Spare Change

making a difference with social marketing
by Nedra Kline Weinreich
Over ten years ago, I saw a need among nonprofit and public agency staff for a book that would lead them through the process of developing a social marketing program. So often, health, social and environmental organizations decide they want to apply social marketing to the work that they are doing, but do not have the budget to hire a consultant or marketing firm and still have enough left to carry out the project. I decided to fill that gap in the field, and turned in the first draft of the chapters to the publisher in March 1998, just before my first child was born (it was like giving birth twice in a row!). In June of 1999, my book Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide was published by Sage Publications.

Since then, I've been gratified to find out that my book has been used by people all over the world to create social marketing programs, teach college and grad-level courses, and to overhaul how organizations carry out their activities directed toward positive behavior change. It's always exciting when someone tells me they have used my book and found it helpful.

But this blog post is not about promoting the book. Rather, I'm asking for your help. A lot has happened in social marketing -- and the world in general -- in the ten years since I wrote the book. I'm currently working on the next edition of the book, which will be updating everything that's outdated and changing chapters and worksheets around based on how my own practice has evolved over the course of a decade. I've certainly learned a lot since the book was published, and the field of social marketing has matured as well.

So now I'm reaching out to my target audience (you) to do some research to find out what you would like to see in the next edition. For those of you who have read and used the book, whether as a student or practitioner, please let me know your suggestions. What is most helpful about the book? What didn't work for you in practice, or was confusing? How can I make the book a better resource for you?

And even if you haven't read the book, please let me know what topics you are most interested in learning more about. This is a how-to book, so what parts of the social marketing process do you get stuck in? What topics do you want to know more about? What are the big questions that keep you up at night worrying about your social marketing program? And what would your ideal guidebook look like in terms of format?

Any input that you can give me (either in the comments or via email) would be incredibly helpful in making the ultimate product a book that can help you and others to change the world for good. Thank you in advance!
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I've been watching with interest the evolution of Social Actions, a relatively new service that helps you find things you can do right now for the causes you care about. The site aggregates "actionable opportunities" from 30 different social action-oriented sites like Change.org, Idealist.org, Kiva, DonorsChoose.org and others. With the proliferation of so many cause-related social networking sites, it's helpful to see everything in one place. The Social Actions Labs folks have also been putting together various web applications that help to spread the information farther, such as a widget to put on your website or blog that uses keywords to offer actions related to the topic of the webpage (see left sidebar) and a Twitter "Social Actions PSA feed" you can have post to your own Twitter account daily for your favorite cause.

So when fellow blogger Britt Bravo invited me, along with other nonprofit marketing bloggers, to help her help Social Actions to market and communicate its mission more effectively, I was happy to help. After looking over the website, here are some of my thoughts:
  • The focus needs to be centered on taking action -- that's what the mission is all about. But a look at the home page pulls me in many different directions. If I am a person wondering what I can do about my favorite cause, it should be obvious at a glance how to find that information. It took way too long for me to notice that the small search box at the top left that says "Find an action" is where I should start. The home page should be focused on the search box, with it being as easy to find as the box on Google's search page.
  • Nowhere do I see anything about the specific issues I care about -- just a lot about the features of Social Actions. The key to good marketing is looking at your product and communications from the viewpoint of your audience; answer their question "What's in it for me?" They have made a good start, with using the words "you" and "your" in a couple of places, and providing a menu of options as "I would like to..." Show examples of featured issues and related actions. Let me see what your application does for me, rather than just talking about it.
  • The home page is also missing the heart and emotion of why people come in the first place. They are passionate about getting involved, in making a difference. They don't necessarily care about "increasing the scope and impact of the citizen sector." They want to save a life, rescue the planet, help someone out of poverty... and they want to do it in 5 minutes or less. Emphasize the impact they can have, the ease of participating, and the range of choices they can use to find an action that's just right for them.
  • Even when I select the link that says "I would like to...Find ways to take action," I am confronted with four text-based choices that are still not entirely clear for the person who is just looking for how to help stray cats. The language under the option "Find an action by location, cause or keyword" is far too techie for regular people: "Our mashup aggregates actionable opportunities from 19 social action platforms." How about just "Find an action you can take for your favorite cause"? (And the number of social action platforms listed ranges anywhere from 19 to 30, depending on the page!)
  • Help your users continue to use and spread the word about Social Actions once they have been impressed by the range of action options for their cause. On every search results page, offer an easy-to-find RSS feed so that people can learn about the latest action related to their issue immediately. Offer the code to add a widget to their blog, Facebook profile, or MySpace page with actions on the cause for which they just searched. Add a link that says "Got Twitter?" with instructions on how to use the Social Actions Twitterfeed. Hand it to them rather than making them search your site for these tools.
  • And finally, focus on your mission and whom you are serving. Some of the options on the home page let you look at the nonprofit jobs and internships board, hire a nonprofit consultant, and help foundations develop a micro-philanthropy strategy. Social Actions seems to have a split personality, unsure whether it is serving the individual activist or the nonprofit sector. These two missions can coexist, but not on the same web page. There should be a separate site or section of the existing website for nonprofit professionals or it gets too confusing. Each group has very different communication needs.
I hope that using the Social Actions website as a case study helps you look at your own website with a new eye. Do you have any other suggestions to help Social Actions?

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