"xmlns:og="http://opengraphprotocol.org/schema/" xmlns:fb="http://www.facebook.com/2008/fbml" > Donor Squad: November 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Nonprofit Popularity Contest

How social media will make you the cool kid on the block

Many people at charities argue that social media is difficult to measure. True, social media won’t give you hard detailed numbers on your ROI, but what it will do is make you known. How can something that is free, easy to manage, and so accessible be pushed to the back burner? The thing is, it’s really only easy when initially set up correctly. The problem is that people don’t understand how to properly execute Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. The key isn’t about sending out the perfect message, or even having the magic number of friends, fans, or followers. The key is about getting the message of your charity into the hands of the right people. The following is a detailed argument of why this is so vital.

My father once gave me some important advice. Advice that I didn’t buy at the time he said it, but as I have gotten older and have had time to experience and observe the social realm that humans partake in day in and day out, his words of wisdom began to align. It all started when I began my first job as a hostess at the age of sixteen. I was working at this dingy little hole-in-the wall Mexican restaurant and as time passed I took on more and more responsibility. Eventually I was in charge of making the schedule for the hostesses and bussers, what a nightmare. I was shocked at how petty grown adults could be. The gossip and complaining, the favoritism among management and the ease at which some poor new employee was shunned if not immediately accepted by the “cool” employees. They were a though crowd. Frustrated one evening I was venting to my father and I asked, “When will people grow out of living life in a popularity contest?” I told him that I thought that I would escape that shallow cycle when high school ended. Smiling and letting out a slow chuckle, he replied that people never grow out of it. “You will feel like you are in high school for the rest of your life,” he said.

High school. For some it is the great era of awkwardness. Some go day in and day out, trying to figure out just how to be cool. For others, it is the era of opportunity. They are likable. They fall into the popular click easily. And for all the others, well, they are just kind of there. They dress and act in a way that is defined as acceptable, defined by the popular group. They are not overly “cool,” but they do not stand out as a nerd or freak either. They don’t break the invisible code of what is acceptable within that specific high school’s culture.

Think back to your high school year book. Sure, it includes everyone’s name and picture. Everyone is there, but who is in the spotlight? Superlatives anyone? Best hair, best dressed, cutest couple, greatest athlete. These are the hot spots. For these, the entire school gets to vote and everyone decides who is most deserving. More often than not, the biggest nerd is not going to be the prize winner. No, it is going to be one of the trendsetters, one of the popular kids. Sure, the kids in the middle might be worthy, but with any election why waste your vote on someone that is not going to have enough of a following to matter? There are a select few people in every subculture who are the leaders. The system begins this way at grade school, and goes on for all of time.

I quickly realized that the Mexican restaurant wasn’t an outlier to my imaginary hopeful world where people would grow out of the high school mentality, and that my father was right. With each new job I took on, the same environment persisted. I worked at other restaurants, daycares, advertising agencies, and retail. All of them were the same, the popularity contest lives on forever. The success of employee happy hours and overall morale of a business are on the shoulders of the trendsetters, the “popular” people.

This popularity construct can be used to a charity’s advantage. Think about it, people want to know what is new and hot. We want to be part of a group and accepted for who we are. Humans are pack animals and most of them are willing to conform to what is socially defined as “normal” in order to fit in. We want to feel welcomed and loved; it is simply in our nature. Now here is the beauty of it all.

As we established earlier, there are a handful of people who define the rules. In high school they were called the popular kids, as adults they are the trendsetters, and in social media they are the seeds.

If charities sell their idea to the seeds, the organization will grow to become incredibly successful. So while you may not be able to measure exactly how much revenue was brought in from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media avenues, what they will do is make you known. Once you are known, people will pay attention and they will give. They will follow the leader. Now you just need to find the seeds.

Over 500 million people around the world are active on Facebook. Think of the potential.