Although we’ve come a long way from our early days, we haven’t always gotten things right from the get-go, and we’ve learned a lot along the way by listening to our supporters and doing a whole lot of experimenting. Today, I’d like to share some of those lessons learned with you.
For those unfamiliar with TwitCause, we provide a way for Twitterers to support nonprofit causes they care about. We do this by highlighting (on Twitter and on our website) a cause every week and encouraging people to follow it, tweet its message, and consider making a donation. We also partner with respected brands willing to donate to causes as supporters tweet updates that spread the cause’s message. TechCrunch’s original piece is a good overview, as are these posts on Experience Project, the company behind TwitCause.
With no further adieu, here are 5 lessons we’ve learned on the road to 500,000 followers:
1. Keep your Message Simple and Short: The beauty of Twitter is that it forces even the most verbose of us to be succinct. If you can’t summarize your organization’s mission in 140 characters, try again until you can. In this day and age of short attention spans, it’s critical to grab attention with a short and clear message. We had to do this for TwitCause despite the hidden complexity of our product, and I think that the simplicity of our offering enabled so many people to grasp the concept quickly, rally behind it, and spread it to their friends.
2. Provide Immediate Results from an Action: People like to see an immediate and direct result from their own action, social media users have an even stronger desire for this immediacy. My friend Jessica Jackley who co-founded Kiva told me early on that one of the reasons Kiva works is that you see the exact goat herder you’re helping with your loan (not to mention read his story and look at his pictures). Not only does that provide immediacy, but it creates a fun experience which makes participants want to keep coming back to Kiva and tell their friends about it. DonorsChoose has successfully tapped into the same pathos by allowing you to pick the specific school project you are helping to fund. From our TwitCause experience, we’ve seen orders-of-magnitude more tweeting and retweeting of a cause’s message when supporters know that for each tweet they publish, $1 will be directly donated to the cause by a sponsoring brand rather than a delayed and indirect payoff when their tweets are destined at only calling on others to consider making a donation.
3. Enable People to Pre-Commit their Support: We’re all busy. As much as we want to visit a site once a week and support that week’s cause, even the most dedicated of us will forget once in a while or lose interest over time. That’s why allowing people to pre-commit their future support is a great way to enable supporters to continuously show their support and for organizations to maintain a steady level of active supporters. This approach has been successfully employed by nonprofits that ask donors to subscribe to a monthly donation amount which is automatically charged to their credit cards, without necessitating them to remember the donation every month and go through the process of donating repeatedly. At TwitCause, we’ve found great success with our TwitCause Stars program, which enables supporters to pre-commit to support the weekly featured TwitCause by tweeting a message and following that cause. We do this automatically on their behalf, once they’ve authorized us to do so via the Twitter API. We have nearly 1,000 people that have done this, including major celebrities like Alyssa Milano and Shannon Elizabeth.
4. Don’t Expect People to Pay: I’ve written before about my belief that social media users are great for spreading a message and awareness, but largely ineffective for raising large sums of money. Generally speaking, very few people actually donate, and those that do make comparatively small contributions. There are a few notable exceptions (Obama anyone?), but they are very few and far between and often are not pure-social-media plays. Causes on Facebook has raised a lot of money in aggregate, but a pittance on a per-user basis. If you keep this fact in your fundraising strategy, it’ll save you a lot of heartache later on.
5. Do Expect Brands to Pay: If you believe my claim that social media is a great way to generate a lot of attention (we’ve reached tens of millions of people with TwitCause), and you agree that brands are willing to pay to get attention, you can see how marrying the two in a clean manner can be incredibly powerful. Think of the #beatcancer campaign sponsored by ebay and MillerCoors, the recent Pepsi giving campaign on Facebook, and countless others, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. What’s critical here is that the campaign not turn into a thinly-disguised advertisement and in fact is primarily focused on benefiting the social cause, but allotting the brand to respectfully participate in the conversation in an authentic fashion. TwitCause partnered with Häagen-Dazs to raise money for honey bee research (a cause Häagen-Dazs has long championed), partnered with Lion’s Gate's movie “Precious” to raise money for literacy (the film has a strong message about literacy as hope), and with pro-biotic brand Attune to support Celiac Disease (the Attune Bar is great for digestive health). All campaigns raised thousands of dollars for the nonprofits (100% of proceeds going to the nonprofit) and spread the causes’ messages to millions of people.
I'd love to hear in the comments which of these you agree or disagree with as well as what other "lessons learned" you would add to the list.