Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How to Get the Attenion of 9,000 People in 1 Week or How to Conduct a Successful Online Marketing Campaign in 6 Easy Steps

My esteemed colleauge, William Masson, sent me this story in today's Washington Post. It chronicles the story of how how Devraj Kori (Dave), a 17 year-old from Fairfax County, VA, got the attention of 9,000 people in 1 week.

I hope you'll read the full article but for the sake of time, here's a summary.

Last Thursday, Dave called Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the Fairfax, VA county system AT HOME to ask him why he hadn't closed the schools for a snow day. Dave's call was returned later that day by Mrs. Tistadt who was NOT AT ALL PLEASED by the young man's intrusion. Here is what she said.

"How dare you call us at home! If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody's house and complain about it. Get over it kid and go to school." (Yikes! Actually it's a little more nasty than this but you'll have to check it out yourself here.)

Dave, who I imagine, was NOT AT ALL PLEASED by Mrs. Tistadt response, downloaded her message from his cellphone and posted it as an audio link on Facebook with the message "Let them know what you think about schools not being cancelled!" He also posted The Tistadt's work and home phone numbers. Finally, he ended his "advocacy campaign" by posting Mrs. Tistadt's message on YouTube.

The rest, you might say, is history... Within 24 hours 100's of people had listened to Mrs. Tistadt's message on Facebook and thanks to the viral nature of the Web that number had increased to 9,000 as of yesterday!

It's interesting to note that Dave's "campaign," which started as a plea for an additional snow day (clearly not one of the most urgent issues of our time) has now morphed into much more philosophical debate. Some folks are calling it a clash of the generations, others are debating privacy issues, while still others have applauded Dave for "exercising his First Amendment Rights." Regardless of your take, this story is an EXCELLENT case study of how to use the Internet to achieve your advocacy goals. Specifically, here are the 6 key ingredients for online marketing that are illuminated by this recent "storm."

1) Make sure your campaign is urgent and timely. Dave did not wait weeks (and slog through an ARDUOUS brand approval process) to send out his "appeal." Instead, he uploaded the audio file from his cellphone to YouTube and posted it to Facebook on the same frigid day. The point is that his "campaign" may not have worked so well if he had sent it out a week later and the weather had turned warmer. The story wouldn't have been timely; it would have turned stale.

2) Make your "ask for support" concrete and easy to do. I can't stress enough how important it is to make it EASY and OBVIOUS for people to do what you want them to do. Why? Because people are BUSY! Dave was so smart to pose a question and post two phone numbers on Facebook. That's it! Follow his example. Figure out what your audience can do and ask them to do that ONE thing. I know this can feel frustrating because there is so little time and so much to do in the world. But you can't save the world overnight.

3) Speak in your own voice, in other words be real. I'm not sure why this is the case, but the culture of the Internet is a VERY different beast from the culture of offline media. Specifically, "Web speak" tends to be more informal, more down-to-earth, i.e. more REAL than broadcast communications. Don't make the mistake of using the same voice for both mediums or your campaign may fail. Be sure to be approachable and accessible when you are online.

4) Send your appeal to the right audience. This "rule" is so obvious that it almost seems silly to emphasize but let's face it many of us still forget to "target" our campaigns. ALL successful marketing campaigns require that THE RIGHT PEOPLE receive the right message at the right time. Online marketing campaigns are no different. They only work with people who are also online and facile with "Web 2.0 tools."

5) Use communications vehicles that can easily go "viral." Dave could have created a flyer and taped it to his classmate's lockers to publicize his plight but he didn't which is good because it wouldn't have worked. While "direct mail" appeals may help you spread the word to several hundred folks, by their very nature they are unlikely to go viral. If you want to reach LARGE numbers of people you'll have to use the tools that enable you to do that. Short of buying a $100K spot on broadcast media, the Internet continues to be the highest leverage vehicle for reaching thousands of people overnight.

6) Diversify. Dave used both YouTube and Facebook as "tools" for his campaign. I bet he also "telemarketed," that is called several of his friends to tell his story, and sent out e-mail. This is an important point. Don't be wedded to using one marketing tool alone - diversify. Use traditional and non-traditional media to get out the word. You never know what will drive the most response.

Bonus: Being controversial always helps! Let's face it, who doesn't like a good story or drama, particularly one that is controversial. While I think we all share this trait, younger folks in particular place a high value on "bucking the system." That is in part why "The Truth Campaign" has been so successful. If you want to add a little spice to your markering campaign, make it controversial. This will get people talking and help you spread the word.

I would love your thoughts re: other key ingredients for being successful online. Write me!


Alison said...

I like this story a lot. I think the kid has gumption and absolutely demostrates the viral and influential nature of the Internet and social networking sites - particularly on a grassroots level. However, I have 2 concerns.

1. Being from New England, I find it odd that 3 inches of snow would even create a question about closing school...

2. But on a more serious note, I think you're forgetting about the X factor. Had Mrs. Tisdadt's response not been so abrasive and controversial, this whole exchange would not have made an impact at all. It would not have been interesting enough to put on YouTube or Facebook, nor would the Washington Post, the Today Show or other media outlets have reported on it.

I think Dave's approach to marketing this...campaign, if you will...was exactly on target. But in terms of issues not concerned with precipitation, how do you think they can break through the noise and the din to go viral? What's the X factor?

Jocelyn said...

Hi Alison,

Thanks so much for your comment. I know what you mean, I grew up in Rochester, NY and am always shocked that 3 inches of snow can cause such a storm!

You make a great point re: the X Factor and I agree that it isn't always handed over to a nonprofit this easily. However, while I'm not suggesting that anyone invent controversy to sell their cause, I think we can all do a better job of connecting our causes to current events in order to give them an additional spark.


Alison said...

Cause such a storm - HA!

I definitely agree; relevancy isn't necessarily something that you can create. And what you want to be relevant isn't always what ends up being relevant.

I think there's also something to be said for learning how to maximize what you have that does resonate with people, instead of trying to force something on them. There's a tough balance between the two - something I have not mastered yet.

Side note: I liked your post and our conversation so much, I linked to it on the GlobalGiving blog.

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