Tim Fullerton is the Online Communications Lead for Oxfam America, an organization committed to creating lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and injustice. In the following interview, Tim and I talk about the use of social networking sites MySpace to reach out to people, build a community and recruit new activists and donors.
As Online Communications Lead, Tim helps to manage Oxfam’s online communications program and social networking pages. Tim managed the online component of the Rock for Darfur campaign in partnership with MySpace and has been involved with Oxfam’s Starbucks campaign to get higher prices for Ethiopian coffee farmers.
1. Tell us a little bit about Oxfam America and how you have been using MySpace?
Oxfam America is a non-profit organization that works to end global poverty through saving lives, strengthening communities, and campaigning for change. We have been using MySpace to raise awareness about our work to end poverty and injustice around the world and to engage a larger audience and inform them about our issues. We recently developed The Rock for Darfur campaign on MySpace to raise awareness about and raise funds for the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. On October 21st, dozens of bands held Rock for Darfur concerts. This was a great outreach tool and educated a lot of people about Darfur and our work there.
2. Why did you decide to get started with social networking sites particularly MySpace?
We decided we needed to reach out to people where they were, rather than waiting for people to come to us. MySpace was the first social networking site we used, as it was the biggest and most talked about. We developed a very simple profile and put a few pictures up and that was about it. At first it was difficult to get friends to add us, but once we passed 1,000 friends (after a couple of months), it really took off. Now we’re at about 24,000 in a year and a half and haven’t looked back. Our experience with MySpace led us to try other sites. To date, YouTube.
3. How long have you been using MySpace?
We launched in January, 2006.
4. What social networking sites/media tools do you find to be the most effective in finding and engaging supporters and donors?
With activism, we’ve still had the best luck with MySpace. We’ve recruited over 1600 activists from MySpace alone. Donors are still an illusive group on social networking sites. MySpace to date has not been a big fundraiser for us (outside of Rock for Darfur, which brought in about 200 new donors), but I have a feeling that might be about to change.
5. In your opinion, is there anything about MySpace that allows people to network better than more traditional methods?
MySpace was one of the first places online where people could develop an identity and obviously people have gravitated to that concept. By allowing people to develop their page any way they want, they have created a sense of community and that they own their page. For many people, it’s their introduction to the world. We’ve found people love to show their support for Oxfam by hosting our banners, reposting our bulletins and adding us as a top friend. This has been a great way to get our name out there.
6. What sort of third party services did you leverage to bring multimedia content into your page?
In the past we’ve used YouTube to post videos on our page, but now we just use the built in video player.
7. In what ways have you used your MySpace page to drive people to your website, to make a donation, etc.?
We use the blog tool several times a week to advertise the content on our site. We will generally post the first paragraph of a story/update and then link back to the remaining content on our site. We also post all of our action alerts on the blog and the bulletin tool, which is how we have recruited over 1600 activists. We’ve generally shied away from fundraising on MySpace, but we do post all of our emergency fundraising appeals (for disasters like the recent Peruvian earthquake).
8. Are there particular strategies you've employed that have helped maintain your MySpace page?
The biggest part of maintaining a MySpace page is to update it. If people feel they will find something new on the page, they will keep coming back, read your blogs and read your bulletins. This is critical if you want your friends forwarding your messages onto their friends. It is also important to promote your site to your constituents. We have links on our website and have also included it in monthly eNewsletters. This is the quickest and easiest way to build up your numbers on Facebook.
9. How much staff time did it take to create the MySpace page? Has the investment in time and resources been worthwhile?
One of the great things about MySpace is that it takes little time to update. We generally post already approved content, and accepting friends/comments is quick too. I’d say I spent 3 hours a week on our page. We also use YouTube and Flickr. We have posted several videos to our YouTube channel, and it has been a great way to bring our videos to a wider audience. Today, we launched a new video with our 18 year old youth ambassador, who recently traveled to Darfur. By putting videos like this on YouTube, we have potentially thousands more viewers than if we hosted it ourselves.
Our Flickr site has allowed us to share many more photos with our supporters, than our site could ever allow. Plus, by tagging photos with specific keywords, we are again reaching a broader audience. We’ve also tested some photo petitions. This is where we ask supporters to hold up signs stating a position. This is a great way to ask your supporters to take a more personal ask. While you won’t get the numbers you’d get with an email petition, you are deepening the affiliation you have with some of your strongest supporters. You can see an example here.
10. Have you been successful and if so, how?
Our MySpace page has been very effective generating new activists and introducing the organization to a whole new group of people. We’ve received emails from people saying they found out about us through MySpace. For a non-profit, it is critical to find low cost ways to reach out to new supporters. MySpace has definitely done that. As I mentioned before, we have recruited 1,600 new activists and if we include Rock for Darfur, over 200 new donors.
11. What advice would you give others who want to engage in MySpace to further promote their campaigns?
Again, it’s all about updating. If you are communicating with your friends, people will continue to return to your page. Also make sure there are links to your page on your website and promote it to your existing supporters.
12. Oxfam has seen great success using MySpace, YouTube and Flickr, and Facebook, can you talk a little bit about how you mixed or integrated those social media tools with more traditional online marketing techniques?
Our email list is still our most effective way of communicating with our supporters. However, we now incorporate our social media tools with our email list strategy. Every time we send out an action alert, we post the information on our MySpace and Facebook pages. Anytime we have interesting video or photos, we post them to YouTube and Flickr. Any time you have engaging content, it’s important to make it as visible as possible. Social networking sites make that easier.
13. Can you share some tips on running a MySpace campaign?
The key to a successful campaign on MySpace is to have interesting and compelling content. If you have something that is easy for people to understand with a simple call to action, MySpace users will participate. The Starbucks campaign was a great example. People really understood what we were doing and joined with us. They forwarded our bulletins to our friends, send emails to Starbucks, and helped to strengthen our voice. And finally, it is critical to provide regular campaign updates, so people feel engaged with the issue.
14. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MySpace has been a low-cost and effective way to bring our message to a broader audience. We’re going to be relaunching our MySpace page later this week (it looks great!), and we’ll be posting a lot of content about our youth ambassadors trip to Darfur. Unfortunately it’s too early to talk about anything else, but I can promise some cool things in the near future!
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