Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Flavor of Your Social Communications

Tongue flavorImage via Wikipedia
Maybe it's because I like cooking that I can think of social communications for small nonprofits as creating a recipe. You take a little of this and a little of that, forming a taste and a texture in your mind and working to bring that vision into reality. Many times, like on Top Chef or Iron Chef, the tools and ingredients are not determined by you - you just have to do the best you can with what you have and hope that when you serve it up, it's pleasing to the palate.

What often makes the difference is knowing the flavors of the foods you work with and how to combine them to get the best result.

Apparently, I'm not the only person who thinks this way, since A Small Change recently ran a post about the "flavors" a donor comes in: 
  • Story donors - people who like to hear a story that shows how their donations can or have helped
  • Fact donors - people who like facts and figures to show how their donations are making an impact
  • Recognition donors - people who like to be recognized for their donations

Maybe cooking isn't your thing. But, like a freshman who's spent all his pizza money, it's cook or starve, so you learn the flavors of your donors and you start collecting recipes. Or maybe you've recognized these patterns and mixed up your communications - your newsletter for example, might have an article with statistics and another one with a great story and there might be a whole page devoted to recognizing your donors. Something on the menu for everyone.

What Cookbook Are You Using?

Some types of social networks are better for one recipe than another. For example, you can tell a story on Twitter, but it will take longer and you run the risk of losing your audience, especially if the  tweet stream is moving especially fast or the World Cup is on again. Your blog or Facebook is probably better for storytelling, whereas Twitter might be a good way to share interesting statistics like "Facebook goes over 500 million" or "two out of three pets never make it out of a shelter." It could also be a good way to recognize those who've helped your cause, especially if they're on Twitter. Facebook could be used to recognize donors as well.

You could use YouTube to tell a story and SlideShare to present facts like graphics on how the current campaign is doing. Twitter could do that for you as well and you could include links to the blog or Slideshare for the story or the data. Use UserVoice to get feedback on current projects.

And in all cases, don't forget to put The Ask front and center on the table.

BTW - How's Your Presentation?

The late folk singer/storyteller Utah Phillips used to tell an amusing tale about his early days as a gandy dancer on the railroad and how it once fell to him as the newcomer to be the crew cook - considered the worst duty. The tradition was, that if anyone complained about his cooking, they got to be the cook in his place. Naturally he set about making his cooking complaint-worthy.* His ingredients were the best he could get and his presentation was flawless. He didn't quite get the result he wanted, but he came damn close.

It's not just the recipe, but the ingredients and the way you choose to present it:

  • Video can be Old Spice Guy or No Spice Guy
  • Writing the Story Vividly
  • Making Facts Graphic (this includes donor recognition)

Video - Using video is for everyone, although being a video star like Gary Vaynerchuk may not be. I am more comfortable singing onstage in front of 10,000 people than I am getting my picture taken. I probably won't be making of video of myself anytime soon. But that doesn't mean I can't or won't use video - just not of me. No big loss. I can present a story using someone else, or - as I've frequently seen - a video made by someone else for a different purpose, but which has relevance to the idea I'm presenting.

Writing the Story Vividly - This seems to be the hardest for a lot of people, so I'll probably devote one or more posts to it. In the meantime, remember when telling a story to tell it cleanly and make it relevant. No one likes a story that wanders all over the place without purpose or seems barely related to the subject. Oh - and fairly short. Although it may not be a personal story, think anecdote, not book.

Making Facts Graphic - It's never been acceptable to me to just throw up a pie chart and call it a graphic. There are ways to make data visually appealing and easier to understand and relate to. Geeks in particular tend to like data visualization, so there's a lot of information out there and examples. Regardless of whether you're showing how your nonprofit beat the odds or figuring out how to present donor recognition in some way other than a million name march across a webpage, there are both low cost and no cost ways to do it.

As a last savory note, remember that social communications are not required to target one flavor segment - you could put together a smörgåsbord of video, data and storytelling in the same meal. Leaving the guests satisfied but wanting more is the way to keep them coming back to your table.

Recommended Reading:
See3 - How Nonprofits Can Use Video to Fundraise
Seth Godin - Ode: How to Tell a Great Story
Information Aesthetics (data visualization)

* Utah Phillips - Moose Turd Pie. You can read the story here, but it's so much better listening to it than reading about it.
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