Last month I did something that gave me a crash-course in several skills, involving handling real budgets and meeting real deadlines in collaboration with a small team. I organised a charity campaign and used social media strategies to promote a site on crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo. We collected over $1500 in donations. Here’s some of the things I learned. The campaign was branded as the first campaign by MakingForGiving – a brand I came up with for this – and the campaign site is here:
Marketing is more effort than it looks
From conception I knew that running a charity campaign for a month would be a lot of work, but I was willing to commit my time which wasn’t being filled up with commercial work to run it as if it were my job for August 2011. I also had a short holiday during this month, but had envisaged that I would set things up, using Facebook and Twitter for social marketing, draft a schedule for the four collaborators (who had volunteered to contribute artwork, music and a blog update or two) to upload their posts and then “buzz” could be maintained during that time with a few carefully-placed Tweets and Status Updates.
Indie game developers say that marketing is a lot of hard work and I’m glad that I was able to get a taste of this now rather than on a commercial venture. I had thought that people in my network would spread the message far and wide through the internet and that there would be a swell of visitors and that a small number of them would be interested and donate $10 or maybe a bit more. Three problems stand out to me reflecting on that. Firstly, social media is time-bound to rhythms of people waking, perhaps checking Facebook, taking lunch, perhaps Tweeting something, going home, maybe reading their email. A signal sent at 10:00am on a given day may not be noticed at all by someone checking their Facebook at 6:00pm. Social marketing isn’t announcing something and gradually that message will propagate out as people get round to their turn to read it, it’s sending a momentary signal into a sea of competing signals that stands the best chance of being seen at the time it first appears, thereafter getting submerged in the river of messages each user receives as internet traffic flows on. Secondly, I happen to know that Liking or +1ing or commenting on a post makes it more likely to persist in and show up in the feeds of people in my network, but even if other people might have the goodwill to help me out, they don’t “get” this and it doesn’t occur to them to spread the message. Something obvious and a well-known concept to me is unknown by other people. (This’ll come up again as a bit of a theme.) Third, it was great that people who donated gave very generously, but in the end there were only three donors who donated the minimum. This surprised me that people showed us their support by giving so generously, but my hope that the idea had potential to reach friends-of-friends and strangers didn’t become a reality.
The manyfold benefits of collaboration
In the second week I got a voluntary consultation with charity HOPE Worldwide UK’s newly-appointed social media strategist, who highlighted the benefits of choosing your timing with Updating and Tweeting for times of high traffic and explicitly asking people for help, “Pls RT”, “Pls ‘Like’”, “Pls share”. She counselled me to overcome my fear of “annoying” other people with persistent broadcasting what we were doing. After all, after a month it’d finish, right? Also, I have seen friends using Twitter as effectively a broadcast platform to promote their products, which reassured me it’s okay to do likewise.
Building relationships with people whose networks are extensive and are influencers of other people was recommended, but it takes genuineness to connect with others and persuade them around to being your allies. This can’t be thrown together; by its nature it takes time. Investing a few hours every day on following people who might be curious about our project on Twitter, writing content to form Facebook posts and composing email shots consumed more time than I had bargained for. It seemed to have a minimal effect on donations, but any inching in the right direction was valuable progress! Had I understood before the start of the project that investing this kind of effort would pay off, I would like to have trained the other members of the team to realise the effectiveness of this work and to be self-directing in communicating with their networks. This would have shared-out the work of keeping the project visibility high. However, one person drew my attention to some ways things aren’t that simple by pointing out a few issues holding people back from contributing as I would imagine. I’d never have started the project without imagining what it could achieve, but I also needed to check the reality of where people are at. Working together to draw on each-others’ strengths and find work-arounds for other areas where necessary is ideal.
I got honest feedback from someone saying that she didn’t “get” the idea of the campaign until after the video on the site went up on the Saturday before the campaign close on the following Thursday. Once she “got it” however she was genuinely up for re-Tweeting and contributing valuably to the campaign’s Facebook page. Video works brilliantly as a public-facing means of communication because the format forces me to be concise (I read and write so much that my idea of what’s “brief” and what’s “lengthy” seem calibrated totally differently to the average internet-user), tone of voice and body language work together with choice of words to get the message across, and YouTube and Vimeo are great platforms for enabling your audience to further share your message. The video was very costly in terms of time to script, rehearse, record, edit and support via email and Facebook, but it greatly improved our chances of meeting our campaign target.
The dollars and the sense
A couple of donors who I knew personally were surprised and a bit hesitant because the currency on IndieGoGo.com is USD. Since the team and the charity are based in the UK, as were most of the donors, this could have discouraged a lot of people from contributing. Both people who reported hesitating over paying in USD said that it added an extra hassle of needed to check the exchange rates. They also under-donated, for example deciding to give 50 GBP and guessing that 60 USD would be about the same amount (60 USD is about 38 GBP today, according to a Google search for – 60 USD in GBP). One of them was charged an additional (but low) flat-rate fee for the payment in a foreign currency. I’ve been buying books from Amazon US and eBay items from overseas for a decade perhaps, but again, my familiarity with paying for things in foreign currencies wasn’t the same set of experiences our audience brought to the website we presented them with.
A valuable learning experience
Overall the project (which is still not finished until the last perk is delivered to the final donor!) was successful at raising money for a good cause, meeting its target and raising awareness of our chosen charity. Giving patterns were significantly different from those reported by Warballoon Games, but this reinforces advice I was given that social marketing has few sure-fire formulae, it’s a case of trying out a lot of different things and seeing what works. The donation curve was scary. On Monday 29th I had consoled myself that we would probably not reach our goal, to be content that some money would be raised, and to carry forward the considerable experience. But people responded to the campaign, perhaps even to the sense of drama that we were personally in need to make it a success, not a flop! We crossed the $1500 finish line at 4:00pm UK time on Wednesday 31st August – 16 hours before the campaign closed! A close finish that left me feeling incredibly grateful to everyone involved.
As a self-directed learning experience the project benefitted me greatly. I learned new skills and about online behaviour but I also wore lots of different hats I’d not normally get a chance to try out for a month; the roles of a social marketer, team co-ordinator and project manager.
I think that doing something for charity was significant as it inclined other people positively towards my efforts. I would be a lot more nervous of taking on those roles for a commercial project as I feel there’s a much greater degree to which contacts were supporting me (sometimes heroically so!) and willing me to succeed (perhaps also forgiving me for broadcasting what I was up to over so many channels?) I didn’t know before I started that I’d need help with social marketing advice and video editing help, yet these contributions arose from the people I connected with more closely through making the efforts to do this. If you have the inclination to do something similar I’d recommend sizing up what it would take, connecting with people who can support and ally with you through the project and going for it wholeheartedly! It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done, I think I’ll benefit from intangible effects for years to come, and it will also make a real difference to people helped by our chosen charity.