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In Social Media, Forget the Flash and Do the Work

main.jpgThe following blog is by Jenna Wade.

Think you need a Justin Bieber or an Ashton Kutcher to get things done through social media? Not so, according to "The Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers," a new report from PayPal and Zoetica highlighted in this month's The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a print and online news source about the nonprofit world. The report shows that big-name celebrities are much less effective in raising money through social media than other kinds of spokespeople, such as  influential bloggers, passionate followers, and regular people.

It's an easy trap to fall into. "If only we could get Mr. X or Ms. Z to help us raise money or promote us on Twitter, then we'd really raise bank/get in the news/become Twitter rock stars." Okay, sure, you might get a couple of donations or a couple of new fans or followers. But it's not a silver bullet/quick fix/game winner. (Try to break that news to your executive director gently.) It's easy to understand this kind of wishful thinking— celebrity advertising sure does seem to sell a lot of [insert consumer product here.]

But seriously, it's unlikely that any of us will garner an endorsement from Kim Kardashian for our nonprofit, right? (And at this point, I'd seriously advise against it anyway.) So why does this report matter to us? Because it's a great reminder that good social media strategy depends on real work—targeting, engagement, authenticity—rather than flashy quick fixes.

So let's keep it real and remember these non-flashy tactics that really work in social media, whether you're trying to raise money, build your brand, or increase your engagement.

Take the time. C'mon, you know a random tweet or post from an unaffiliated celebrity will never replace the time you take to engage and build a relationship with a follower or prospect that gets what you do. There are no shortcuts in social media.

Be authentic. Getting a celebrity to pimp your work can seem cheap. People are skeptical (and rightly so) that the celebrity's endorsement really comes from the heart. They'll probably wonder what tradeoff motivated their endorsement rather than believing it was based on true passion for the cause.

Identify passionate advocates and audiences. So what if the Biebs has a million followers? Twelve-year-old girls with strained vocal chords probably aren't your target audience. Find and cultivate passionate advocates that care about what your nonprofit is accomplishing—and have followers that care too.

Remember the changing definition of "celebrity." In this day and age, bloggers and tweeters have more influence and power than ever. Tap into their passions and their passionate fans.

Make it personal. This isn't going to blow your mind or anything, but making sure your social media content makes sense (and is interesting) to regular people can be easily forgotten when you're short on time or work in an industry that's niche-y or wonky. People follow you because they have connected with your work in some way. Take the time to make your asks—whatever they are—personal.

Tell real stories. The Chronicle of Philanthropy article gives a great example of what can be done with real stories from real people. Ashton Kutcher once helped promote a campaign on Facebook to raise money for a new children's hospital. Turns out he was tremendously upstaged—we’re talking 1,000 donations compared to 114—by a kid who shared his own story about battling bone cancer and the hospital that treated him.

Do you want to sell underwear? Sure, ask Beyoncé. Do you want to create and build meaningful relationships with your donors, followers, and fans? Then focus on (dare I say it?) the grunt work, and leave the flash to the celebrities.

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