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Give Them Something to Talk About

Lori Halley 13 February 2008 3 comments

Your nonprofit organization may buy advertising space to take a message to the general public, send out newsletters and email blasts to reach your membership, and run a website and blog to do both. But all of that, in the end, is simply “talking about yourself” – a strategy with very limited powers of persuasion.

“You'll never say anything about yourself that will be as powerful as what other people can say about you,” Sonia Simone reminds the corporate world, and the caveat applies equally to nonprofits.

Ideally, of course, we want our message to take on a life of its own (in online terms, to go “viral”) and enjoy a self-sustaining publicity effect. And the best way to ensure that happens is to create a truly original program or campaign – one that is so creative, so innovative, so amusing or attractive or thought-provoking that people can’t resist passing the word.  Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” is a current example from the business world that sets the bar high for viral campaigns.

The viral effect is far from predictable, however, and innovation can be a real challenge for a small nonprofit with limited resources to bring top creative talent into their team. 

What else can you do to get people talking about your cause?

1.  Make it CONCRETE – Give your readers the specific information that will help them to visualize more clearly the goals of your program, the progress you’re making, where the money goes and what good it does in terms an accountant would approve – give numbers, charts, and concrete examples.

2. Make it HUMAN – The advertising industry knows that people react most strongly to pictures of other people. It’s part of how we make a large and confusing world more manageable and feel more connected emotionally connected to others. Put a face on your cause, whether you do that literally, with photographs, or by telling a human story.

3. Make it CONCISE – Can your members explain your program to their friends in simple terms, in a single sentence or two?  Give all  the detailed information about your organization that accountability demands, of course, but also provide  the “bullet points” that sum it all up.

Sonia Simone offers a quick test of your program's “talk value”:

Imagine one of your customers talking with a friend about it. The "My dry cleaner uses silicone-based solvents instead of perchloroethylene" conversation probably isn't going to happen. But "I have a great dry cleaner, and they only use environmentally-friendly stuff" might work pretty well.

Heifer International knows how to hit its talking points.  Buy a milk cow for a struggling family to help fight world hunger : That's the basic concept that gets the buzz. The organization's website backs it up with a wealth of detail about its mission and extensive programs – other animal gifts,  different countries of involvement, follow-up and training programs, donation registries, etc. – and the message is packaged for various media channels. In the end, however, what starts people talking is the simple image of one family's cow.

How do you present your own nonprofit's message to help other people  talk about your cause?

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 13 February 2008 at 4:00 PM


  • Joe Rominiecki said:

    Wednesday, 13 February 2008 at 12:36 PM

    "Give them something to talk about" is a really good way to frame the strategy behind social media. It's also very true that the "viral effect is far from predictable," and that's something that you have to be comfortable with as a marketer in this situation. The October issue of Associations Now had a short article on a very similar topic about the work that The Nature Conservancy does in generating online buzz on its various causes. It has some great tips that can add to what you have here. Here's a link: Expand your audience through social media.

  • Sonia Simone said:

    Friday, 15 February 2008 at 2:26 PM

    Thanks for the link!

    I love that you're talking about this stuff for nonprofits. A lot of what I blog about applies to smaller organizations including nonprofits--all of this "marketing" stuff really is just about communication, connection and persuasion, whether you're trying to make a profit or just trying to help someone who needs it.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 21 February 2008 at 7:23 AM

    @Joe, thanks so much for that article link. The Nature Conservancy's experience of the "Digg effect" is an inspriring example of successful Web 2.0 marketing by an NPO!

    @Sonia, I do find it encouraging to see a growing number of marketing professionals coming back to the fundamentals: connection, communication, community... and trust.

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