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Veteran Communicators Give Honest and Fun Advice at Social Media for Social Causes Panel

close up image of mobile phone held by business manMobile fundraising asks must be specific and urgent to be effective.

Thanks to Seneca College for organizing the Social Media for Social Causes panel discussion last night. Moderated by emerging media consultant and online journalism professor Wayne MacPhail, it offered an interesting mix of practical communications suggestions for nonprofits and charities and career tips for PR students.

The panel consisted of four veteran communicators in the social arena:
•    Avril Benoit, Director of Communications, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders Canada
•    Adrian Bradbury, Director of Partnerships, Public Inc.
•    Sara Falconer, Social Media Specialist, WWF Canada
•    James Topham, Director of Communications and Marketing, War Child Canada

These experienced public relations professionals gave frank advice and their comments were humorous at times. They took questions from the crowd that filled the auditorium at Innis Town Hall on the University of Toronto Campus, and they took questions via Twitter.

I’ll share my own takeaways from the evening. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the panel discussion.

Engage don’t Fundraise

In his concise, no-holds-barred style, James Topham said about social media, “It’s a terrible place to raise money. It’s a step on a ladder toward donations, not a place to ask for $10 because you won’t get it.”

Sara Falconer reminded the audience to take a long-term view of engagement and fundraising. Supporters may be engaged through social media and other tools for years. This type of relationship could eventually turn into a bequest. It’s not only about the immediate ask.

According to Adrian Bradbury, social media is where you nurture relationships, not where you ask for money. He says the telephone is still a great tool for increasing donations.

If You Do Mobile Fundraising, Make it Specific, Urgent, and Win-Win

Adrian Bradbury said that text message fundraising campaigns can be successful if they are specific, urgent and win-win. Making it a win-win can mean including draws and incentives. He believes this is true for all fundraising.

“Whether it’s by phone, rally, Twitter or Facebook, there has to be a reason and a good idea to share,” he told the audience.

Here is Bradbury’s example of a good text message fundraising campaign at an event:

If half of the people in this room text to donate $5 tonight we will be able to build a well for this community in Africa.  The water will help X people to do such and such. And if half of the people here tonight donate, we will hold a draw and one of you will win this prize.”

The bottom line is that text message campaigns can be successful if they have an urgent call to action for very specific goals. But don’t bother with general donation requests.

Be Social with Journalists

The panel seemed to feel that the press release is dead, or at least not a good use of your time.  The exception was Avril Benoit. She spoke of how media releases had generated coverage for Doctors Without Borders in some very specific instances related to conflict.

All the panelists agreed that it’s important to follow and connect with journalists through social media, particularly Twitter.

Sara Falconer told us, “As a journalist and someone who tries to reach journalists, I never write a press release.” She recommends blogging or tweeting about your news instead.

James Topham recommended an older, tried and true technology – the telephone. He said it works best unless you have something “spectacular” to share.

Screen capture of home page for Sysomos, a social media monitoring and analysis toolUsing tools to monitor and analyze social media will save you valuable time.Manage Your Time Investment

Sara Falconer suggested using social media tools like Sysomos, Northstar, and Digital Hug to follow topics, trends, and mentions and to get a rough analysis of the sentiment. It would take too long to do it all yourself. She uses several tools to get everything she needs.

Avril Benoit suggested holding webinars to take questions and make sure your experts are available, open, and transparent. By doing this through webinars of predetermined length, you control the amount of time your experts commit.

Digital Footprints: Balance the Personal and the Professional

It’s no surprise that all the panelists believe you must be careful what you share online.

Avril Benoit told the audience that she uses Twitter and LinkedIn as her public, professional personas. She uses Facebook with an alias and locked-down privacy settings to interact with family and close friends. About her voice in her Twitter and LinkedIn accounts she said, “I don’t want to be a robot but I do hold back a lot of what I’m actually thinking.”

Benoit also advised job seekers to lock down privacy settings on Facebook and to make sure their LinkedIn profile is complete, professional and without typos.

Sara Falconer suggested it’s OK to show your political leanings on Twitter and Facebook while you’re searching for a job. It may cost you some job opportunities but expressing who you are can help you find a position that suits you well.

The general rule given was that you shouldn’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want your boss or your dad to see.


Measurement and Analytics: Know Your Goals but Don’t Obsess

Know your goals and track the actions that people take, but you shouldn’t obsess over the number of likes or followers.

Sara Falconer said the qualitative feedback she’s received through social media has been more helpful in tweaking her campaigns than the typical measurements. She does try to track if someone comes from a social media site to the organization’s own website and what they do when they arrive. Do they sign a petition or make a donation?

James Topham explained, “It’s the hundred or so people that you have real engagement with that matter.”

For more information:

 The events team that planned the evening includes Emily Aird, Kent Anjo, Victoria Argue, Ash Ajula, and Rachel Walton.

Look up the official hashtag #SMSCToronto on Twitter for more good discussion.

You may also enjoy following the moderator and panelists on Twitter: @wmacphail @avrilbenoit @AdrianBradbury @sarafalconer @TopsAtWarChild.


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