helpful, using its tools and networks to ease the situation as best as it can.
The questions you have to ask is how the organization can best assist in a time of need and how much is it willing to give. From there building a plan becomes easier.
Free Agent Experimentation
Many organizations and people feel like they can do more than the current authorities and causes involved. Or they feel inspired to use tools in an unthought of way. Whether it’s an independent fundraiser or a new tool, this is the heart of innovation. If innovation can possibly make a difference it only makes sense to engage.
Two recent examples, include Kira Siddall deploying widespread Twitter networks to find Taylor Anderson in Japan, and the MIT Media Lab’s use of hot air balloons to document the oil spill. Further, technological innovation can seed breakthrough applications, including unique Uhsahidi map deployments, Google People Finder, and several tools developed by Crisis Commons. In times of crisis, inspiration can save lives and make a big impact.
If anyone has additional questions, please feel free to ask in the comment section. We’d love to continue the conversation.
Q1. How can nonprofits promote corporate partners’ investments (as part of their CSR programs), in ways that add value to corporations and also resonate with stakeholders?
There needs to be a clear value proposition that works for all parties. That means it takes more than simply offering a $5 donation with every purchase, although, in the end, that may make sense. Let’s look at two examples:
1) KFC and Komen came under fire this year for pink buckets of fried chicken. The fatty food and breast cancer combo did not resonate well for all of its stakeholders. What would have worked (may be not as well for sales) a little better for all parties is pink buckets of grilled chicken. The company gets the responsibility and marketing points, Komen better serves its mission, and non KFC customers may be more inclined to visit a KFC fast food restaurant.
2) Staples and DonorsChoose offers a great cause shopping model. Buying at Staples equals an investment in education, and one the customer chooses. Clearly a win for DonorsChoose and the customer, but also Staples. Why? Because Staples is an office products company. Most of the workforce that needs its products has a college education. Win, win, win.
Q2. What cutting-edge, creative types of promotion would make a nonprofit a leader in this arena?
Geez, that’s a tough question. Promotion and leadership seem opposed at times online. While you can certainly claim leadership, it’s really about serving online stakeholders with valuable content and activities for cause purposes. When you are successful at that, the community often promotes your effort faster than you would. The types of promotion – blogging, social network participation, crowdsourcing – really are a means to the end. Without the core understanding and service to the community, the cause marketing will fall on deaf ears.
So Pepsi’s Refresh, while annoying at times with its constant retweeting and vote for me asks (Geoff’s opinion), succeeds because the participants care enough to submit proposals and get the ideas promoted, and hopefully voted on… Thus promoting Pepsi. Even better for Pepsi is when voters also promote their favorite projects. But if leadership was contingent on Pepsi’s promotion solely, Refresh would not have been a success. It would have been a bad ad campaign.
Q3: What is cause marketing? How do you define it?
At its best, cause marketing is a subset of corporate social responsibility. CSR seeks to benefit a company’s community of interest with philanthropic acts, often in the spirit of the company’s natural interests. So for example, an auto manufacturer would have a natural interest in fostering better education for those inclined in core engineering studies such as math and science, or in supporting science that creates better hybrid vehicles that reduce gas emissions.
Cause marketing ties CSR with marketing by demonstrating to and even involving a customer or stakeholder base in the philanthropic activity. This can be marketing for a variety of reasons. Whether its branding, reputation, or direct sales.
Consider the Dow Live Earth Run for Water. Clearly Dow was trying to reinvest in its the community and reverse some of the past negative effects pollution has created on its brand. While the community didn’t react in an overwhelming positive to Dow’s efforts, it was a beginning first step to better its image, a clear marketing effort with a CSR bend to it.
Q4. What should be the nature of the relationship between companies and nonprofits?
In our opinion, it should be a well reviewed business deal for both organizations. A company clearly has some sort of marketing benefit it would like to achieve. And it is willing to pay for it.
But the nonprofit also has a stake in the game. It needs to decide whether the dollars will make the right impact on its programs and/or mission. It, too, will benefit from branding, but if the marketing crosses a line and conflicts with the larger organizational goals then the nonprofit should make a strategic decision to negotiate or say no.
In two prior examples, KFC and Dow, the nonprofits and causes involved suffered negative brand hits for participating in their respective efforts. Now, the money may have outweighed the negative consequences, but these are good examples of nonprofits that may have negotiated, and possibly could have done more to protect their brands.
Q5. How many cause marketing partners is ideal?
There’s no real limit, but there is such a thing as over exposure. Another question with multiple partners is while marketing may happen, is change occurring? Or are there so many chefs in the kitchen that the food is getting burned?
Again, this ties back to the nonprofit and organizational missions and programs. Does the cause marketing achieve these goals, or is it just energy invested in branding that doesn’t help the larger effort? This should be the ultimate barometer of a yes or no.
Q6. What are recommendations for achieving a good holiday social media campaign?
Holiday social media is critical to a cause’s effort. Forty percent of donations occur in the month of December, while 10 percent occur during the last three days of the year (source: Network for Good).
Allyson Kapin, editor of Care2’s Frogloop blog, suggests that the three most important elements of a holiday fundraising (or any) social media effort are 1) Building an effective email list, 2) building an effective landing page, and 3) storytelling, the heart of compelling people to participate online. The latter part is critical because if your cause is going to make eight or nine asks during the holiday season to cut through the clutter, you need to tell a great story.
Cause shopping may be a great win-win in these situations. Companies, too, are heavily reliant on end of year sales for profitability. So if a consumer can 1) purchase a gift while 2) making a donation, it can become easy. In many ways, this is the ask to the consumer. But without a compelling story, it’s just not going to work well.
An example of a cause shopping experience that achieves the four essentials of cause marketing (suitability, authenticity, transparency and selling point) is the Clinique “Happy Day” each year in December. Last year, Clinique worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters to create personalized holiday cards that embodied happiness during the season of giving. The cards were available to customers in store or online with a $30 purchase of Clinique products – a great tie-in to the cosmetic brand’s “Happy” product line. Clinique made a $350,000 donation to the charity and helped build awareness for the Big Brothers Big Sisters mission and programs. This year, be on the lookout for a new twist to the “Happy Day” campaign on December 10th.
There are many types of corporate-sponsored social good campaigns of all types. Companies deploy matching grant contests that ask participants to rally the most donations for their favorite causes. Some prefer crowdsourced voting contests that reward the most popular charities with corporate grants. And others offer campaigns that ask people to pledge volunteer time, acts of kindness or donation dollars to achieve a common goal.
As the CSR movement evolves, companies will continue to leverage cause marketing initiatives to meet new, triple bottom line demands and create a halo effect for brands. The potential for online social good campaigns to achieve real impact – both in terms of return on marketing spend and return on social good – remains high, if companies are thoughtful and strategic in how they structure their cause marketing programs.
Cause Marketing is at its best when all the pieces – relevant cause, strong marketing proposition, and compelling call to action – come together. It’s difficult to do, but really worth it.
We understand the challenges and rewards of online social good campaigns and offer this eGuide to ensure that your company’s foray into online cause marketing thoughtfully achieves both your marketing goals (a positive impact on the bottom line) and your social good goals (real help for the community). If you seek to avoid the controversies that arise from misguided campaign planning and execution that can severely undermine brands in the public eye, keep reading!
P.S. Special thanks to Kate Olsen for spearheading this effort!
Results from our Network for Good/Zoetica cause marketing best practices survey yielded some interesting results. One hundred thirteen respondents from our general nonprofit and marketing communities on Twitter answered basic questions about the state of cause marketing in the United States. Of the respondents, 51 percent of them said their organization had participated in a cause marketing campaign in the past year.
Only 21 percent of respondents felt that companies are doing a good job partnering with nonprofits. Thirty eight percent felt that companies are not doing a good job, while another 41 percent were unsure.
Only seven percent of respondents felt companies did a good job of reporting results from cause marketing efforts. Sixty percent did not think companies effectively reported results.
However, best practices or not 49 percent of respondents felt that cause marketing efforts do affect change, and another 41 percent felt that they might be positive for social good. Only 10% of respondents felt cause marketing campaigns were completely ineffective.
Respondents felt strongly about directions that cause marketing could go. When asked, what companies could do more of, respondents said:
Make educational, community or sustainability investments – 36.3%
Allocate portion of sales (cause shopping) – 27.4%
Financially enable customers to enact change with microdonations – 19.5%
Only 1.8 suggested more crowdsourced contests, suggesting that the current contest craze may have reached its apex. But when I mentioned this with SocialBrite’s J.D. Lasica, he noted that our respondents were insiders and may be more jaded than your average consumer.