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Nonprofits, Social Media, and the Gamification of Fundraising

Like organizations in all sectors of the economy, nonprofit organizations have delved into social media/networks over the past decade.  They have faced many of the same issues in these areas, such as “What sites work for us?” and “What is our social media identity?”  But nonprofits face their own unique challenges and opportunities in social media as compared to standard for-profit companies.  This project will explore a few of those, with an emphasis on the one that effects the organization most directly: fundraising.

An observation that I’ve made in following nonprofits is that they seem to be given a bit more leeway on the social media “rules” that most other companies are held to.   I wrote a blog a couple of months ago with recommendations to companies on Twitter best practices.  Rules that I came up with included “Give us some value” and “Give us a discussion.”  These are still important for nonprofits, but I would argue that they’re not as make-or-break as they are for other companies.  For example, if a company uses Twitter solely for blatantly marketing a product without giving their followers any other type of value, their social media strategy will fail.  But nonprofits are seen as having a more selfless aim, and thus people seem to be willing to listen even if all they’re doing is blatantly marketing themselves and their goals.  However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way to do things.  I’m sure many of us have gotten tweets or even e-mails (how passé!) from the Clinton Global Initiative with offers to win a dinner with Bill Clinton or Chelsea.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation does even better in the “Give us some value” department with their Twitter feed.  They often tweet out links to webinars and videos of talks related to the areas of work that they do, or pictures from developing countries where they’re doing work.  This is all content that their followers would find valuable, and does a great job of tying people in to their feed.  It’s one of my favorites to follow.

Another benefit that nonprofits find on social media, and one of the most obvious, is that it presents something of a level playing field in terms of getting their message out.  Social media sites are usually free to use, so used wisely, they can be a great alternative to paid marketing where nonprofits often face a disadvantage.  But this leads me to wonder: does any of this lead to fundraising?  This benefit can be difficult to quantify, so Blackbaud, Inc., the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) and Common Knowledge last month released a report that attempted to do just that.  They surveyed over 3,500 nonprofits in this 4th annual edition of the report to gather information on many aspects of their social media use. [i]

The first observation I’ll make is that even though social media is free to use, there are still costs for an organization when it comes to gaining influence.  The nonprofits surveyed report that on average, it costs them about $3.50 to gain a Facebook like, and $2.05 to gain a Twitter follower.[ii]  This could include costs such as social media personnel, original content, and the like.  Organizations also claimed, however, to incur serious value from this influence.  Looking at Facebook likes in particular, the organizations claimed that after 12 months, the value of one Facebook like was on average $214.81!  It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the organizations get a Facebook like and have $215 extra on the books in a year.  That value could come from a number of sources such as costs saved that otherwise would have gone to traditional advertising, or even just awareness of the organization and its mission, which for many nonprofits is half the battle.  But do these numbers reflect fundraising?

Not really.  Before researching this project I would have assumed that nonprofits on social media would be primarily concerned with fundraising, but not only do these particular numbers not reflect direct fundraising, most nonprofits aren’t using social media for fundraising of any kind.  The chart below illustrates responses to the question “Which of the following best describes the role or purpose of your commercial social networking community/ies? Select all that apply.”[iii]  Marketing is far and away the most common answer that the organizations listed at 93%, with Fundraising coming in a distant second at just 55%.  But the important thing to note is that the question asked “select all that apply.”  That means that 45% of organizations didn’t see fundraising as a purpose of their social media use in any way.  This is far from what I would have expected.

If that statistic was striking to me, this next one was unbelievable.  In the table below, organizations were asked “Are you fundraising – directly soliciting donations or memberships – on each commercial social network?”  Overwhelmingly, for each social media platform, the answer is “Not Fundraising.”  Twitter has the lowest number that report not fundraising, and it’s still at 83%.

This all leads to one of the biggest disadvantages that nonprofits face in social media (and in regular media, really).  If a for-profit company effectively gets their message out there via Twitter, it will probably lead to their desired result: more sales.  But if a nonprofit effectively gets their message out it may lead to more awareness, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to their desired end result: more fundraising.  This is because where consumers are buying a product, it’s easy for them to see “what’s in it for me?”  That’s far less clear in deciding to donate to a nonprofit.  The consumer lacks that incentive to part with their money.

So in general, it looks like most nonprofits haven’t figured out how to effectively fundraise on social media.  But there are some success stories, and their tactics seem to be pointing in a common direction for fundraising best practices.

Kintera is a service that has been around for years now, and I have used it personally many times in fundraising for the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. [iv]  It’s a platform that I hadn’t associated with social media before this research, but it allows individuals to start a personal profile listing their goals, raise money directly to that site, and even form team pages where groups can combine their efforts for a single event such as a walk or ride for a particular disease.  It also gives a simple platform to link to in other social media (I’ve used both Facebook and Twitter) and solicit donations from contacts there.  These types of events have always incorporated the genius of crowdsourcing by convincing participants to do their fundraising for them, but platforms like Kintera really go a step further by leveraging the participants’ networks, who in turn could forward the link, and on and on.  It beats the pants off of passing around a sign-up sheet at the office.

Interestingly, Kintera was acquired in 2008 by Blackbaud Inc., one of the main architects of the Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report referenced above.[v]

***Update*** On May 7, 2012 Blackbaud also announced that it had completed an acquisition of its competitor Convio Inc., a “leading provider of on-demand constituent engagement solutions” such as online social marketing.[vi]  As of this writing, Blackbaud has spent roughly $755 million in the recent acquisitions of Target Analytics, Kintera, eTapestry and Convio.[vii]  It would appear that Blackbaud is attempting to strengthen their offerings in social marketing and social media, as their current offering, Blackbaud Social, seems to focus more on in-house social networks with limited outreach to Facebook and Twitter.[viii]

While Blackbaud is acquiring its way into being the one stop overall solution center for nonprofits, Razoo is a more focused organization that is currently at the forefront of social giving and fundraising.  Like Kintera it offers fundraisers (both organizations and individuals) a platform for soliciting donations with their “Donation Widget,” but Razoo takes things further, and decidedly more social.  They enable fundraising on the Donation Widget, but also fundraising directly from your Facebook page, which 98% of nonprofits currently don’t do at all according to Blackbaud’s own Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report.iii

Razoo goes even further than this however, and I believe that their most important contribution is in novel methods of organizing supporters and creating incentives.  I mentioned above how nonprofits face a real challenge in creating incentives for people to donate to their organizations.  It’s difficult to influence people’s behavior when they can’t see “what’s in it for me?”  The WIIFM in donating to a nonprofit is usually pretty vague, and it has to do with a feeling of social responsibility and feeling good about helping others.  But outside of a small number of very socially conscious people, it’s a difficult task to create that feeling, and thus an incentive to give.


In Seth Priebatsch’s talk, “The Game Layer on Top of the World,” he talks about how gaming dynamics can be used to influence behavior and create incentives that aren’t necessarily tied to someone’s obvious and immediate self interests besides the rather primal feeling of gratification that games tend to give.[ix]  Razoo is currently involved in the gamification of nonprofit fundraising, and it has the possibility to create incentives, or the WIIFM that nonprofits have struggled to create for years.  Priebatsch describes four gaming dynamics that can be powerful influencers of behavior.

Appointment Dynamic:

You just have to show up in the right place at the right time to win.  Examples are happy hour, watering crops in Farmville, and he brings up potential uses such as influencing people to take their medicine at the right times.

Influence and Status:

In these games, certain behavior or attributes are viewed as imparting a higher status.  Examples include platinum or black credit cards, and certain armor or medals in video games.

Progression Dynamic:

This is where success is displayed and measured throughout a process to influence the completion of certain tasks.  The example given is the LinkedIn profile completion status bar.

Communal Discovery:

This dynamic requires that everyone work together to achieve some task or solve a problem.  An example is the DARPA balloon challenge, in which participants offered shares of the reward and created a nationwide network to find the hidden balloons all over the country.ix

Razoo has planned a competitive giving event that they’re calling “Twive and Receive”.  On June 14, 2012, this is a 24 hour event challenges groups from different cities to raise money for their favorite local nonprofits.[x]  The teams will compete to see who can raise the most money for their chosen nonprofit, and who will claim a share of the $30,000 prize pool for the top three teams ($15,000, $10,000, and $5,000 respectively).  It’s up to the leaders of each team to leverage their social media influence to fundraise directly online (mostly on Twitter, but also on Facebook and even blogs and Pinterest).

This nation-wide contest is a big step up from Razoo’s previous effort based solely in Washington D.C., “Give to the Max Day,” in which competitors in that city alone raised over $2 Million.[xi]  Based on that evidence alone, I would expect Twive and Receive to be a huge success, but it also brilliantly leverages the gaming dynamics that Seth Priebatsch discussed in his TED talk.  For example, the competition is only 24 hours, so you can’t win unless you show up at the exact right time.  There’s even a clock on Razoo’s website counting down to the start of the game.  This is a clear example of the Appointment Dynamic.

The competition cleverly makes teams form within individual cities.  This creates community pride and fosters a desire to see your city rise above the rest, leveraging the Influence and Status Dynamic.

To take advantage of the Progression Dynamic, Razoo has created a smart phone app that allows you to check your individual and team fundraising totals.  These thermometer type indicators have the same effect as the LinkedIn progress bar, telling you that there is a goal, and you’re almost there, and encouraging more fundraising.

Communal Discovery is the clearest, and possibly the most powerful dynamic used in Twive and Receive.  The competition has given participants months to get creative and create an online community that’s ready to flood the fundraising gates as soon as the hour arrives on June 14.  Similar to the idea behind the DARPA Balloon Challenge, they’re throwing a challenge out there and allowing crowdsourcing to figure out the best ways to fundraise through social media.

Besides the obvious benefits to the nonprofits, I believe that the best outcome of the competition will be the solutions that savvy competitors from across the country devise to more effectively fundraise through social media channels.  It’s unfortunate that this project is due before the competition, because the results would make an interesting project in themselves.  Is gamification the holy grail of fundraising?  Will the 5th Annual Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report show vastly different social media fundraising numbers based on innovations like this?  I believe that they will.  Maybe next year’s numbers won’t be quite earth shattering, but I expect that the rate of fundraising through social media will grow exponentially in the next decade.  If I could sum it up better than Seth Priebatsch did, I would.  But if you can’t say it better, use the quote, “Last decade was the decade of social. This next decade is the decade of games. We use game dynamics to build on it… We can influence behavior.  It is very powerful.  It is very exciting.  Let’s all build it together, let’s do it well and have fun playing.”ix


[i] “Nonprofit Investment in Social Networks and Membership Continue to Grow” Market Watch, The Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2012

[ii] Barry, Frank “2012 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report [INFOGRAPHIC]” Net Wits Think Tank, Blackbaud, April 3, 2012

[iii] “4th Annual Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report” ©2012 Common Knowledge,

[iv] 2012 Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, website by Kintera

[v] Hall, Holly “Blackbaud Software Company Buys a Struggling Competitor” The Chronicle of Philanthropy May 29, 2008

[vi] “Blackbaud Completes Acquisition of Convio” press release from Blackbaud inc. vie Market Watch, The Wall St. Journal;  May 7, 2012

[vii] “Blackbaud and Convio Now Operating As One” The Non Profit Times May 7, 2012

[viii] “Blackbaud Social > Overview” Blackbaud inc.

[ix] Priebatsch, Seth “The Game Layer on Top of the World” TEDx – Boston, MA July 2010

[x] “Twive and Receive 2012” Razoo Giving,

[xi] Mueller, Ken “Non-profits and Social Media: Fundraising Campaigns Where Everyone Wins” Business 2 Community March 31, 2012


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Final Thoughts on #MI621

When you talk so much about a topic as new and rapidly-developing as social media, the most exciting things are not necessarily the technologies that already exist, but rather the possibilities in the next few years.  And the two areas that struck me as having the most possibility over the course of the semester were crowd sourcing and location based services.

Crowd sourcing is so compelling because it makes full use of the hyper-connectivity that the internet has always provided.  Projects that would have been impossible 20 years ago can be accomplished with speed, accuracy, and at relatively low cost (sometimes none!)  It speaks volumes that people are willing to put so much effort into crowd sourced projects for no pay, for example Wikipedia authors, or the people who jumped at a chance to make Super Bowl commercials for Doritos.  These projects both serve a need, and serve people’s desire to just be heard, or to be validated, or share what they’re capable of.  It’s really a very powerful phenomenon that has only recently become possible, and I think it has potential to do great things in the near future.

Location based services are quickly finding their way into almost everything we do with our mobile devices.  It’s hard to find an app that doesn’t somehow use your location, or at least ask to.  Many people find this a little creepy, and that’s understandable, but as long as privacy standards remain clear, user-friendly, and responsible, this is another area that has huge potential.  Need a place to eat, a train station, or a police station?  Just search.  Can’t find your friend in a crowded city?  Drop a pin in the map and text it over.  And these are just the most basic location-based services.  Pretty soon you’ll be able to walk down Newbury St. and receive all the best deals on your phone from each store as you pass by.  Find that annoying?  Turn it off (there’s the user-friendly part).  There are also implications for safety that are just being realized with “Find my Phone,” “Find my Friends,” and other GPS tracking technologies.  If I could tell you where this was going next I’d be in another line of work, but I’m sure this will soon find its way into parts of our lives that we haven’t even thought of.

Now if they could just do something about the battery life...

The first thing that comes to mind when I reflect on my own use of social media for the class was a mistake that I made.  Fortunately, like most mistakes, it taught me something.  When we were assigned our Twitter responsibilities for the semester I already had a Twitter account, but I decided to create a second account specifically for #MI621.  This was mainly because I didn’t think anyone in the class would care to hear me whining about soccer games, or doing my second-rate internet comedian routine.  In my head, home was home and class was class, and ne’er the twain shall meet.  The effect of this, however (besides being a pain logistically) was that each account was missing something.

I wrote about this in an earlier blog as it pertains to brands on Twitter.  My advice to them was to give us a conversation like you’re a real person.  Your whole personality is what makes you unique and distinguishes you from other brands.  As it turns out I wasn’t taking my own advice.  In building my own social media brand, I had split myself into two people: Class Ryan (@BCRyanD) and Home Ryan (@RDerosha).  Each reasonably decent guys, but not all that compelling.  If you’re a social media commentator on Twitter, you’re one of millions.  If you’re an angry Liverpool fan, there are even more of those.  But if you’re a social media commentator who’s an angry Liverpool fan, DC job hunting, fan of medieval European history, you’re unique.  I’ve learned that complete personalities are what’s compelling on social media (why would it be different than real life?) and if I had to do it all over again, that’s one thing I would change.

Now which one is the evil twin?

Another theme that came up repeatedly in my head over the course of the semester is social media as a litmus test in the real world.  We talked quite a bit about the recent incidents of hiring managers asking for people’s Facebook passwords, and we pretty much universally agreed that it’s wrong.  But I do think that current bosses, potential employers, and the outside world in general are all within their rights to judge you based on what social media activity you choose to make public.  If you’re smart enough to make your Facebook information private it says something about you and the choices you make, and the reverse is also true.  I’m an avid Twitter user as well, but after this class I’ve been hesitant about making that public as well (I’ve gone back and forth almost weekly).  And I don’t say anything on Twitter that’s remotely inappropriate, I just think that the discussions in this class have made me a bit more thoughtful about what I put out there, and that’s a good thing.  It’s a personal decision for everyone about how they want to present themselves.

With all of the thinking and reflection done, I’d just like to finish by saying how much I enjoyed the class.  You definitely get some comments when you tell people that you’re taking a “Social Media for Managers class, but I’ve found it to be worthwhile, and something that should be offered in more business programs.  For Marketing majors, it should be required.


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Of Manterest and Monopolies

We’ve talked a lot in class about the complete dominance that women seem to have over Pinterest, and remembering back to Meg’s presentation, she had the numbers to back it up.  My fiancé has gone crazy for it, and she’s never even gotten the hang of Facebook!  Now that’s saying something for a social media site.  But men haven’t really picked it up.  I know a guy who recently joined Pinterest and told all of his friends that they should join too.  They made fun of him until he cancelled his account.  These people are in their 30’s.

This week however, I stumbled across a site that is basically Pinterest for men.  A “Manterest” if you will.  It’s called Gentlemint (a mint of manly things) and it was apparently named “…one of the more manly websites on the planet” by the American Moustache Institute.  And the American Moustache Institute doesn’t just throw praise like that around willy nilly.  As far as I know…

I’ve had a quick look around, and though I’ve been impressed by some of the subject matter (The ultimate bacon burger?  Nice.  Classic James Bond novel cover art?  Now that’s manly.) it basically is just Pinterest with different stuff.  Manly stuff.  So if Pinterest were to catch on with men, there’s really no reason for this site to exist, and yet it’s gaining a bit of traction in our fractured social media landscape.

This all brings me full circle to how I felt about social media on a macro level at the beginning of class, and that’s the theory of natural monopolies.  A natural monopoly is a situation where due to the monumental scope, standardization, or connectedness required of a certain task, it just makes natural sense that one company or organization should do it.  An example is utilities.  You couldn’t have each neighborhood with their own gas company because the networks of pipes and transportation channels wouldn’t connect to each other, the companies would argue over turf, and everything would be infinitely less efficient than if you just let NSTAR do the whole thing.

Earlier in the evolution of the internet and social media, this seemed to be the natural trend.  First we had AOL’s homepage that tried to be all things to all people, and be the one internet portal.  And that worked for a few years, before we realized the possibilities of the internet and we all outgrew it.  Then there was a series of monopolies in social media, that one by one replaced each other, unable to coexist.  First was Friendster, which was toppled by MySpace, which was then obliterated by Facebook, all because the network effect was so strong that there was only room for one giant at a time.  Natural monopolies.

Now however, as we’ve seen in this class, there are all kinds of social media sites popping up to service all kinds of interests.  We have sites for micro-blogging, sites for shopping, sites for getting deals and even paying for things in-store.  There are sites for video, audio, and all kinds of other content discovery.  I had started to doubt whether the natural monopoly theory could continue with all of these disparate social media platforms popping up, but when I found out that there was a Pinterest for both men and women, I knew things had gotten out of hand.  Jason mentioned on Twitter that he felt that there might be a bubble about to burst when it comes to Social Media, which I thought was a good observation.  But instead, I think that what we’re ready for is the new natural monopoly.  That new web portal that sucks us all into one space through which we access everything else we need on the web (or our phones).  And it may sound boring, but the best guess as to who can do that is Facebook.

Facebook has already integrated photos and videos into their platform pretty well.  They’ve integrated some of Twitter’s value proposition, and remained innovative in their own right with updates like timeline.  Now they’ve purchased Instagram.  I’ve even read articles that claim Facebook is working on their own web payment system (which I assume would include mobile capability if they know what’s good for them.  And they do.)  Sure, there are plenty of other social innovators out there, but the fact is when you are as big as Facebook every other company is just your crowdsource, because as soon as their ideas ripen, you can probably just buy them out.

I actually think that if Facebook really is thinking along these lines, it will be a good thing for consumers.  It will allow a much wider audience (not just us savvy MI621-ers) to take advantage of sophisticated social media capability.  And yes, maybe they would be like the Borg, going from site to site and assimilating them into the collective, each one losing a bit of what made it unique (nerd alert) but if anything is for sure here, it’s that even Facebook won’t last forever.  Just like AOL, just like Friendster, MySpace, and whatever else, we’ll eventually outgrow Facebook and the new innovators will blow it up with the next big thing.  I think Facebook has more staying power than those sites previously mentioned, probably because it learned from their mistakes, but it has the potential to add a lot more to the social media experience before it fades away.


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A Day in the Life…

Ever since I’ve started analyzing social media and mobile technology specifically, I’ve wanted to do an analysis of exactly how much I use it in a day.  This isn’t just to talk about myself and how tech savvy I am (this, of course, goes without saying) but really to take note of the impact that these technologies have on how I carry out my day, and how it’s different from the way things used to be.  So I chose last Friday, an action packed day of travel and intrigue…

3:47am “Woke up… fell out of bed… analyzed my sleep patterns for irregularities…”

Wait, what?  So things have changed a bit since 1967 (and I don’t use a comb).  I also don’t wake up to a tinny sounding alarm clock dialed to the local morning radio zoo crew.  Thanks to my Sleep Cycle alarm clock iPhone app, my motions during sleep are monitored and I’m gently woken up at the time during a chosen window when I’m in my lightest sleep cycle.  Seriously.  And I can choose to wake up to any song on my iPhone (Save It for a Rainy Day, by the Jayhawks.  Try it out.)

Not Used: Alarm clock.

5:05am “And looking up, I noticed I was late…”

Not late, exactly, but getting there.  My Flight Tracker app buzzed reminding me that my flight was scheduled to depart in two hours, and I was still in the comfort of my living room.  After confirming with my JetBlue app that there hadn’t been any delays, I found the nearest cab company in Google Places and clicked on the provided phone number.  “In seconds flat”

Not Used: Alarm clock, land line, phone book.

6:00am “I read the news today, oh boy…”

I arrive at the airport and quickly “check in” at the Official JetBlue Terminal on Facebook.  I’ll shamelessly do their marketing for them for a free 100 flyer points.  Safely through security with a half hour until boarding, I turned to Twitter to see if anything newsworthy was happening at this ungodly hour.  Of course, the linked-to story I want to read is a subscription only Wall St. Journal article.  If only there was an app for that and I already had a subscription on the same device (there is, and I do).  But I have the attention span of an infant and quickly glance at the TV.  Why is every airport TV on the planet turned to CNN?  I’d much rather watch ESPN.  On my phone.  So I did.

Not Used: Alarm clock, land line, phone book, newspaper, crappy airport CNN.

8:30am “I’d love to turn you on…”

My phone, that is.  But I can’t because we’re finally ascending after an hour and a half on the tarmac.  That’s OK though, because as I was waiting and playing Chess with Friends with my fiancé, I used the built in chat function to let her know that I’d be late.  Texting is so 2008.  Not nearly social enough.  As we reach cruising altitude I flip on Airplane Mode and fire up the Kindle app for some morning reading.  What’s this?  27 other people have highlighted this paragraph?  I gotta get in on that!  That’s right, even reading a book, by myself, is now social.

Not Used: Alarm clock, land line, phone book, newspaper, crappy airport CNN, pay phone, air phone, books.

 10:00am “Well I just had to laugh…”

as I checked in on Facebook at DC’s Official JetBlue Terminal for another 100 points.  After locating the address for this morning’s job interview on Google Maps I consulted the DC Metro’s app that gives me real-time arrivals on all Metro lines to find the quickest route there.  I arrive plenty early for my 12:00 appointment, relax, and check my live NCAA bracket before going in there and knocking their socks off.

Not Used: Alarm clock, land line, phone book, newspaper, crappy airport CNN, pay phone, air phone, books, metro personnel, maps, outdated bracket sheets from the office pool.

Now this is only half of my day, but I’ll leave things there.  Why?  Because a good job interview calls for a few drinks, and the second half of the day isn’t quite as clear in my memory as the first half.  Anyway, the thing that strikes me most about all of these uses for social media and mobile technology is the number of things that they replace.  Even if I don’t plan ahead, my phone has books, newspapers, itineraries, maps, and multiple methods of communication if things go wrong.  All of these things would have had to be planned and packed ahead of time even 15 years ago.  In the same way that people don’t need to make plans with each other before they go out anymore, we hardly need to plan before we take trips either.  As we’ve discussed in class, maybe it does make us a little more helpless without our devices, but I’ll take it.

And how about the free stuff?!  200 JetBlue points just for showing up.  I’ll admit though, I may have tried a little too hard…

Yes, it's shameless. No, I haven't heard back from @indochino.


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Geocaching: The Social Media Treasure Hunt

We’ve talked a lot about location services in social media, but mostly as it pertains to marketing and commerce.  I’d like to introduce you (if you’re not already familiar) to a location-based social media service that’s a little more pure, a little more just-for-fun: it’s called Geocaching.  Geocaching is basically a worldwide treasure hunt that utilized GPS enabled devices (a smart phone works nicely) and an online interface to communicate to other users and share experiences.  The way it works is that caches–any kind of watertight box really–are hidden in rural areas, urban areas, just about anywhere, and their GPS position is logged into the site.  Then other people can search for nearby caches and leave small items with distinct serial numbers.  When you come across one of these items, you take it with you and log it, so that others will know of its new location.

The fun is that you can do this anywhere, and the search gets you out to new places you otherwise may never have gone.  Another fun aspect of it is just being in the know.  With over 1 million geocaches out there, you’ve definitely walked right by them never knowing they were there.  And geocachers are instructed to keep their search for the cache on the down low, staying out of sight of “muggles” (non-geocachers) who might mess up the cache if they found it, not knowing what it was.


My fiancé and I started Geocaching on a trip to Philadelphia, where we found a cache in the city, and on a nature reserve.  Since then, we’ve been caching in Boston, Florida, Spain and even in the Swiss Alps.  You can assign your item a mission or destination, and each cacher will take it as far as they can go, or you can just set it free to roam far and wide.  The Geocoin we left in the Alps has travelled well in the past year plus; we’ve tracked it in Germany, Hungary, and the Greek islands among other places.

Our Geocoin has been moved over 150 times in a year! Germans love this stuff.


I’d never really thought of Geocaching as social media before this class, mostly because I associate it with getting outside and being active (not pillars of traditional social media).  But of course it is, and it’s really pretty cool how it uses the online platform to connect people through real world activity.  Not only do people communicate through cache logs, but there is an entire online community that discusses particular caches, trades stories of particularly hard to find caches, or just chat in general.  This is the kind of social media that serves as a rebuttal to critics who would say that social media detracts from real life activity.  Instead of replacing real life experiences, Geocaching makes them possible in a way that they never have been before.

Other examples of this are services like RunKeeper that use GPS to track your runs, bike rides, etc. so that you can share them in the online community, compete with others, or track progress over time.  Nike has a version that allows people to post encouraging comments on Facebook that the runner will hear through their headphones while they’re running.

I'm a good friend.

This trend has every reason to continue as it’s a real advantage of social media in the real world, and since location based services are really in their infancy, it will be exciting to see what the next generation of tech entrepreneurs thinks up for this technology.  What do you think the next step is?  Given the power of GPS in your pocket, how would you like to see social media integrated into your real life activities?


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Barack Obama: The Moneyball President

It’s well documented that Barack Obama’s use of social media in the 2008 presidential campaign was a huge advantage in building a valuable network of supporters.  Importantly, these supporters can be mobilized at a moment’s notice (or hounded for donations continuously).  But what’s surprising is that he has largely maintained that advantage even with the increase in social media awareness among Republican presidential candidates and other rivals in 2012.  That kind of sustained competitive advantage is difficult to achieve, and I believe it is a product of fortunate timing that will be nearly impossible for future candidates to duplicate.

I would argue that President Obama’s social media dominance is an example of exploiting an inefficient market.  According to my amateurish grasp of economic theory, an efficient market is one in which everyone has access to more or less the same information, so there is no sustainable advantage to be gained by anyone in the market over time.  Some argue that financial markets work this way, and that all information is instantly reflected in the market.  In an inefficient market however, not all information is reflected in the market, and advantages can be gained by having information on securities that may be overvalued or undervalued.  I’d like to thank Professor Reuter for that, and also apologize if I butchered it.

Another real-world example of this that illustrates the point is the story of Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, made famous by the book and movie “Moneyball.”  Beane essentially realized that the market for baseball players was inefficient.  Teams were using methods of evaluating players that did not best predict their contribution to winning games, leaving some extremely undervalued players out there for the taking.  With better information and statistical analysis Beane was able to find valuable players that other teams had overlooked, and build a winning team for less money.  Beane’s methods have been criticized by some in recent years for the simple reason that the A’s eventually stopped winning.  But in reality, once other teams gained access to his information and started applying it to their own teams, the A’s competitive advantage disappeared.  The market became more efficient.

In 2008, the market for voters’ online attention was inefficient.  Information on how to reach voters online was not commonly understood and many, including John McCain, seemed unaware even of how important it was.  Social media was undervalued, and Barack Obama swooped in on a great investment with serious returns.  The charts below were created the month of the election, and compare Obama and McCain’s relative social media presence.

Charts via Pete Quily: Link

What really stands out to me is that the McCain campaign only tweeted 25 times throughout the entire campaign, severely undervaluing the power of that platform.  McCain has since become an avid user of Twitter, but obviously far too late.  Republican politicians in general have been catching up lately in their awareness and use of social media, with all of 2012’s Republican presidential candidates using Facebook and Twitter often and (relatively) effectively.  But surprisingly, Obama has been able to maintain his advantage pretty convincingly.

Via Overdrive Interactive: Link

It makes sense that the market would become more efficient as candidates realize the real value of social media, so why does that donkey still tower over the herd of elephants at its feet?  I think it’s a product of the year that Obama was elected.  2008 was the first true social media election and Obama was the only candidate to take full advantage of it.  He built up a formidable following, and had four years to build it up and gain valuable information about his supporters.  His head start and continued social media savvy have extended his advantage beyond what I would have expected in such a fast moving medium.  In future years, it will be nearly impossible to build that kind of advantage in a national campaign.  A candidate might have a slightly better presence by virtue of popularity, but the market is now far too efficient for another Barack Obama to happen.

In full disclosure, I was a donor to the Obama campaign in 2008.  I haven’t been so far this time, mostly because I have a wedding to save for.  But as a Twitter and Facebook follower, an e-mail and text message recipient, I’ve seen first-hand the amount of skill Obama’s organization brings to social media and how well they target their message even within different supporter groups.  I would still argue that their advantage would be unsustainable for much longer, and would be impossible to replicate in the future.

On the other hand, maybe they’re just that good…


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What Works in Twitter Marketing – A Consumer’s Perspective

In our first class of MI621 we learned about a woman who was in one of those “stuck in a plane on the tarmac for 11 hours” situations.  In the past, passengers complained, probably got refunds, and the airlines just waited for the fuss to die down around the situation.  But this woman had a tool at her disposal that she was able to leverage against the airlines, and she used it surprisingly well.  What she did was find online news articles about the incident and use the comments section to spread her manifesto against the airlines.  Through this, she was able to find enough people who were also on the flight, they started a website and an organization, and their efforts eventually got the law changed in New York State so that kind of thing would never happen again.

I mean think about it… the COMMENTS SECTION OF NEWS ARTICLES!  That is the undisputed armpit of the internet.  You could read an article about a poor rice harvest in China, and the conversation will devolve into “It’s Obama’s fault!”  And that’s on the polite side.  What does that have to do with marketing on Twitter?  Well, what struck me is that if this woman was able to start a movement through the comments sections of news articles, just imagine your power to reach people through well organized social media.  Professor Kane told us that only when a technology gets boring do its uses really get interesting.  I think this is evidence that social media is at that moment.  Social media isn’t just Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and Tumblr.  All media now has a social aspect to it.  There are comments sections, CNN Facebook chats, even the games on my iPhone allow me to chat with my friends or complete strangers in random games.  Social media is ingrained pretty deeply into everything we do online, so the technology isn’t really the question anymore.  The question is how to effectively reach people with it.

Yes, this is real.

It’s not as easy as simple advertising (not that advertising is easy either).  What makes a company’s social media “just work” and what makes it just weak?   It’s hard to identify.  In a space like Twitter, if you’re not looking out for it, you won’t even notice.  A company who does it right will be just another good follow.  If a company does it wrong, you’re probably not following them anyway.  Here’s what I’ve observed:

Is Twitter even for you?

First off, who are you trying to reach?  If you sell Depends, catheters, or 4:00 early bird buffet specials, your target market is not exactly blowing up the Twittersphere.  Maybe they will be in 40 years.

On the other hand, some companies may say, “Why not give it try?  What’s the harm?”  On Twitter, if you’re not prepared to really put in the effort, you can do more harm than good.  An unused or misused Twitter account makes a company look out of touch, and the kind of person who uses Twitter is the kind of person who notices things like that.  To bring out my inner nerd and quote Yoda, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”   A decision to jump into any social media should include a dedicated social media strategist, who is constantly engaging with customers.

Social media fail.

Give us a conversation

Don’t just talk at us, talk with us.  Respond to people.  This doesn’t mean everyone (you couldn’t possibly) but just seeing a company respond to an individual request makes me think that they’re listening, and that I could reach them if I needed to be heard.

That being said, don’t let your conversation stray too far off message.  There’s enough inanity on Twitter already, and being asked about the latest sporting contest by a toilet paper company comes off as just a bit disingenuous.

You have to give us some value!

Social Media isn’t the same as advertising.  If all you do is try to sell us, only your biggest fans will care (and you’ve already got them).   What do we get for following you?  Special offers, available only to those of us in the know?  An outlet for actually reaching the company, and getting answers?  Your social media outreach should offer us something new, something that we can’t get through our other interactions with your company.  Otherwise, why are we here?

But don’t get too comfortable…

Try not to forget, you’re still a company with a reputation to uphold.  If you dive into social media haphazardly, you do so at your own risk.  It is well worth finding an experienced professional to manage your social media outreach, as the road is littered with Twitter feeds that were passed off to the nearest intern with… mixed results.

What do you guys think?  Any others that I didn’t hit?


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