Archive for the ‘branding’ Category

Doing your own advertising? Some tips

There’s a pattern that computers and technology have made apparent over and over.

  • Pre-computers: music was recorded in expensive studios, controlled and distributed by labels. Post-computers: Computers come pre-loaded with free music recording software, and some of the music has gone on to great success.
  • Pre-computers: books were bought by publishing companies, printed on giant presses, distributed to bookstores. Post-computers: anyone (like my friend Sue, for example) can write an e-book (Produce: The Art of Creating Digital Content Using Professional Production Techniques)and take charge of distribution.
  • Pre-computers: making video required hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and highly-professional staff. A few television networks distributed programs and sold advertising. If you didn’t make it on those networks, you didn’t make it on TV. Post-computers: People with consumer-grade technology make videos and upload them to Youtube and other sites, making money from advertising and sometimes getting millions of hits.

Another example of this pattern is advertising. When your media choices were (more or less) daily newspapers, radio, and television, most businesses didn’t do their own advertising. That was done by agencies, or by the media outlet. And it was expensive!

Then, pay-per-click came along. Google AdWords, Facebook, etc. etc. Suddenly anyone could advertise, even with just a few dollars a day to spend. Which is great! Except… sometimes it isn’t.

I saw a sponsored post in my Facebook feed earlier this week. Somebody did something right, because it was for a new microbrewery in my hometown. Except … the ad copy said “opening Spring 2014.”  Problem #1: the brewery  was already open. Problem #2: It was July.

I don’t want to call out the business in question — they’re a small startup, and there’s no doubt they have a million things that they’re trying to do. What happened isn’t a capital crime. But it did point out something that I think happens quite a bit with small businesses and new businesses — their online advertising just gets a little bit out of control.

So I thought I’d give you a quick checklist for your online advertising.

  1. Just because you’re not spending thousands of dollars (unless you are!) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be serious about it.
  2. It’s not like traditional media — you don’t want ot run one ad or a couple into the ground. Have multiple ads running.
  3. Response on online advertising drops off like a rock off a cliff. That’s part of the reason to have multiple ads running at any one time, and also a reason to have an inventory of ads that you can swap in and out.
  4. If you use a calendar, or a whiteboard, or whatever to keep a schedule, use it to note when your ads should be staritng and stopping. Also use whatever scheduling options you have in the advertising platform to “set and forget” ads, but have a backup.
  5. Most online advertising gives you a limited amount of wording to play with, and an image. Work hard on those words and images, because they’re your only chance at getting people’s attention. Because you can create many ads, you can play with images and copy.
  6. Regularly review the performance of your ads. Be strategic — and by that I mean ensure that your ads are pushing the viewer to some ACTION.

If you’re doing online ads and want to do a little more education, I’m happy to help as much as I can — although I am not an online advertising expert. If you want to go deeper into this, there’s a ton of great resources out there. For example, e-commerce company Shopify (an Ottawa success story, yay us!) has this great guide up on line.

And Brian Carter has two great books out that can help anyone use online advertising to their advantage:

The Like Economy,

and Facebook Marketing:

If you get through all that, you’d likely know more about this stuff than I would!

(Photo credit: cc-licenced image by Flickr user Marcin Wichary)

Don’t mix your messages: UPDATED

There’s a shop in my neighbourhood with a patio that intrigues me every time I go past it. Which is just about every day.

They have a lovely patio. It has the following sign on it:


Which is lovely, right? Friendly,  inviting, colourful. Sadly, the website isn’t operative right now, but if my research has not led me wrong, Corrie Gibson was a young artist who died in 2009. What her connection to the store was I don’t know, but the patio is there.

Except when your head turns to the right about 10 degrees, and you see THIS sign:


Hm. “Sit :: Relax :: Enjoy” vs. “PATIO IS FOR THE USE OF BAGELSHOP’S CUSTOMERS ONLY.” What’s the result? The patio isn’t used a great deal. And I think it’s because of the sign.

Messages are important, and they don’t exist independent of each other. When you send out mixed messages like this, you confuse and alienate the people who receive them.

Don’t do that.

UPDATED, July 12: I’ve been trying to figure out the deal with this patio. And this newsletter article from the local BIA makes things curiouser and curiouser:

“It’s not every day that a business owner turns part of his property into a public park but that’s just what The Ottawa Bagelshop’s Vince Piazza has done with his lovely new urban patio and garden.

Need to put your feet up after a shopping spree in Wellington West? Or maybe you just need a nice shady corner to read a book? No matter the reason, Ottawa Bagelshop’s Vince Piazza welcomes you to take advantage of his comfy and accessible new patio.

Nobody will ask you to buy or order anything when you’re enjoying the garden. It’s a gift of public space from Vince, and on the community’s behalf we want to say thanks!” 


Is your business going out on “dates?” Then why not get dressed up?

Yesterday, I saw a great post called “The First Rule of Branding” from former Algonquin College colleague Lisa Haggis, who’s now on her own as a branding consultant. My two-sentence summary of her post: “Customers want to love you. Don’t turn them off.”

And then this morning, I was meeting with friend and colleague Meredith Luce, a local graphic designer (and, as a side note, one of my favorite performers in all the world), and we were talking about businesses and design, when she said, “Sometimes it’s like hearing a friend is going out on a hot date and you look at her and say, ‘You’re going out dressed like that?? At least invest in a mirror.‘”

I burst out laughing. But what she had said, and what Lisa had written, were stuck in my head enough that I needed to write this.

As a business, the “frilly stuff”, like graphic design or customer experience, might seem unnecessary. As Lisa wrote in her post,

“People will evaluate your brand as a whole, not as individual experiences… exceptions – that one off-topic blog post, cheap marketing collateral, or a contradictory offering – will throw off the whole experience.” 

Whether it’s media relations, sales, graphic design, social media — when you’re in business, you’re always going out on dates. Hopefully,  those dates develop into relationships (I’m not getting into polygamy or polyamory metaphors, please and thank you). You should be thinking:

But if you go out with your metaphorical fly unzipped or your pantyhose tucked into your skirt… you could end up like this:

Don’t leave a glaring hole in your customer experience. For that matter, don’t leave a subtle one either.

Live interview technique tip: keep talking (updated)

I was asked by the organizers of next week’s Social Capital Conference to join organizer Lara Wellman on the local CTV morning show to talk about the conference, keying in on a tart little infographic they published recently: 10 Ways to Suck at Social Media (I’ve put the infographic at the end of the post, if you want to check it out).

The interview, done with cohost Jeff Hopper, reminded me that live TV interviews are a unique experience for even experienced interviewees. Cameras (in this case, one robotic and one human-operated), lights, a computer monitor behind us — distraction is easy and time is short. In this case, I think (THINK – always hard to KNOW) the interview went well, in great part because Jeff Hopper was already knowledgeable about social media, and because he had an obvious personal interest in the topic.

So here’s my tip for today. When you’re doing a live interview, either on TV or radio, KEEP TALKING. The host will find his or her way into your chatter to ask questions, get clarification, or take the interview in a new direction. What lies behind the dictum KEEP TALKING means you should be conversant enough with your topic to theoretically deliver a monologue for the length of the interview.

The easy way to KEEP TALKING is to have a set of key messages in your head and ceaselessly repeat them. This is not ideal. People know “key messages” when they hear them, thanks to politicians who seem to think we won’t notice them robotically repeating them. Here’s probably the most egregious example ever, courtesy of ex-Member of Parliament Peter Penashue:

The key here is to balance out your ability to KEEP TALKING with your ability to be a gracious part of a conversation. It’s a skill that takes practice to develop.

I won’t be talking about media training at Social Capital, but I’m happy to talk to you about it, or to meet you at the Social Capital conference, where I’ll be doing a talk on “Why You Are Stupid.” (pssst: The “You” in my title also includes me.) It’s not too late to register and hear from some truly un-dumb people, including Gini Dietrich (Chicago-based owner of Arment Dietrich and co-author of Marketing in the Round), and Danny Brown (cofounder of ARCompany and author of the hot off the press book Influence Marketing) (affiliate links).

And if this is something you need heavy-duty help with, you might want to check out Brad Phillips, a New York-based media trainer, and his Mr. Media Training blog. He has tons of great tips, techniques and case studies that he updates pretty much daily on his site.

UPDATE: Here’s the interview, as uploaded by CTV Ottawa Morning Live.

And here’s the infographic:

Social Capital's 10 Ways to Suck at Social Media

Social Capital’s 10 Ways to Suck at Social Media

UPDATED: Just how bad a PR move is shutting down “World Nutella Day?”

Seeing lots of chatter online today about the pending shutdown of World Nutella Day. World what-what? Yeah, World Nutella Day.

Now, I’m not a user of the world’s favorite hazelnut spread. But plenty of people are. But many people are. Enough that back in 2007, an American woman named Sara Rosso who lives in Nutella’s homeland of Italy created (of her own volition) World Nutella Day.

Since then, their site has become a go-to destination for people who like the product (created by the same people who make Ferrero Rocher, Kinder candies, and Tic Tacs) for recipes and stories. Rosso and her Nutella-loving pal Michelle Fabio also have written the e-book The Unofficial Guide to Nutella (affiliate link).  

But apparently, no more. Rosso’s website says (I’ll paste the text here in case the site disappears):

“On May 25, 2013, I’ll be darkening the World Nutella Day site,, and all social media presence (Facebook, Twitter), in compliance with a cease-and-desist I received from lawyers representing Ferrero, SpA (makers of Nutella).

Seven years after the first World Nutella Day in 2007, I never thought the idea of dedicating a day to come together for the love of a certain hazelnut spread would be embraced by so many people! I’ve seen the event grow from a few hundred food bloggers posting recipes to thousands of people Tweeting about it, pinning recipes on Pinterest, and posting their own contributions on Facebook! There have been songs sung about it, short films created for it, poems written for it, recipes tested for it, and photos taken for it.

The cease-and-desist letter was a bit of a surprise and a disappointment, as over the years I’ve had contact and positive experiences with several employees of Ferrero, SpA., and with their public relations and brand strategy consultants, and I’ve always tried to collaborate and work together in the spirit and goodwill of a fan-run celebration of a spread I (to this day) still eat.

I have hope that this is not a goodbye to World Nutella Day forever, for the fans’ sake, and hopefully it will live on in one form or another in the future.” 

So. From all appearances, this is a big corporation knuckling down on a humble blogger. Certainly, that’s the theme on the Nutella Facebook page, where several hundred comments are roundly criticizing the brand for its actions. Some are even posting video responses:

Doesn’t get much more emphatic than that.

But… what if there’s more to this? As a teacher, one of the case studies I have used for a long time in social media classes has been what’s become known as “The Ranger Station Fire.” This 2008 incident began when Ford sent out a cease and desist letter to someone operating a web site dedicated to the Ford Ranger.

Here’s Ron Ploof’s summary, an eminently useful document.

The Ranger Station Fire by Scott Monty

So at this point, all we have is the World Nutella Day website. We don’t know the contents of the C&D letter (which is more than likely in Italian). We haven’t seen any response from Ferrero. On page 8 of “The Ranger Station Fire”, Ploof describes the fact that the Ford fan site was selling unauthorized products with Ford’s logo on them. They then (VERY quickly) separated out the demands for the URL and compensation from the IP issue.

In the Ford case, they did not end up killing The Ranger Station. It’s still thriving, and they’re still selling products (now compliant with Ford’s IP).

What needs to happen now? Two things:

  1. Sara Rosso needs to make very clear exactly why Ferrero has asked her to cease & desist.
  2. Ferrero needs to do the same thing.

Right now, it’s impossible to know if Ferrero has done something really stupid, or has done something right & executed badly, or whether this is the best of their alternatives and they’re just communicating poorly.

If Ferrero has no compelling reason to have taken this action, they are likely going to be a case study for teachers like me to use in the future — in how to alienate the people who love you.

I have asked Ferrero for comment, and I’ve also sent questions to Sara Rosso. I’ll update this post whenever I have new information to share. 

UPDATE: around 4:00 pm EDT, I saw a statement from Ferrero on their Italian site. Get the update in this post.

Theft is not a good business idea. (UPDATED)

Back in the day, it was easy for unethical businesses to pop up and disappear quite quickly. A number of years ago, I was interviewed by the local TV news when I discovered that a kiosk in a shopping mall was selling Livestrong wrist bands at a gross profit ($4 for bands purchased from the Livestrong Foundation for $1) and in contravention of the Livestrong Foundation’s agreement.

When the kiosk owner was nowhere to be found in the mall, the staff claimed ignorance and referred the reporter to the owner, and … things just passed over. Flea markets or other public events were popular places for people to show up with fake merchandise, bootlegged music or video, and make a quick buck.

But with social media, things can’t stay submerged for long, as brands like Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 have learned to their chagrin. Bot those large companies were discovered (sometimes repeatedly) to have been copying the designs of small designers without permission and selling those designs.

Now, there appears to be a local example.

Two Ottawa men created and began selling promotional t-shirts with the message “Don’t F**K with the  Walrus” during the NHL playoffs. The phrase refers to Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean, who sports a rather outrageous moustache, and was referred to as a “bug-eyed fat walrus” by Montreal Canadiens player Brandon Prust.

The men, Jamie McLennan and Eric Chamois, made two shirts to wear to a playoff game, and found the market for them rabid and enthusiastic. They began making the shirts, selling them, and then donating $1 for each shirt sold to the Ottawa Senators Foundation.

But then they discovered that Ottawa Sports Experts stores were selling a design that was essentially identical to theirs.

Here’s the two. On the left is the original design by J and L Ink; on the right, a photo of a Sports Experts store display from the Senstown blog.

sedisplay JandLInk3












Looks to me as if the design on the right has slight variation in the font used and has had the F**K removed (making it a bit nonsensical — don’t moustache with the walrus?!) but is otherwise identical.

The creators of the original shirt are adamant that no deal is in place; I’ve reached out to Sports Experts for comment, but have heard nothing as yet.

Sports Experts has no active Twitter account, but they’re receiving dozens of angry messages on their Facebook page (which is showing a last update a day before the angry messages started.) They haven’t responded to any of those messages either. I’m at least the third blogger to find this, after the Senstown blog and the League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

What’s the lesson here? At this point, it’s that sometimes, even people with great ideas and generosity can do things that small-minded people then rip off. Or… if you are selling retail and you get an idea to use someone else’s design… maybe you should think again. But let’s wait and see. Maybe Sports Experts will make this good. Hey, FGL Sports, owners of Sports Experts and other brands — it’s your move.

UPDATE: At about 10:50, Sports Experts posted a response on their Facebook page:

“Hello everyone, we are aware of your comments and concerns regarding the Walrus T-shirt. Details concerning the situation are presently being investigated and we will keep you updated as soon as we know more on what exactly has happened. Thank you very much for your understanding.”  

Look forward to more information as it comes.

UPDATE, 2:45 pm: Sports Experts has an apology and explanation up on their Facebook page:

Dear concerned customers,

The sale of the Walrus t-shirt in the Ottawa Sports Experts stores was a local initiative and in no way was meant to harm the artist. The Sports Experts franchise owner sourced the T-shirts from an Ottawa supplier and asked to modify the design (removing the obscene language) not knowing that the supplier didn’t own the rights to the graphic. As soon as he became aware of the problem, the store owner decided to stop selling the t-shirts and removed the unsold t-shirts from all locations. After discussing the situation with the local artist, the owner of the stores will donate all the sales revenues to the Sens Foundation. It was a misunderstanding between the artist, the supplier and the Sports Experts stores owner.

We, as a national team, are truly sorry for this mishap and look forward to your continued business.

Thank you for your understanding.

The Sports Experts team

Hit me with your best (head) shot

I got into a bit of an online discussion the other day with a friend in Boston. He told me that “head shots are you at your most fake.” He argued “…head shots suck. The reason why people don’t have them is because we despise them with extreme prejudice, because we’re uncomfortable with posed shots. I, personally, feel super douchey and always send one I know the requesting party will hate. They then usually find something on the Web and use that, which is what they should have done in the first place.”

Now, my friend and I are both communicators, but in slightly different niches of that field. So while I respect his opinion, I have to disagree, and I thought I’d tell you why.

I think almost everybody would benefit from a well made headshot they could have in their back pocket. Why? For the same reason we have updated, cleanly laid-out, and spell-checked resumes. For the same reason that if we’re doing an interview with a radio station and we muff a sentence, we ask to do it again.

When you are putting yourself out to an audience — by writing an op-ed piece, a blog post, speaking at a conference, or anything else that you can imagine, don’t you want to put the best version of yourself out there visually? I think a good photo opens you up to the audience in question, allowing them to warm to your face before they hear you, read your words, or decide to come to your session.

Here are some thoughts from others that I respect, both behind the camera and in front of the camera:

Justin Van LeeuwenJustin Van Leeuwen, Ottawa-based photographer:

Lots of people don’t like having their image taken, my job is to catch them in a sincere moment that is also flattering and that they’ll display to the world. My best images are made when we all forget the camera is there, when we’re talking and having a great time but happen to be making images too. When I show them the back of my LCD or my iPad and they say “wow” that’s when I know we got it.

Gini DietrichGini Dietrich, President, Arment Dietrich, Chicago:

I had them done because I needed high-res ones for media and other business opportunities. I had them redone when the book came out last year and you’ll notice they’re not traditional at all. One is of me hanging off a street light à la Laverne and Shirley. They show my personality and are professional enough to get by.


Bonnie FindleyBonnie Findley, Ottawa photographer:

These days I often capture subjects during an interview process. I think the intention of a photographer is everything. A professional wants to capture someone in their best light. Be that through lighting, a sincere moment or gesture that communicates who that person is, not just what they look like. We have mirrors to do that. Pro photographers reflect something more.

Christopher Barger, Senior Vice President, Global Programs at Voce Communications, Detroit

Of course I use headshots. It’s the only way to ensure that the target is effectively terminated when I’m playing Call of Duty. Wait, what?

Ummm, we’ll get back to Christopher.

Mélanie Provencher Mélanie Provencher, Ottawa-based photographer:

The difference between a pro and an amateur is that there is a conversation that takes place before the picture is taken as to what the intention is. And then a pro takes the necessary measures to make the image look like what the client wants. Sometimes it looks ‘fake’ or for better use of words, ‘planned’. But under certain circumstances that it what the client wants.

When a client says ‘man I look good’. That’s usually a good sign. A pro knows how to put their client at ease, guide them in their posture, and harness the light to make their client or subject looks their best.

Okay, Christopher’s gonna try again:

Christopher Barger…I’m a PR person and former speechwriter for IBM executives; I spent the first few years of my career arranging for and distributing headshots. I don’t find them fake, I kind of think they’re just an integral part of the publicity process.

You want something where they look relaxed, comfortable, being themselves. No artificial props, but something like what Gini did with the Simon and Garfunkel “hello lamppost, whatcha knowin’?” shot can work well. As long as the subject still looks relaxed — if it’s the person awkwardly playing in a fountain or saying “how did Laverne and Shirley do it again?” during the shoot and it’s obvious that they’re trying to stage spontaneity, it won’t work.

I think they are needed and can help to cement little bits and pieces of a person’s image in people’s heads. Look at [Scott] Monty’s for Ford — the bow tie he wears has become part of his personal stamp. Gini’s lamppost. Things that show a little bit of the person’s personality or uniqueness can help to cement the brand they’re already carving out.

Laura Byrne PaquetLaura Byrne Paquet, author and freelance writer, Ottawa:

I needed a decent one to send to magazines that asked for them for their contributor pages. I used to send fuzzy holiday snaps and then end up embarrassed when everyone else on the page had a nice one! I was initially a little wary of Dale [Hogan, the photographer]‘s suggestion that I have his wife do my hair and makeup before the shoot. He persuaded me and I’m glad he did. My hair had never looked that good EVER–not even in our wedding photos.

As for good vs. bad, I think the photographer taking the time to put the subject at ease makes a huge difference. We spent the whole afternoon in Dale’s studio, and it shows. I normally hate having my photo taken, but by the time the shot I liked best was taken, I was having a blast.

I’ve consciously used the same headshot in all my social media pages for several years, in the hope that it will help people remember me. I actually have a horrible, horrible memory for faces–I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat next to someone at an annual conference, stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Laura,” only to discover that I’ve travelled with them/spoken on a panel with them/interviewed them/sang karaoke with them at last year’s conference/etc. So having a consistent photo of someone pop up in multiple places really helps me when I meet them in the “real world.

My only worry with my headshot is that I’ll eventually have to stop using it and get a new one done. I once sat next to a famous writer at a conference and didn’t recognize her, even though a huge photo of her was displayed at the entrance to the banquet room (she was the keynote speaker). She saw me blink and burst out laughing. “Yeah, I don’t look anything like my publicity photo anymore,” she said. “It was taken 15 years ago, but I like it!”

And now it’s your turn. Point me to great or heinous headshots. Tell me what you think. And thanks to these busy folks for answering my questions.

What your first misstep says

I, along with most of the city of Ottawa, have been watching a story unfold over the last 24 hours with combined amusement and outrage.

Ottawa announced the name of a new National Basketball League (no, NOT the NBA) team yesterday. The name? “The Ottawa TomaHawks.”

Ottawa Tomahawks team owner Gus Takkale at the news conference announcing the team name

Ottawa Tomahawks team owner Gus Takkale at the news conference announcing the team name

In a news conference to announce the team name yesterday, team owner Gus Takkale (a motivational speaker and consultant) was quickly confronted with questions by journalists about the potential to offend First Nations groups:

“The most powerful slam dunk in the game of basketball, the most entertaining way to score … the tomahawk dunk,” said Takkale.

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to TomaHawk nation.”

“Tomahawk,” of course, is a term associated with Native American history.

Takkale said he and his staff had spoken to First Nations groups and they didn’t expect it to be an issue.

That said, many social media users expressed their displeasure with what they believe to be a “racist” name.

“Other teams, could be the Braves and the Redskins, they’re actually focusing on the Native Americans,” Takkale said. “But there’s no intended native reference here. It’s a tomahawk dunk. It’s grabbing the ball behind your head and dunking it. And that excitement is what we want to link our brand to.”

And yet, by Wednesday morning, headlines read:

And of course…

As I write this post, they’re announcing on the local CBC morning program that they’re changing the name. The team Twitter account and Youtube channel are down.

So what happened here? Was this a misstep? It’s such a stunningly foolish action that I have to wonder whether this was either a group of people utterly out of touch with reality, or whether they were both stupid and cynical, thinking they could get media attention, then back down.

One thing that I will give them credit for: they knew when they were beat and didn’t try to tough it out.

But whether this was stupidity or cynicism, the organization now needs to realize the amateurish and incompetent image they’ve created in their home community, and figure out how to counteract it.

So what to they need to do?

  • CONSULT SMART PEOPLE before they announce a name. 
  • Make some gestures of reconciliation to local aboriginal groups to try to make good on their stupidity
  • Don’t be stupid again.

Good luck…

SMB 101 Post #9: Using free tools for measurement

Ad Budget

Hopefully, you know more about your advertising effectiveness than John Wanamaker did.

One of the classic quotes from the world of business is attributed to John Wanamaker:

 Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

I’m guessing this is a familiar refrain for many business owners. It’s easy to spend money on advertising, whether it’s in the community paper, the local daily, radio, or online. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a gauge that you could use to measure the effectiveness of that advertising?

But before I give you a few tips, a couple of theoretical points to address. First, it can take multiple exposures to a message before people will act on it — or even notice it. This is called, in the business, “effective frequency.” So don’t think that you can simply run an ad, and based on that one exposure, people will flock to your business.

Second, advertising plays a different role for businesses at different stages of their lives. Al Ries, a renowned brand strategist, characterizes it this way: “PR creates brands; advertising defends brands.” So if you’re a new business, you might be focusing your efforts more on the PR side. If you’re an established, mature business, advertising may be taking a more prominent role.

So once you have a strategy in place and understand the role advertising plays in it… how can you tell if you’re wasting your money? There are some simple things you can do:

  1. Track online. QR (Quick Response) codes are those square barcodes you see on ads, posters, and the like. If you use QR codes in your advertising, you can track how many times those codes are scanned. Even if you don’t use the QR codes, utilities like offer similar abilities to track clicks (By the way, will generate QR codes that you can use too). And plan out what your call to action will be. Don’t just send people to your website — create a specific page to point them to. Then you will know by traffic if your message is getting through.
  2. A/B testing is your friend. This may sound a bit intimidating. But the concept is simple. Don’t just run one ad. Run two, with a variation in imagery, copy, and the like. Then use the tracking tools mentioned in tip 1 to look at which one is performing better. The easiest place to do this is online, using platforms like Facebook Adverts or Google Adwords, but you can do similar things with other forms of media, like print or direct mail. And it’s particularly important to do this when using Facebook ads, which according to online marketing smart guy Brian Carter, “burn out” far more quickly than other forms of advertising.
  3. USE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. All of this stuff is only cool if you use it. Tracking the impact of your ads, measuring A/B results — you need to dedicate the time necessary to understand what the numbers are telling you.
If you are out of your depth on this, think about hiring someone to help build or run a monitoring system for you. But it is possible to do this on your own. Every step you take along this path is an improvement over doing nothing.
(This is post number nine in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)

Social media, “third parties”, and not-for-profits

I tend to end up volunteering for a lot of stuff. Part of it is because I have a hard time saying no to good causes, part of it because I enjoy doing the work, part of it because it makes me feel good to help, part of it because often it’s friends asking, and part of it because I might learn something or hang out with cool people.

Fred and Barney in their Lodge hats

For many of us, the old models of service clubs and voluntarism seem... prehistoric.

One of the things I think has been changed most fundamentally by social media is the relationship between not-for-profit organizations and people wishing to do good things for them.

Back in the day, charities and not-for-profits relied on long-term relationships with volunteers and donors. Every year, Jane Bloggs would “collect” for the Heart Foundation, the March of Dimes, or the Cancer Society (Of course, this still happens.) Every year, people would write cheques (as my parents still do, in memory of my brother) to the local children’s hospital. Memorial donations.

And not-for-profits would have committees which would provide muscle and brainpower to organize events and fundraisers. Need a fashion show? A charity tea? Casino night? Strike a committee, likely with one or more of the same people who canvassed and knitted and hosted the dinner etc… and the event comes together.

I suspect that in many ways, there was even a parallel thing happening with genders. Men would join “service clubs” like Rotary, Kinsmen, and the like, and women would have parallel clubs (in Canada, the IODE or the Catholic Women’s League).

But things are changing. Traditional service clubs are declining in popularity, as noted both by media and by club believers. But at the same time, there are good things happening too. And that’s where social media comes in.

The ability for people to self-organize and act via social media is awe-inspiring. Let me give you a bunch of examples:

So what makes all this different? A few things:

  • People don’t have the same sort of connection to the organization they’re working on behalf of. 

I didn’t know Cornerstone from a hole in the ground beforehand. I’m not a woman. I’ve never had to live in a shelter. I didn’t know any of the staff or volunteers. I just got riled up by the fire. I don’t think Hélène Campbell was involved in organ donation before she got sick. This sort of spontaneous engagement has good and bad implications. First, it can be an unexpected and serendipitous boon. Yay. Second, it can create unexpected work for charity staff or established volunteers. Not exactly Boo, but uh-oh.

  • Not-for-profits can sometimes do best by staying out of the way 

Organizations that aren’t familiar with the ad-hoc, high-energy, short-term nature of these movements might stifle them with excessive bureaucracy, caution, or general wet-blanketing. That in no way means you let people run with a valuable brand. But you don’t want to oversee and second-guess every decision.

  • Trying to court these folks into becoming longtime donors or volunteers may not work, or even backfire. 

The irony of these “flash-givers” is that while they may well believe in your cause, be willing to use social media, traditional media, public relations, and the like to  boost it, and make a big difference… it may be a one-night stand. They may feel little to no long-term interest in the organization, and may well be too busy or lack the long-term interest to come back to the organization, volunteer, join a board, etc.

  • Use this new energy to leverage your organization. 

In the media relations game,  ”earned media” implies a third-party endorsement of an organization. Well, someone coming out of the blue to support your organization financially or with an event is an EXPLICIT endorsement of what you do. Use them (with their permission and support) to solidify or expand your organization’s brand in the media, to increase your website’s Google juice, or to further promote your own social media initiatives. All parties will benefit.

  • Smart charities and NFPs will figure out ways of encouraging and supporting these flash-gives. 

Just as you could stifle an initiative with too much “management”, you can fan the flames with some judicious support. Ask how you can help. Have resources ready for them — logos, sound bites, etc. Be ready to include news about them in your organization’s online presence. Work your existing networks to help the new folks achieve their goals, or at least offer to.

As the old ways of cultivating and managing volunteers become less effective, the NFP sector needs to find ways to harness this somewhat anarchic force. Those who do can reap great benefits.


Some great resources for not-for-profits:

  • Zoetica media and Kami Watson Huyse’s “Communication Overtones” blog
  • Socialfish, a consulting company for the NFP sector
  • Jamie Notter, an association constultant
  • Humanize, the book by Socialfish’s Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter.