Spare Change

making a difference with social marketing
by Nedra Kline Weinreich

When I first read about Twitter last year, I scoffed. Who cares what other people are doing, thinking or eating every waking moment of the day? I don't have time to pay attention to random bits of information or to post my every passing thought. For those of you not up on the latest shiny object to be embraced by the neterati, Twitter is a microblogging application that asks you to answer the question, "What are you doing?" in 140 characters or less. People use it to do everything from detailing the minutiae of their days to engaging in witty banter to promoting their latest blog posts and sharing useful resources.

While I was on my blogging hiatus, I found that I had a lot of thoughts I wanted to share, but no time to put them into a blog post. I decided to try out Twitter on a short-term basis to see if I thought it was worthwhile. After a few days of using it, I was hooked. I found that Twitter was a great way to have ongoing conversations and build relationships with colleagues, get quick answers to questions and get pointers to useful links. It sometimes feels like I'm drinking from a firehose, but I'm learning to identify the people who consistently have the best tweets. I've been on Twitter for a couple of months now (follow me at @Nedra), and I can see many potential applications for organizations promoting health and social issues.

Some of the ways nonprofits and government agencies could use Twitter in their work, along with real examples and ideas, include:
Since Twitter can be used via mobile devices as well as computers, many of the same concepts behind using mobile phones and SMS for social change are applicable as well. In fact, this Friday (2/29) there will be a conference on Texting 4 Health at Stanford focusing on using SMS to improve health behavior. Though it is not explicitly on the agenda, I would hope that they will also be discussing how Twitter can be used to facilitate this approach. Does anyone know if someone will be livetweeting the conference?

Nate Ritter lays out some of the benefits and limitations of using Twitter that you should take into account when determining whether the tool will work for your purposes:
  1. Speed Using twitter, you can very easily publish information more than once per minute. If distribution speed is critical, regardless of the information being distributed, Twitter may be the tool for you.
  2. Non-website (source) based alerts Instant messaging, SMS/text messages on cell phones, RSS/Atom feeds, email alerts, badges/widgets on other sites, and other methods of distribution are available. If your community can’t be tethered to a website for it’s communications, Twitter can provide other methodologies to get that information out to them.
  3. Community publishing There are a few (slightly more technical) ways of aggregating a group of twitterers posts, which means you could have more people — even your community — pitching in to help publish pertinent information.
  1. Only text and links can be posted. No maps. No photos. No videos. Text and links are all you get.
  2. 140 character limit. URLs will get shortened wherever possible, but 140 characters is tough to get used to.
  3. No conversation threading. This can be tough to deal with when you’re used to discussion forums and such. Connecting with your community in this way is almost limited to real-time dialogue, which can limit the conversation’s depth and longevity.
  4. The API has a 70 post per hour limit. Note that from what I could tell, the web UI doesn’t have this limit, but I’m sure they wouldn’t like you posting more than that unless it was an emergency anyway.
For still more ideas on how nonprofits can use (and shouldn't use) Twitter, see NetSquared's Net2ThinkTank round-up.

So, for some, Twitter will always just be a place to tick away the moments that make up a dull day, to fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. For smart social marketers, though, Twitter can be a powerful tool for education and action. How will you use it?

(If you have additional ideas or examples, leave them in the comments and I will add them to the list.)

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While we're talking about celebrities, we can't ignore the ones who
are the examples of what NOT to do. Nearly every day, it seems, there's a new story about a celeb gone wrong: drug and alcohol abuse, drunk driving, "crazy" behaviors, teen pregnancy... It's so easy for them to spiral out of control, and all too often, their addiction or untreated mental illness leads to tragic consequences.

But what about the celebrities who pull themselves out of that downward divebomb, who get into treatment and turn themselves around? They are the ultimate role models -- people who finally admitted they had a problem and put in the hard, painful work to try to get their lives back. What a learning opportunity for regular people who may be going down that same path, though outside of the glare of the cameras. And how important it is to remember that once you take away the paparazzi, the money and the fans, celebrities are just people, and have the same emotional issues as the rest of us (maybe more).

Brian Dyak, President and CEO of the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC), wrote a passionate defense of celebrities who go through rehab on EIC's relatively new blog, Getting Reel About Art and Life (thanks to Melissa Havard for the pointer). He writes:
...But I do have one ax to grind. I’m bugged by a lot of comments I’ve heard—and articles I’ve read—about celebrities going into rehab.

With 25 years of experience bridging the entertainment and health industries, I am uniquely qualified to respond to the finger-pointing, poking, prodding, lens clicking and tittering that surround celebrity rehab.

And I’ve got something to say.

First and foremost, the celebrity rehab we read about is not a joke for people’s amusement. Thanks to our newly tabloid-driven pop culture, we—and our children—have unprecedented access to what addiction and mental illness look like. Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan and over two dozen other people gained headlines in 2007 for entering addiction recovery centers.

These are lives at risk, out of control, not jokes, and not reality television shows taking place on the streets of Hollywood for public amusement. If we pay attention, we can see complex stories unfolding before our eyes. One of EIC’s primary principles is to be non-judgmental and respect creative freedom afforded in our great nation. For those who judge mental health, making judgment on these people’s lives, I ask:

Who the hell are you?

Do you think you are better than these people? Stronger? Smarter?

Give me a break.

Addiction and mental health issues affect every cross-section of our population. If you’re laughing now at Britney Spears, will you be laughing in five or ten years when, heaven forbid, your niece, uncle, sister, brother, even your mother or your own son or daughter loses control of his or her life? Will it be funny then?

This new access to the private lives of celebrities who face constant scrutiny and challenges unimaginable by most people—and is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it exposes us to the waking nightmare that losing control of one’s life can be, but on the other hand, it has opened dialogue about addiction and mental illness that has, until now, been hush-hush. While I, like most of America, am truly worried about Britney Spears’s health and safety, I am glad to say I have witnessed a national shift from bemused fascination with her spontaneous antics to recognition of her condition as critically ill, and a new awareness of the real point of rehabilitation: to get better.

VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, A&E’s Intervention, HBO’s Rehab—these are important, revolutionary shows that serve the public in a unique and valuable way. The insights just might help someone, and that is good.

Taking steps to fight and beat the struggles that come along with addiction, being self honest with oneself and ideally healthier is a process not unlike walking through a maze blindfolded. And the good news is, a whole lot of folks find a valuable piece of themselves that they never knew existed in the process. Some make it to the betterment of their own lives, the lives of families, friends, and society.

So the next time you get a peek into the lives of Britney, Lindsay, Mel Gibson, Kirsten Dunst, Pat O’Brien, Eva Mendes, Marc Jacobs, Jesse Mefcalfe, Eddie Van Halen, Amy Winehouse and others, be thankful for what you’ve got and respect them for seeking help rather than looking down on them for having real problems. If their stories make you query your own actions, consider following their good example and ask for help. Thanks to new public attention to the recovery process, which can include relapses, we must stop mocking and start understanding...
Well said.

Graphic Credit: Nazaret

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It's a sad fact of life that celebrities generally command more attention and adulation than we mere mortals. For better or worse, things that come out of their mouths have more clout (at least among certain audiences) than if we were to say them ourselves, despite our obvious intelligence, talent and impressive job titles. So, the question is how to help celebrities use that clout for good and not just to sell movies.

Andre Blackman pointed me to a video (above) just posted of an interview with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, who is visiting Ghana right now to help the organization Malaria No More. From what I could tell, she is a perfect spokesperson. She's articulate, knows her stuff about the topic, is enthusiastic for the cause, is timely (she is the most recent AI winner), and creates an emotional connection with the importance of the work MNM does.

Last week, I attended a panel discussion sponsored by PIRATES (The Print, Interactive, Radio & Television Educational Society) on how Hollywood and celebrities can be a force for good. Panelists included David Michaels, who produces, among other things, the Ribbon of Hope Awards honoring television programming on AIDS; Marcy De Veaux, who consults with media companies on diversity-related issues; and Alison Arngrim, who was the epitome of nastiness for my generation as Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie, but who has redeemed herself as a committed advocate on behalf of people with AIDS, abused children and others.

Some of the key points that were made by the panelists include:
  • It's simply a fact that celebrities wield the power. Alison recounted how she was asked to appear on Larry King to talk about legislation she was advocating. When she offered to bring along experts working on the campaign with her, the show's producer immediately quashed the idea, saying, "And what show were they on?"
  • Sometimes you bring the cameras to the cause with the celebrities, or you bring the cameras to the celebrities with the cause -- both are okay and can help you achieve your goals.
  • There are "good celebrities" -- who understand why it's important to help your cause and want to get involved -- and "bad celebrities" -- who are there because their publicist told them to go. But again, both can bring you publicity.
  • If you can convince a publicist of the merit of your cause, he or she may be able to deliver their whole stable of celebrity clients, in addition to the one you were originally trying to get.
  • Look for people who have been personally affected by your issue to serve as your spokespeople. For example, the actor Peter Gallagher got involved with an Alzheimers organization because his mother had the disease.
  • If you bring on a celebrity, make sure he or she is prepared to talk intelligently about your issue. At the very least, provide an index card with key bullet points about your organization and issue.
  • If your issue is controversial in any way, your celebrity needs to be prepared to answer questions about whether they are affected by the issue personally. As Alison spoke out about AIDS after the actor who played her TV husband died from the disease, she was continually asked whether she also had AIDS. When she was advocating for legislation to help abused children, she was asked directly whether she had been abused herself (turns out she had, and decided to talk about it publicly at that point).
  • Looking for someone to be your organization's main celebrity spokesperson -- as opposed to showing up at a one-time event -- is a "headhunting operation." You need to make sure there is a good fit between the person and the organization.
  • Don't use a guilt trip to convince a celebrity to get involved. Frame it in terms of hope, focusing on the good that person can do and what a great experience it will be. And of course, what's in it for them?
And how do you get in touch with the celebrity you have decided would be perfect for your organization? You can find information on who represents that person on IMDb Pro (has a monthly fee) or by calling the Screen Actors Guild, which has a service that will provide you with the name of the PR rep for the person you're looking for. You will receive the most help from the celebrity's manager or publicist, not the agent.

Working with celebrities is not always easy, but the payoff can be big. Think carefully about whether it fits with your strategy and audience. And if it does, give it a try.

For another perspective on this issue, check out this older post from Citizen Brand that was so good I've been saving it until I could use it. And I just learned from Stephen Dann that dead celebrities can also be spokespeople so don't discount someone just because they can't actually talk anymore.

Related Posts from Spare Change:
Celebrity Love/Hate
Who Asked Them? Unwanted Celebrity Spokespeople

UPDATE (2/22/08): I just came across this blog from Do Something called CelebsGoneGood. It highlights the good things that celebrities are doing or talking about, and could be a great source for finding out which celebs are interested in which types of causes. And it's just good to see good news about celebrities for a change.

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With all of the blogs and news sources out there, which are the ones that you rely upon most to get information for and about nonprofits? I know my favorites (see my blogroll in the sidebar), but what are the feeds you check every day? You can leave your top picks in the comments here, or give me your fab five on this quick survey form (no names necessary). I'll provide more info next week on the exciting way these results are going to be used.

Photo Credit: elekesmagdi
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Awareness of this problem is high among the target audience, but do they know that a vaccine is now available? Hope you have a happy and cootie-free Valentine's Day.

(If you are an RSS subscriber and don't see the video, click through to the blog or to YouTube.)
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This week's Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants is brought to you by the letters M and F: M for marketing and F for fundraising. They are two sides of the same coin, using similar tools to reach different goals.
Jeff Brooks at Donor Power Blog says we need to give the people what they want, by creating high expectations of what the giving experience should be and meeting those expectations.

Alexandra Rampy at SocialButterfly ponders the question of whether 'nonprofit' is a brand or merely the description of an organization's tax status.

Paul Jones at Cause-Related Marketing thinks it doesn't matter whether corporations feel the love when they give, as long as they give.

Beth Dunn at Small Dots makes the case that interactive marketing is recession-proof and therefore ideal for nonprofits, who often face tough times financially, recession or no recession.

Joshua Karlin at Marketing & Fundraising Ideas suggests that the way to get major gifts for your nonprofit is to ask for them. Pretty basic, but not easy.

Jason Dick at A Small Change notes that the way to find those potential donors to ask is to listen to them through research.

Jim Logan at Accelerate Business Group provides insight on how to build loyalty and generate repeat customers, which is definitely applicable to nonprofits though written for a more general audience.
Next week the Carnival will be at Giving in a Digital World, with the theme of "Creating and developing online supporter communities through Web 2.0." If you would like to participate in the Carnival, submit your related blog post by next Sunday (2/17) via the BlogCarnival form.
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