The Best Platform for Brands? a) Facebook, b) Twitter, c) G+, or d) none of the above

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According to a new study by SumAll, Instagram is the “clear winner” as the best platform for brands for 2013, beating out Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Why? Because Instagram’s increases in fan and follower engagement is almost triple those of the other platforms, said SumAll CEO Dan Atkinson. “If a company has a visual product to sell and it’s currently not on Instagram,” Atkinson said, “that company is missing out on significant brand awareness and revenue.”

For businesses that use all four networks, Instagram showed the largest increase in new followers and engagement. The revenue impact of Instagram for U.S. businesses ranged from 1.5 to 5 percent.

With Facebook and Twitter becoming the big players, look for other platforms like Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, and Pinterest. And soon we’ll be talking about networks that don’t exist today. Which brand do you think is best for businesses and nonprofits?

What Can Ernest Hemingway Teach You About Blogging?

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One of the keys to a blog post is getting to the point (and, even more important, having a point in the first place.) Sometimes I edit an article or blog post by removing words and sentences that are redundant, uninteresting, or unnecessary — and find that there’s not much left. In fact, one of the things that prepared me to create short posts for blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ was writing and editing letters for President Clinton in the White House. There’s not much room on one page (or in one tweet) to make your point, so you have to be efficient with that limited space.

Ragan.com recently republished a post I missed the first time called “Ernest Hemingway’s Five Secrets to Good Blogging,” written by Erik Dekers, the co-owner and vice president of creative services for Professional Blog Service. Dekers says that If you blog or do any writing for the web, you can learn a thing or two (or five) from Hemingway. “Blogging is the new newspaper,” Dekers writes. “Posts need to be short, punchy, and interesting right from the very beginning — all characteristics that marked a Hemingway story.” The lessons:

  1. Write and speak with authority.
  2. Avoid adverbs.
  3. Don’t write for “the reader.” “Don’t worry about what the critics and haters are going to say,” Deckers writes. “Don’t anticipate what comments you might get, and how you can head them off at the pass. Don’t avoid controversial topics just because you think someone might disagree with you. Write for you, and make it awesome.”
  4. Have a set writing schedule. “Hemingway’s schedule was to get up early, get to the typewriter by 7 a.m., and write until lunchtime. Even when he was starting out and had to work odd jobs, he would only do them after lunch. He didn’t drink until he was done writing, and he would even get up when he was hung over.”
  5. Leave stuff out. “He would omit everything he could, including background information that was not relevant to the story. Similarly, as bloggers, we need to leave things out. Don’t use descriptions of what you were thinking when you came up with a certain blog topic. Explain why something is important, and what it means to us.” Read the full post.

A Walk on the Wild Side: Nonprofit Lessons from Lou Reed

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photo by Thierry Ehrmann

I never know what to say about celebrities who die. It’s always sad, of course, especially if I admired their work, but what do I have to add the tributes I see all over Facebook, Twitter, and the web?

Lou Reed, who died at 71 on Sunday, and his band Velvet Underground made some of my favorite music, and influenced my tastes as I discovered other music. I admired Reed as an intelligent writer (he was an English major) and as an unabashed observer of American society. As I’ve listened to his music over the past few days, it occurred to me that several of his songs contain lessons and insights for nonprofits. Can you think of others?

“Pale Blue Eyes”
Thought of you as my mountain top,
Thought of you as my peak.
Thought of you as everything,
I’ve had but couldn’t keep.

This is one of Lou’s most melodic and popular songs, but what many people don’t know is that it was inspired by a female muse – who had hazel eyes.

Lesson: Be honest in your communications, but also creative. “Pale Hazel Eyes” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

“Dirty Blvd.”
No one here dreams of being a doctor or lawyer or anything.
They dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard.

Reed loved New York City, but he was also realistic about the underbelly of the city, and the gap between the haves and have-nots. In this song, Pedro at first seems doomed to a life of poverty and drugs, but finds a book of magic and dreams of flying away. It’s all relative, but for Reed, that almost qualifies as a happy (or at least hopeful) ending.

Lesson: Share the grim reality of the problems you’re trying to solve, but also give your supporters hope and show them what’s possible.

“Perfect Day”
Oh it’s such a perfect day.
I’m glad I spent it with you.

Whether this song is a simple love story or an ode to heroin addiction, it’s one of Reed’s most upbeat and most covered songs.

Lesson: Celebrate your successes, and thank your donors for making them possible.

“Walk on the Wild Side”
Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll – it’s all here, and it’s also one of Reed’s most melodic songs. Quintessential Lou, it’s a simple narrative with interesting and offbeat characters.

Lesson: What stories can you tell that haven’t been told before? Think differently. Surprise your audience. Take a walk on the wild side.

This One Word Could Help You Raise More Money

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As much as I enjoy reading blogs, journals, newspapers, and magazines about nonprofits and fundraising, I think some of the most interesting lessons come from other sources. For example, Psychology Today‘s blog recently published a post titled “The Power of the Word ‘Because’ To Get People to Do Stuff.” According to author Susan Weinschenk, PhD, “Because is a magic word when you want to get people to do something.” Could that include asking them to support your cause?

She cites a 1978 study in which people on a college campus tried to cut in line to use a copier. There was 60 percent compliance when someone asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine?” But that rose to 93 percent when the person asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” And it was 94 percent with “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

Next, they tried the experiment with a person with 20 pages. In that case, only the “…because I’m in a rush” increased compliance. Dr. Weinschenk concludes, “When the stakes are low, people will engage in automatic behavior. If your request is small, then follow the request with the word ‘because’ and give any reason. If the stakes are high, then there is a little more resistance, but still not too much. Use the word ‘because’ and try to come up with at least a slightly more compelling reason.”

How does this affect your requests to get support for your organization or your cause? Are you explaining WHY someone should support you? And do you think the word “because” makes a difference?

How to be Authentic in Your Fundraising

Thanks to Guidestar for sharing the post “What Does It Mean to be Authentic in Your Fundraising?” from the Front Range Source blog. Leslie Allen writes that nonprofits can lose the ability or desire to have a genuine relationship when they focus solely on ROI, response rates, and costs to raise a dollar. I encourage you to read the whole post for the details, but some of Allen’s advice is:

  • Be upfront about your need and your vision.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about the costs of your operation. Being transparent doesn’t have to mean being defensive.
  • Ask your donors how you’re doing, what information they want, and how they want to get it.
  • Report back — honestly. “Explain what worked, what didn’t, and what you learned.”

She also recommends communicating with your donors the way you talk to your friends. Treat them with respect and honesty, and you’ll stand out from many other nonprofits.

Social Media’s Influence on Fundraising “Modest” But Growing

Social media is playing a bigger role in connecting donors to nonprofits, according to the latest donor research just released in “The Burk Donor Survey…Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2013.” The report is the fifth annual survey by Penelope Burk at Cygnus Applied Research, and the second to explore the role of social media in fundraising.

Conducted in 2011 and 2013, the research shows that social media is not yet a major factor in directly driving more donations, or larger donations. But through social media, nonprofits are successfully attracting people to events, enlisting more volunteers, and turning supporters into ambassadors for their cause. Even though the hard data doesn’t exist, it’s reasonable to conclude that social media is indirectly leading to more gifts and larger gifts by engaging supporters in these and others ways.

I asked Penelope about some of these trends.

Q: Your report calls social media a “modest player” in donor communications, but with 57 percent of young donors following nonprofits through social media, do you think it’s gaining traction?

A: Yes, it is gaining traction. It’s only a modest player when fundraisers look at the end goal in fundraising, which is raising money. But indirectly, social media offers the two-way communication platform that is essential in building relationships with young donors and potential donors. Young donors do not respond well to direct asks absent of the opportunity to engage.

Q: Should organizations factor volunteering, event attendance, and other types of engagement when they’re measuring the ROI of their social media efforts?

A: Absolutely, since young donors prefer a multi-faceted route to giving. The opportunity to be directly involved and then have a good experience volunteering, or being part of a discussion group for example, is what then inspires them to give. Older donors are more used to giving and leaving the decision-making to those who run the charity.

However, given the high rate of donor attrition and dissatisfaction with uninformative appeals and communications, young donors may be onto something. I think they are demanding a kind of relationship from the start that will ensure a better flow of information and a more inclusive approach by not-for-profits. This should bode well for donor retention and generosity once they do start to give.

Q: Your 2011 survey suggested that being seen as an “expert” helps attract social media audiences for nonprofits. But you also said it’s not enough to just call yourself an expert. How can a nonprofit position itself in a credible way?

A: It’s commonplace for not-for-profits to declare themselves as the first, the biggest, or the best at what they do absent of any objective information that confirms that assertion. So statements like those are meaningless to donors at any age level and are actually viewed as suspect. It is much more effective to simply state an achievement your organization has made, a goal you have reached, or a new initiative you have undertaken in specific terms, reporting how you got there and the impact it has had on the people you serve. That allows readers to conclude for themselves that you are expert, which is a much more powerful way to establish credibility.

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Download a free executive summary or purchase “The Burk Donor Survey…Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2013” at www.cygresearch.com.

Young Donors are Different: What the Latest Research Means for Fundraisers

Young donors differ from other donors in many ways, and new research on their interests, preferences, and behaviors suggests several ways you can engage them more effectively. Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Applied Research and the “Burk” in the annual Burk Donor Survey, talked to me about findings in her 2013 research that relate to young donors.

What Young Donors Support
Burk’s research shows that many young donors support human services (54%) and arts/culture (47%). Many people think of the environment as a favored cause for young people, but research doesn’t back that up. Only 21% of donors under the age of 35 supported environmental organizations, compared with 34% of middle-age donors and 45% of donors 65 and older.

What Appeals are Appealing
Young donors are far less likely to respond to direct mail appeals (31%) than donors age 35-64 (50%) and donors 65 and older (68%). They are much more likely to respond to online appeals and give electronically (49%) than middle-age donors (37%) or older donors (32%). Events are appealing to all age groups, Burk said. “Young donors are as interested in giving through fundraising events as older donors in the study. Events in which they can actively participate, rather than simply being guests, tend to be more popular with younger donors.”

Implications for Communications
Burk says the biggest difference between older and younger donors is their preferences for communications. “The youngest donors (under 35) appear to be less patient and they make decisions about what they will and will not read more quickly,” she said. “Young donors are more sensitive to getting too many emails and they are less forgiving of charities that send communications that appear to be uninteresting.”

Burk’s advice for fundraising appeals to young people: Get to the point. They say they are too busy to read a lot of text, so “make communications content (especially the first sentence) compelling enough to persuade young donors to take the time.”

Young donors have a decided preference for electronic over print communication. Only 3% of those receiving information online would have preferred to get a print piece in the mail, but 45% of those getting print currently say they would much prefer electronic communication. “Not-for-profits should make every effort offer their donors the opportunity to transition into electronic communication with every communication they send,” Burk said.

The Giving Potential of Young Donors
While some organizations overlook younger donors because of they currently give less than other donors, Burk’s research shows that young people can give more. In fact, 58% said they definitely or probably could have given more to charitable causes last year, a figure considerably higher than for older donors (42%).

“While the average gift value of young donors is much less than their middle-age or older counterparts,” Burk said, “it appears that either the tactics fundraisers use to acquire donors and renew their support are not reaching people under 35, or fundraisers are under-asking, assuming that young people cannot give more generously.”

Do these findings match up with what you’re seeing in your organization? How do you tailor your communications to younger donors?

Download a free executive summary of the 2013 Burk Donor Survey or purchase the full survey.

 

Which is a Worse Influence: Miley’s Twerking, or Her Spelling?

In my recent post about bad grammar and spelling on social media, and how it affects companies’ reputations, I didn’t make the point that these errors may also affect children and others who are still learning the English language. In this video, young students in Brazil take the time to correct their favorite celebs — and the results are entertaining and eye-opening. Could it be that Miley Cyrus’s use of grammar is as harmful as all of the other ways she’s influencing a generation that grew up watching “Hannah Montana”?

In the intro to this video, Andrea Baena, a teacher in Brazil, says, “The main point of social media is how fast it is. They’re not worried about their accuracy — they’re more worried about the message. We have celebrities that are not really worried about the language. Concerning education, it’s really bad, because when they see their idols speaking like that, they come to us and say, ‘This is right — he’s American, he’s using it.’ ”

So Red Balloon, an English school in Brazil, asked 8- to 13-year-olds to check and correct their idols’ tweets. You have to admire how well they play the role of grammar cops while also being polite and even complimentary of stars like Charlie Sheen, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Sylvester Stallone, Ashton Kutcher, John Cusack, and so many others. My favorite line is to Miley — “Look, ‘birthday’ has no Fs.”

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What do you think? Snarky or cute? Or both?

Spelling, Grammar, and Your Reputation

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As an English and journalism major in college, I used to test my proofreading skills by trying to find a typo — any typo — as I read The Washington Post. Things have changed a lot since then, and errors in the most prestigious newspaper in the nation’s capital are all too common.

The photo above is from the front page of the Post‘s sports section on Sept. 13. I know the reporters and editors of the sports section know that the Mets play baseball, and the Nets play basketball. The story got it right, but the prominent subhead got it wrong.

Grammar and spelling standards are in sharp decline, for a number of reasons. In the newspaper industry, tight budgets have led to cuts in both reporting and editing positions, meaning that fewer people are churning out content, and fewer people are reviewing that content and correcting errors. This is not a new problem; several years ago, former Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton addressed this problem in a blog post: “I don’t mean to pile on, but copy editing mistakes are among the most frequent complaints to the ombudsman.” He quoted a reader who had written to him: “The quality of copy editing at the paper is abysmal….Is anybody reading what goes on up on the Web site or in the paper?…It diminishes the overall reputation of the paper.”

The quality of newspapers has declined, but the biggest impact on poor grammar is social media, which gives everyone the ability to be a publisher. The same things that make social media so powerful — its immediacy and access — also contributes to lots of bad grammar and spelling.

Which raises the question, does it even matter if people use correct spelling and grammar? Several studies say yes — that your company’s use of language directly affects your reputation. In a July 2013 study, Disruptive Communications found that the use of poor spelling and grammar is the mistake most likely to damage their opinion of a company on social media. Read “What Customers Hate About Social Brands.”

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A friend who knows me too well once gave me a book called I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar. It turns out I’m not the only one.

Online Civility, Part 4: How to Design for Civility

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Photo by stepnout

Part 4 of 4

In a thoughtful essay “How Can Communication Technology Encourage Civility?” on the website Big Questions Online, Derek Powazek examines the question, “What is it about online comments that makes us so awful?”

He reviews a number of studies on this topic, including one from 2006 in which a common room in a workplace had a refrigerator stocked with drinks. People who took a drink were encouraged to make a voluntary donation into an “honesty box.” One set of people had a box with a photo of flowers on it; the second group had a box with a photo of human eyes on it. Even a photo of eyes — the concept of being watched — influenced their behavior. After being monitored for 10 weeks, the people who saw the eyes were nearly three times as likely as the others to make a donation.

Now think about how that applies to the anonymous world of the Internet. But Powazek points out there are ways to make people feel part of a group that’s watching — for example, avatars of other community members who are reading or have read a story online. I think he’s on to something, because there are websites where I feel more or less anonymous, and it definitely affects what I say and how I say it.

This and other studies leads him to conclude that there’s no way to eliminate bad behavior online, but says the people and organizations that who create digital experiences can “design for civility.” Specifically, he says that civility can be improved by doing these things:

  • Use community managers and software to weed out bad apples.
  • Design features to show that people are watching.
  • Make sure the visual design reinforces the interaction with color and shape.
  • And do everything you can to make people feel in control.

What sites do this well, and how are you “designing for civility”?