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8 Tips for a Successful Social Media Cause Campaign

Donations ImageMeaghan Edelstein has gained national media attention through her blog, I Kicked Cancer’s Ass, which she started to document her battle with end stage cancer. She is an attorney, the founder of the non-profit organization Spirit Jump, and the Social Media Director for Smashyn.com.

Cause marketing can be described as the mutually beneficial relationship between a business and a non-profit organization. Social media cause campaigns are similar, but not identical to traditional cause marketing, in that they allow for more flexibility. Small businesses can gain exposure without breaking the bank, and large companies can reach millions of consumers in a matter of hours. Social cause campaigns can be run by individuals and non-profits without big company sponsorship. They provide easier, faster involvement with supporters, and require fewer resources.

For example, the hugely successful Blame Drew’s Cancer campaign was started by a single person, cancer fighter Drew Olanoff. Drew gained national attention when he encourage tweeters to #BlameDrewsCancer for everything from bad weather to a sports team’s loss. When Drew decided to sell his Twitter handle for charity, TV star Drew Carey stepped in and offered to donate up to $1 million to LIVESTRONG in exchange for @Drew.

While there are many reasons why online cause marketing works, there are also challenges to keep in mind before launching a campaign. The transparency of online communities allows for easy public criticism. Donor fatigue has also become an issue with the number of cause campaigns increasing dramatically. Finally, being heard over the constant social media chatter can be challenging.

Why are some campaigns more successful than others? If you want to make a difference through social media, note these key tips before embarking on your mission.


1. Create a Strong Theme with Clear Goals


Cards4Cancer Image

Themes should not be complex. A simple mission with a powerful message can take a campaign far. People will not get involved if they don’t understand how or why they should. Without a clear vision, it is difficult to encourage an audience to participate.

Recently, my own grassroots charity Spirit Jump sponsored a cause campaign, Cards 4 Cancer Day. The campaign name itself stated the theme: Make cards for people battling cancer. Our clear goal of delivering 100,000 cards to cancer centers around the world was set out from the start. Because the campaign theme was strong, it targeted specific advocates, and supporters understood how to participate and what the overall goal was. Even without large financial backing, our campaign was successful because its theme was uncomplicated and inspired people to act.

“You want to make it as easy for people to participate as possible; in social media, distractions fly a mile a minute,” said Melissa Jones, Social Media Specialist for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. When there isn’t a strong campaign theme, it’s difficult to grab people’s attention.

Kiva’s #FollowFriday campaign is an example of one that lacked a strong theme. Kiva.org wanted to increase their presence on Twitter and called out to supporters to recommend them using #FollowFriday. Unfortunately, Kiva’s message was lost in the large amount of Twitter chatter surrounding this hashtag, and they received only a small number of new followers.


2. Seek a Non-Profit Partner That’s Active in Social Media


Campaigns partnered with causes that have a dedicated social media presence are more successful. It’s not the size of the non-profit that’s important, but rather their level of participation in social media and the campaign.

“We run more than 100 cause-driven campaigns a year, and the difference between modest success and massive success is often determined by the non-profit partner,” says Chris Noble of StudioGood. “Working with a non-profit that has a strong base of support, and knows how to mobilize that base, pays off for the sponsor every time.”

Many people support cause campaigns because they support the non-profit. If the non-profit isn’t active, or fails to engage their supporters, the campaign will have an uphill battle. Rather than just being a recipient of donations, the non-profit should play an active role in the campaign by rallying its supporters.


3. Connect the Theme, Sponsor, and Non-Profit


Pepsi Refresh

Unity of purpose helps streamline the coordination of the campaign. Those with a strong connection between the theme, sponsor, and non-profit organization will better resonate with the public.

The Pepsi Refresh Project is giving away millions of dollars in grants to individuals who come up with “refreshing” ideas that can change the world. Pepsi’s cause campaign is focused on improving communities around the world and rewarding individuals and non-profits alike for the creative ideas that receive the most votes.

Pepsi successfully connects their brand personality with social causes, and is attracting millions of people to their brand without asking them to purchase a single product.

Disclosure: Pepsi has been a sponsor of Mashable events.


4. Identify and Utilize Your Best Social Assets


Social media cause campaigns are challenging, and organizers should use the tools and people at their disposal effectively. Campaigns with funding must put their money where it will yield the best results. Facebook advertisements can be extremely helpful, but should only be used to meet specific goals. If a campaign calls for large-scale interaction with supporters, staff must be properly equipped to respond. When campaigns require voting, there must be an ability to rally people.

This is exactly what the homeless advocacy organization InvisiblePeople.tv did to win the SXSW Pepsi Refresh contest. “We won [the] challenge because Beth Kanter, Jessica Gottlieb, Kevin Hendricks, and far too many people to list, all of them equally important, rallied their networks to vote,” said Mark Horvath, Founder of InvisiblePeople.tv.


5. Target a Well-Defined Audience


Architecture Humanity Image

Campaign organizers who know their audience, who listen to and engage them, will be more successful. Take time to determine who your audience is on each social network. Do not assume all social media platforms have the same participants or will respond in the same way. Facebook, Twitter, and blog networks must be treated as distinct entities. When using multiple platforms, pay attention to how each reacts to your messages and be ready to shift focus to the most responsive.

“Twitter is an excellent tool because it allows for fast and constant updates. Facebook, however, allows for more detailed messaging and is a better forum for dialogue. Oftentimes, our supporters engage in dialogue with each other. This allows us to step back for a moment and evaluate what resonates with them,” said Barb Alvarado, Development Director of Architecture for Humanity.


6. Energize and Motivate Your Supporters


The number of followers, subscribers or fans your campaign has does not represent the number of participants. A Facebook Fan Page can have 10,000 fans and be ineffective. A successful campaign motivates participation by asking supporters to vote for a favorite cause, join other platforms, donate money or share content.

Keep people energized throughout the campaign. Create mini-campaigns within the larger one to keep participants active. PayPal did this with their Regift The Fruitcake campaign, and gave away extra cash to charities that raised the most money on “Charity Tuesdays” via Twitter. Because they were able to motivate supporters throughout the life of the campaign, PayPal raised well over $70,000 for charity.


7. Pay Attention to Timing


Social media has its own timetable. Run campaigns for the time needed, and not a day longer. A successful campaign asks its supporters to participate sufficiently to achieve its goals, but not so much as to cause fatigue.

Judy Chang, Senior Manager of Vertical Markets for PayPal spoke directly to this. “Grabbing and keeping the attention of supporters over a multi-week campaign is definitely a challenge. We’ve seen our best results with campaigns that last anywhere from one day to two weeks, such as Check-in for Charity, #beatcancer, and Charity Smackdown.”

When campaigns ask supporters to partake in a cause campaign every day for weeks, even months, their excitement and passion for the cause can deteriorate.


8. Follow Up


Heifer International

When a cause campaign has ended, there is still work to be done. Evaluation of successes and failures is vital. This step allows organizers to prepare for the next cause campaign by enhancing what worked and fixing what didn’t. Requesting feedback from, sharing results with, and thanking supporters is also paramount to ensuring their future participation. One good campaign should lead to another.

Heifer International, an active non-profit since 1944, understands the importance of follow-up after social media cause campaigns. “We wrote a post-social cause campaign article on our blog to thank our supporters and include them in the celebration because we value our donors and volunteers as equal stakeholders in the organization — our success is their success,” said Noland Hoshino, Heifer International Portland Volunteer Coordinator.


Conclusion


Successful social cause campaigns, especially in a world of heavy social media chatter, require real imagination. According to Jones of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, “Social media cause campaigns are most effective when there’s a simple call-to-action and a creative idea.”

Cause marketing is dynamic. Implementing these elements can propel a campaign into a movement.



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More social good resources from Mashable:

- Donation by Action: The New Social Charity Model
- How Does Twitter’s New Social Good Initiative Stack Up?
- 5 Ways Non-Profits Can Increase Engagement With YouTube
- Why Sex-Ed Remains a Challenge for Social Media
- 5 Ways Mega Charity Events Can Harness the Power of Social Media

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, PinkTag


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