Spare Change

making a difference with social marketing
by Nedra Kline Weinreich
Last week, I finally had an opportunity to meet in person my longtime blog friend Rohit Bhargava, who writes the Influential Marketing Blog. I was excited to get to see the cover of his new book, Personality Not Included, though there were still a few more days until the actual book was set to be published and released. (I love that wind-up chicken with 'tude!)

To celebrate the launch of the book, Rohit decided to put himself through a grueling virtual book tour, answering five questions each from over 50 bloggers within a couple of days. He even promised that he wouldn't be cutting and pasting responses, so each interview is different (here is the list with links to each interview).

Without further ado, here is my interview with Rohit:
What are the differences between an individual's personality and that of an organization?

This is a really good question and one that I spend a part of Chapter 1 focusing on. The main reason is that we all have a shared idea of what individual personality means. It usually relates to a four letter rating from a test like Meyers-Briggs, and conjures up images of multiple choices test online. The personality of an organization is something that I try to define as much deeper. It is the unique, authentic and talkable soul of a company.

How does an organization go about creating a personality for itself?

You're really asking the right questions here! This, to a degree is what the whole book is about. A quick snapshot of steps basically comes from my overall outline of the book:

Step 1 - Understand why organizations lose their personality
Step 2 - Look at your accidental spokespeople to see who speaks for your brand
Step 3 - Define your personality using a formula from the book
Step 4 - Create and tell your backstory
Step 5 - Overcome the barriers or roadblocks
Step 6 - Find and use your personality moments

There are other lessons in there, but that's the snapshot view.

Are there special considerations that nonprofits and government agencies need to think about when cultivating their personalities?

Of course, I think that regulations may make it seem more difficult to do things when it comes to being a government entity - but ultimately the barriers to personality come down to the same thing ... fear. It is the topic that I cover in Chapter 5 - how to overcome the different types of fear and have a personality. The one thing I might add to my list that I share in the book that is common in government is the idea of ego. This not a negative term, as many might suppose, but rather the idea that there are a lot of dedicated government workers that are trying to make a name for themselves because they may have political or career aspirations. It is a key factor that many government agencies may need to take into account when finding a way to cultivate their personalities.

What are some good examples of nonprofits or government agencies that have developed a personality for themselves?

There are a few great examples in the book, but one that I am a big personal fan of is They have been one of the pioneering groups in microfinance and have also built a large following of dedicated givers because of the way that they manage to portray their brand and let their team members share their passion with the world.

What are some examples of negative nonprofit or government agency personalities, and how might they turn that around for themselves?

Good question - I think the government agencies with the lowest public perception are the ones that you might expect - eg, the IRS. How could the IRS use personality? How about taking an approach similar to what Intuit did with their popular TurboTax solution by letting people answer each other's questions in a real time collaborative online help system? Personality is all about having a human voice and trying to avoid becoming a bureaucracy. Perhaps the better questions is which government agencies couldn't use personality? They all could.
Thanks so much to Rohit for sharing his insights. You can download the introduction to Personality Not Included for a preview of what you can expect from the book. Is it time for you to think about your organization's personality?
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The elusive holy grail of social media marketing is figuring out how to measure the nebulous concept of "engagement." Evaluating our online efforts is even harder for social marketers because we don't have the eventual sales figures to prove that they led to any changes in behavior among our audience. Before online marketing became a two-way street, way back when people would simply read information posted on a website, we could easily track things like unique visitors, page views and recency of visit. Now that the people we are talking to can talk back to us, we need to think about how to capture the value of conversations, interactions, and social networking.

I happened to see a comment on Twitter that led me to a blog post by John Johansen titled Engagement = Ingagement + Outgagement. Before I read the post, the title alone got me thinking in a new way about the concept. Turns out that John went in a different direction with the meanings of the terms than I did, so let's just focus on the equation itself.

I see "ingagement" and "outgagement" as being similar to the ideas of inputs and outputs. "Ingagement" would refer to the marketing activities from your organization to which a particular person is exposed. That would include your website, blog, Twitter activity, emails, advertisements, etc. If someone is interested and paying attention to what you have to say, that's a prerequisite to being engaged with your organization or issue.

"Outgagement" is the response from that person to your inputs. Does he or she leave a comment responding to your blog post, subscribe to your feed, engage in a conversation with you on Twitter, join your Facebook group, tell friends about your issue? Even better, but often not measurable through online indicators, is whether they actually adopt the behavior that you are promoting.

The outgagement is much less likely to happen unless there is some ingagement, and when both occur together, in an interactive way, we get "engagement." Engagement can affect things like knowledge, attitudes and behaviors (though it could happen in either a positive or negative direction, depending upon the nature of the interactions). Even for commercial marketers, it's not always easy to make a direct correlation between social media activities and increases in sales. Mike Kujawski gives some ideas on how to measure return on investment from your public sector/nonprofit online activities.

Generating engagement is not always simple, but it's also not differential calculus. It boils down to giving people a reason to pay attention to your message and a way to interact with your issue or organization. And then it will all add up.

Photo Credit: Chris Inside

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Apparently this has been circulating via email and web for a while, but new to me (origin unknown). Thanks to Nancy Lee for passing along this social marketing branding inspiration.

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Here's proof that I wasn't crazy this morning when I got the Twitter domain parking page, and then when I tried to respond to a comment on my blog got an error message for Blogger that said that "Services for this domain have been discontinued." (Sorry for the size/blurriness of screen shots - don't know why they turned out that way.) I figured it was a sign of the Internet apocalypse, with hackers taking out vast swaths of our social media landscape. Turns out I was wrong, and that I seem to be the only one with these wacky pages. Blogger seems to have worked itself out, but Twitter keeps going in and out for me in a different way than its usual hiccups. Does anyone have an explanation for this weirdness that seems to only affect me? (I set myself up for that one, didn't I?)

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Richard reposted a link to this post I wrote last year and it reminded me how much I liked it. I'm reposting it as well in honor of Daylight Savings Time starting tonight, since many of my readers may not have seen it the first time around...

Richard Kearns, the poet-activist at, writes about two issues that at first seem entirely unrelated: the CDC's description of AIDS, and the designation of Daylight Saving Time. After his requisite lovely poem, he writes:
seventeen years ago i belonged to a la-based gay men’s HIV-positive ASYMPTOMATIC support group. ASYMPTOMATIC was the functional word: it distanced us as far as we could get from AIDS. it was having it without having it. fear and shame and stigma captured in a moment of language.

had a love there whom i’ll call jerry, a blonde, blue-eyed hunk with fifty-two t-cells and a kiss that kept me alive. fifty-two t-cells made him happy. fifty was the cutoff. he didn’t have AIDS. he was ASYMPTOMATIC. he felt fine. he felt more than fine. i must agree he felt more than fine.

then came the day.

in an effort to make federal funding available to the shockingly growing national population of HIV-infected individuals, the us center for disease control (cdc) revised its AIDS “portrait” to include — among other things — persons with fewer than 200 t-4-cells. the cdc made this announcement on a monday. our support group met on tuesdays.

jerry came to the meeting in tears.

last week, he’d been free as a bee can fly, an HIV-positive ASYMPTOMATIC person. this week, he had AIDS. nothing else had changed. and everything.

that was the day jerry began to die. i will simplify the rest of his story and tell you he lasted about another year.

Later, Richard talks about the concept and history of Daylight Saving Time:

the us law by which we turn our clock forward in the spring and back in the fall is known as the uniform time act of 1966. the law does not require that anyone observe daylight saving time; all the law says is that if we are going to observe dst, it must be done uniformly.

while it’s not new to our lifetimes, the notion of dst has been around for most of this century and earlier. in the tradition of divinely-appointed kings who could not halt the tides by their bidding, it is an idea new with democracy, itself an exercise in social justice: an informed constituency can command the sun’s passage...

a democracy can command the time, it can alter the fall of daylight.

The implicit point that Richard makes with this juxtaposition of concepts is that definitions are powerful. The words we use to describe something can mean the difference between health and disease, between light and darkness. Jerry's health status was exactly the same before and after the CDC's pronouncement, but the new definition of a healthy t-cell count was essentially a death sentence. The sun is still in the same position in the sky as it would have been, whether we call it 6:00 or 7:00, but we can delay nighttime simply by changing the declared time.

Giving a name to something can also change its essence and give us power over it. People who were once thought to be getting senile as part of normal aging are now known to have Alzheimer's Disease. Someone who hears nonexistent voices is not crazy but suffering from schizophrenia. Kids who once might just have been considered eccentric may now be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

Beyond identifying and naming real patterns of phenomena, we can also use changes in definitions to reposition something that might be considered negative into a positive. I remember a handout I received once from a parenting workshop that showed how we could reframe what might be perceived as a negative trait in our children as a positive: so kids went from being "stubborn" to being "persistent," "anxious" to "cautious," "aggressive" to "assertive," the quiet child is "thoughtful" and the chatterbox is "highly verbal." All these characteristics that might drive parents crazy when the children are young could lead to future success as an adult if directed appropriately. Therapists often use this technique of relabeling negative characteristics to reflect an underlying strength and building on that in a positive way.

Conversely, smoking went from something that was a symbol of coolness to being a proxy for the tobacco industry's desire to enslave teens in a lifelong addiction. Bronzed skin went from being a "healthy tan" to "sun damage." The current battle over the definition of marriage is another example of the power of semantics to affect people's everyday lives.

Words and their socially agreed-upon definitions often have implications beyond the dictionary. We can try to change those meanings through social marketing and harness the power of words to bring about positive health or social change.

Photo Credit: wiccked
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I drove behind a car yesterday that made me wish I had my camera with me. It was a city parking enforcement vehicle, sporting bumper stickers like those I've often seen on other municipal vehicles such as police cars and utility trucks. But this one took it to another level. Plastered across its bumper were stickers that said:
  • DARE to Keep Kids Off Drugs
  • There's No Excuse for Domestic Violence
  • Don't Drink and Drive (or something to that effect)
and the kicker, delivered entirely straight-faced:
  • Keep Your Eyes on the Road.
This got me thinking about bumper stickers, as well as the context in which our messages may be seen. Bumper stickers are about as low-tech as you can get, but they're not going away. I'm always amazed that people are willing to put a semi-permanent adhesive slogan on their otherwise unblemished car, especially when it's for a political campaign that's of a limited duration. That takes commitment.

And that commitment is there because the bumper stickers people choose to put on their cars are firmly tied up with issues related to their identity. Cars are often an extension of our personality, and a bumper sticker extends that even farther beyond the automotive brand to get at our core values. That's why so many bumper stickers are political or cause-related. They can reflect the personality and values of the car's owner, whether idealistic ("Visualize World Peace"), witty ("Visualize Whirled Peas") or obnoxious ("F-- World Peace, Visualize Using Your Turn Signals"). Bumper stickers can also become a shorthand marker for being part of a "tribe" -- such as the rainbow symbol, the ichthys "Jesus fish," or the Darwin fish.

From "Save the Whales" to "Love Animals, Don't Eat Them" up to the current "Coexist" (with the letters made from symbols of different religions), bumper stickers have been used as part of cause-related communication and marketing campaigns over many years. Some merely promote the name and tagline of a nonprofit organization, while others try to change attitudes and behaviors.

Here are a few tips for using bumper stickers for your issue:
  • Make your words count. Like a billboard, you only have a small number of words to get your point across. Unlike a billboard, you don't have space for graphics and need to rely on the words to convey the idea without visuals. Make sure your message is clear and succinct, and make it memorable. The best bumper stickers make you laugh and then think.

  • Make it visible. The worst bumper stickers make you squint and mutter, "What does that say?" as you drive by. Use high-contrast dark lettering on light colors or light lettering on a dark background. Don't try to fit so many words on the sticker that you have to use a small font.

  • Make it ubiquitous. Figure out ways to encourage your supporters to put the bumper stickers on their cars. Give them away, provide incentives, pay college students to stick them around, use window clings if a sticker is too permanent for them... The more people see your bumper sticker, the more it will provide confirmation that support for your cause is socially acceptable and desirable.

  • Make it a social object. Bumper stickers can be conversation starters or a way for people to identify common interests. In junior high, a KLOS bumper sticker on our Pee-Chee folders was a coveted status symbol designating that we were cool enough to listen to that radio station.

  • Make it build curiosity. Drive around the US enough, and you will eventually see a car sporting a bumper sticker that says, "Where the heck is Wall Drug?" If you don't know the answer, the more you see cars with that sticker, the more it will continue to irritate those three neurons in the back of your brain devoted to the idea of Wall Drug. If you ever have the opportunity to find out the answer, you will do so just to satisfy that nagging curiosity. (Here in California, I often see bumper stickers that say, "I saw the Mystery Spot." Similar idea.) Ask a question. Make people wonder about the answer.

  • Make it special. If your bumper sticker is one of 20 (or even four) covering the back of someone's car, the message will be diluted (see the photo above). For more impact, your bumper sticker should be the only one on the car. Encourage your supporters to get rid of extraneous stickers so that yours will stand out.
Pundits often decry politicians' use of "bumper sticker solutions" to tackle tough issues. While bumper stickers may not actually lead to world peace (or whirled peas, for that matter), they can be an effective way of building awareness of your cause and perhaps getting people to think about it in a new way.

UPDATE: Rob adds a couple more excellent tips in the comments:
  • Make it memorable. A message that's genuinely funny, for instance will stick to more than just bumpers; it will be something people remember, even repeat to their friends. And that can magnify its impact tremendously.
  • Think about the stickee. When someone slaps a sticker on their bumper, it isn't just to say something about their cause; they're taking on a little piece of your identity as their own. What does sporting this bumper sticker say about your supporter? How can you make that statement as appealing as possible?

Photo Credit: stephyfullofgrace

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Do you have a huge number of blog and news feeds in your feedreader that you can't possibly keep up with on a daily basis? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, have you resisted deciphering those three little letters, RSS, and continue to check your bookmarked links regularly to see if your favorite web pages have updated?

Now there is a new -- and incredibly simple -- solution. Guy Kawasaki, whom I used to read in Macworld Magazine when he was the original brand evangelist, recently started a new network of websites called Based on the popurls model, the sites -- each focusing on a specific topic -- show the latest five posts from a wide range of news sources and blogs covering that topic, all on one page. Topics include celebrities, health, "green," social media, small business and many others.

I suggested to Guy that he create a "nonprofit" topic and worked with him to identify news and blog feeds that should be included. And that's how was born.

Like a smorgasbord, you can eat as much or as little as you want. Scan the headlines to see what looks good. Hover the mouse over a headline to get a taste of the full text. Or click on an item that looks especially yummy and go to the original site to eat the whole thing. Maybe you'll even discover some new sites you didn't know about before.

Photo Credit: WhatCouldPossiblyGoWrong?

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