PayPal Research Shows Strength of Community Trumps Popularity


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 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,’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

The Best Bloggers Avoid Pitfalls to Serve

“When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.” – Thomas Jefferson


Image by Leigh Durst

The idea of public service dates back to the founding of this country, when people were first elected to represent citizens of the United States. In modern times, people create leaders in various online communities by giving them their time and attention. Usually bloggers or content curators, these people provide their communities great value through quality information, witty insights, and other relevant content. In essence, they serve their communities. Consistency makes them trusted servants.

Success breeds great challenges for well received bloggers. It’s really hard for them because in many ways their community puts them on a pedestal, and some bloggers can’t meet the challenge over time.

These challenges include:

  • Moving from a service mentality to perceived market brokers, dealmakers allocating influence as they see fit.
  • Sometimes sycophants surround the influencer, blindly supporting them even though the original community value may no longer remain.
  • Taking the accolades too seriously, creating a false notion of existing above the industry.
  • Becoming too busy with the duties of weblebrity forces people to become separated from the actual work and the community, in turn causing subject matter expertise to wain.

It’s hard to believe there can be so many dangers that come with success! The pedestal is a hard place to sit. Some could argue that these land mines are the price of a job well done. Lest a feeling of pity rise, let’s remember that there are no victims, only volunteers. Easier said then walked. It cannot be an easy thing to transform through, particularly for people who may be experiencing their first tastes of success.

Yet in spite of all of these potential landmines, the best bloggers never lose sight of what made them successful, their communities. They continue to serve and remain top-ranked with their original community in tact through the years.

Perhaps it’s a mindfulness that allows them keep their feet on the ground to ensure that they can continue. Folks like Om Malik, Michelle Malkin, Beth Kanter and Darren Rowse keep the trust of their communities with relentless service and value. They stay on mission, they get that it’s all about providing the community value, and they never waver.

Who are some of your favorite bloggers that act as trusted servants?