The annual SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, TX—which brings together tech geeks, social media peeps, and other online folk—wrapped-up yesterday after five intense and inspirational days. I attended a bunch of sessions focused on how nonprofits, in particular, can take advantage of technology to meet their mission—here’s a short-list of ten things that really stuck. (Though the content’s evergreen, please note this post was written after SXSW Interactive 2010.)
1. Tell stories about your constituents that speak to the heart and inspire action.
How are lives being changed because of our services to support, feed, advocate for, teach, and clothe? How are individuals impacted by the work we do? How is the fabric of the community positively changing because we’re here? When supporters donate time, money, or services, they don’t do so to support us, really—they do it for the causes that benefit from the work we do. Inspire them to action by telling stories about how causes are affected because of your organization, not just about what your mission is.
2. Ensure cross-channel brand and message consistency.
Message and brand consistency isn’t just about your website, print materials, and email newsletter anymore. Now there’s your Facebook Page, Twitter profile, white-label social networking community, transactional emails, click-to-chat, and a host of other channels you use to get the word out about your organization. What’s your strategy for not only ensuring that people are experiencing your brand consistently across all these channels, but for making sure that your tone, language, message and is both consistent AND appropriate for the medium? Not an easy task, but it’s a critical branding activity.
3. Get your message across in as few words as possible.
We all have LOTS to say about how important our mission is, the details about our program and service delivery, and the impact we’re having. But, if you’ve taken a look at your website analytics lately, you know you have mere seconds to engage your audience before the continuous partial attention kicks in and they’re off to another page or site. I know this tends to take some internal wrangling, so try let your analytics speak for themselves when making a case to stakeholders: There’s simply no time to say everything we think is important, and we need to embrace it. Cut, cut, cut…and then cut some more until you’re left with only your core messages. My favorite messaging-related buzzword now is “simplexity”: The art of communicating complex ideas in succinct ways, because nothing’s important if everything’s important.
4. Make sure your website behaves like an approachable and likable person.
I had an “a-ha!” moment when I heard this because it totally captures what it is we need to do with our websites: They need to be friendly, engaging, and likable—which is pretty much the opposite of what most of our websites are (stuffy, wordy, and malfunctioning). Consider how qualities about likable people (casual, modest, interesting, helpful) can be emulated by your website when it comes to content, design, forms, error messages, and the like.
5. Support other nonprofits involved in your cause.
I think we all know that it’s not really about the work of individual organizations, but the aggregate impact we all have on the causes we care about. It’s helpful to be reminded of that from time to time, though, because it can be challenging in practice. We need to do what we can to support each other.
6. Segment your constituents and develop a targeted communications strategy.
Related to email marketing strategy, something I’m totally focused on this year is doing a much better job of segmenting our database of supporters in order to create hyper-targeted messages. Do you know their gender? Age? The causes they care about? What industry they work in? How often they’d like to hear from you? How about their donation history? How many links they’ve clicked on in the past few emails? If you know all this stuff, are you actually taking advantage of it? It’s not about the number of emails you send anymore, but how well you’ve engaged your audience.
7. Create and maintain an editorial calendar.
And speaking of segmentation and cross-channel message consistency, it’s totally important to have an editorial calendar so you’re not left wondering what you’re going to write about today on your Facebook Page. When will your emails go out? How do they relate to holidays that are relevant for your organization? What milestones can you share and when will they occur? The better you’re able to anticipate opportunities, the more likely you are to engage your constituents in timely and relevant ways—so get going on that calendar!
8. Empower your super-advocates.
Some supporters are more active than others. And then there are your best advocates, the supporters that are so excited about the work you do and do so much for the causes your organization benefits that you just want to love them and hug them and squeeze them and call them George. Well, are you doing anything for them? Do you recognize them in some way? Better yet, are you empowering them to engage even more supporters? Make sure this is integrated into your outreach strategy.
9. Experiment frequently and iterate rapidly.
Yeah, I know this is much easier said than done. But, a big takeaway for me was the need to experiment with new ways of communicating your core messages, new website functionality, different ways of capturing data, and creative methods to engage your peeps. We absolutely can’t be afraid to test new ideas! Make sure you have ways of analyzing the before and after, and embrace the fact that some ideas will fail. We’re sure to be surprised and enlightened by what we learn when we lighten-up and experiment.
10. Create content that people will talk about and share.
When creating new content—whether it’s in an email newsletter, on your website, or on your Facebook Page—consider it from the perspective of whether or not it’s shareable. Are you creating something that encourages your supporters to share with friends and family? Are you providing the right tools to make sharing easy for people? It’s not just about our marketing messages anymore—word of mouth marketing from our network of friends, family, and people whom we look to when making purchase decisions is more important than ever.
And what did YOU learn? Share!