Strategic Communications and the Web 2.0, our second roundtable discussion on web design for nonprofits, was held in Washington, D.C., on April 20, 2007. The event was cosponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Booz Allen Hamilton, OneWorld.net, Mercy Corps, and Foreign Policy magazine.
Travis Daub of Foreign Policy magazine kicked off the afternoon with a presentation devoted to online advertising and return on investment (ROI). He discussed the challenges of making advertising decisions for the web. First, he explained, an organization needs to determine whether to sell subscriptions or simply rely on a lot of an abundance of what he called "impressions." Advertisers frequently attach themselves to a site in order to associate with a brand. When selling a brand, he emphasized, companies are not always as concerned with numbers, but rather with simply cloaking themselves in a particular web address. As a result, it's good strategic policy to court and form long-term relationships with advertisers from organizations with similar goals or missions.
Daub was keen to emphasize that working with advertisers is a long-term process. Foreign Policy charges a flat price to advertise on their site. This avoids revenue spikes and droughts related to fluctuations in web traffic. Renegade Networks can be employed to host, serve, and track ads, he noted. It is also possible to create ad "bundles." These are package deals that offer advertisers the chance to buy a "value" ad on the Foreign Policy website along with their fully priced ad in the print publication.
When it comes to results, Daub noted, a good philosophy is to under-promise and over-perform. E-mail lists can serve as valuable marketing tool to generate page views, he offered, and advertisers love this because they can attach their brand to it. Daub stressed the necessity of including content in the e-mails, not simply marketing.
Problems do arise. Advertisers are always worried about the image of their company and if they don't like the content on a certain page, they won't want their ad on it. These days, Daub noted, it's not possible to control exactly what information shows up on web pages (which is especially true of blogs). To counter this, Daub advises that web sites sell campaigns, not just single ads. Online readership increases during the academic year, as well as after the publication of a magazine, so lengthy campaigns help smooth fluctuations in page views. Stick with industry size ads, he emphasized, so advertisers can use ads in more than one place and do not have to create a special one for the site. Viewers do not tend to like ads, Daub acknowledged, but they generally realize that this is how websites make money. Foreign Policy limits the number of ads that appear but ads do usually appear on all pages of the web site.
Foreign Policy sometimes places advertisements (when specifically requested) next to related stories. For example, every year Foreign Policy issues a Globalization Index and tourism agencies from high-scoring countries sometimes want their ad placed next to the article. (Daub also offered a discount to all meeting participants interested in advertising in Foreign Policy.)
Daub said that Foreign Policy has had a lot of success with blogs, noting that it is cheaper to advertise in blogs than on many main sites. However, Foreign Policy has found that bloggers are often "in their own universe" and tend not to read referenced articles from the magazine. Most of the time, these viewers only read what is excerpted in the blog. Daub recommended the blog-tracking site Technorati as a tool to see what blogs exist already in your particular area of interest.
VIDEO ON THE WEB
Steve Dorst of Dorst MediaWorks followed Daub with a presentation on "A Video Code of Conduct." He stressed the fundamental importance of content. "Content is king," he said. "Video is for telling stories. People already have C-SPAN and they don't watch that, so don't spend resources placing Q&A's and talking heads on your website." While content may be king, according to Dorst, production values are a close second. Unless the content of a web video is amazing, then video producers must attend carefully to production values.
Dorst offered a few tips for those who want video but are short on cash. "When you absolutely have no budget, you might convince an existing staff member to shoot a little video for a short web clip (or figure out a way to derive user-generated content). In that case, you want them to know the basics. In 2005, Interaction invited a Dorst MediaWorks producer to give a course on how to equip staff to use basic filmmaking principles at very low costs, so they could collect stories from the field that help the organization communicate its work better. I don't know if Interaction made any progress, but you can read the article at http://www.interaction.org/," he said.
For most strategic communications objectives such as fundraising, recruiting, marketing, and communications, Dorst recommended a three-step process for optimizing production values: capture, configure, and distribute. When shooting, or capturing the video, originate the visual media at the highest-appropriate quality given the planned distribution. He weighed in against using high-definition formats unless the project is a full-length documentary or TV show. Dorst advised having at least one objective person on set who knows both video production and content.
Once the video is shot, or captured, Dorst suggested reconfiguring the content with a mind toward cross-pollination of media. "This increases the cost-benefit analysis, making investment go further," he said. He suggested shooting an "organizational video," 5–15 minutes in length for uses related to marketing, communications, recruiting, and donor relations. "Why not edit some short DVD extras that show more "personality" of your organization and key personnel, so people can learn more if so inspired? Do these with humor, or "behind the scenes," which would then be appropriate to upload to vlog sites like Veoh or YouTube," he said. Dorst also proposed shorter, 1–3 minute versions of these videos that can be used to spice up brown bag luncheons and speeches, or embedded into PowerPoint presentations. He further advised putting all of these videos onto a single authored DVD to make your investment go further. He recommended giving them to "everybody."
Some of Dorst's other ideas: Submit B-roll tagged by topic (health, education, disaster relief) or country so that news organizations will use B-roll with your people in the field; this extends your brand recognition. Try sending this B-roll to specific local and national news agencies that you may have cultivated relationships with. They can also be uploaded to Newsmarket or MediaLink. Try rewriting the script of the short videos so they fit the "public service announcement" mold and then send these 30-second or 60-second clips to the same news people you know, or put them on your website; for these, timing is everything. Re-edit the content to populate various pages on your website. These short one-minute Flash videos make a site more dynamic; 97 percent of people now have Flash capability in their browser of choice. Flash videos files are also smaller compared to Windows Media and will take up less space on your site.
Finally, Dorst addressed distribution of these videos. Firstly, he said, DVDs should be sent to all Board of Director members. There are a lot of other smart ways to distribute, but most are a function of a particular organization's audience, message, and objectives. He mentioned two good sites that host/publicize videos: Dogooder.tv and Change.org. Sometimes podcasts are more effective than videos—some sites have more people download podcasts than watch videos—perhaps because people can more easily take podcasts on the road and multi-task while listening to audio.
FUNDRAISING, SOCIAL NETWORKING, AND OUTREACH
Roshani Kothari of OneWorld followed Dorst with a presentation on Google Ads, social networking, email lists, and list sharing. When crafting Google Ads, Kothari noted, it is important to phrase ad copy to reflect current news stories. This will gain better placement for an ad—possibly even on the top of the page. These ads can be changed at anytime, she said, requiring an employee to dedicate some time to keeping up with the news cycle. An ad grant may limit placement because those who pay more are paying to get a better spot on the page.
On the subject of social networking and fundraising, Kothari pointed out that the virtual world is a great place to do fundraising. However, this too requires a dedicated staff member to spend time every day. Users know if you just drop in and out occasionally, she said. By way of example, she noted that the Red Cross raised hundreds of thousands of dollars with a virtual fundraiser via direct solicitations.
Kothari suggested that it might be worthwhile to develop profiles on Gather.com, MySpace, YouTube and other social networking sites. Your organization can then start new networks to promote itself. These sites recommend untapped audiences which can be mobilized and connected to develop a community for an organization. The networking site lets the community know whenever a new item is published or a fundraising/advocacy campaign begins.
Marcus Roberts, Director of Development for the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, presented his strategies for diversifying fundraising efforts. He recommended tapping the Board of Directors/trustees first. Then, he suggested, tap advisory board members, organization members, and friends. He suggested reviewing past donor lists to reconnect with former individual and organizational donors. Meet-and-greets can be an excellent tool to expand your circle of funders, as the events can draw in friends, corporate sponsors, and more. Roberts stressed that grants should be seen only as seed money, not as a lifeline.
Having a website is a great way to communicate narrative, offer metrics that show success (i.e., website growth), and reach new potential funders, he noted. "Donors enjoy partnership," he said. "Don't view donors just as source of money, but also as content contributors and as a place to grow/sell content." He advised partnering with corporations. Nonprofits have strong brand names which are often appealing to corporations. Roberts also suggested watching political donation tracking sites such as Open Secrets as a crafty way to identify potential donors that align with your mission.
In order to develop in-depth research profiles of donors and individuals Roberts pointed meeting participants to Kintera. He recommended cultivating relationships for at least two months and thanking donors multiple times and in multiple places. He offered the following strategies for involving benefactors: (1) Add a "Give Now" button to your site as many people see more value for a paid product, (2) make sure the online contributions page is maintained and updated. When people give money, direct them to this page. A link to the page should be included in all e-mails, announcements, and basic outreach, as well as on the homepage, and (3) November and December are peak giving times. Organizations should pay equal attention to the small number of donors who give large amounts and the large number of donors who give small amounts.
In conclusion, Roberts noted that the top reason donors give is simply because they are asked!
BUILDING STRONG NETWORKS
Devin Stewart of Policy Innovations discussed a multistakeholder approach for communications and project development—building a core community and expanding it by finding points of overlap with related communities. He described this process as messy and chaotic, making the analogy with neurological networks. Some people participate freely in networks, others are more reluctant, he said, but nevertheless the weight of a successful network creates a gravity that draws people in.
According to Stewart, one of the keys to building this type of community is to share your knowledge and value with others and look for a place for every stakeholder. Often the people who come to you undergo a self-selecting process of mutual interest and respect, which makes it extra important to treat every relationship ethically. Meeting offline from time to time and having a shared ethos with partners is crucial for networking success.
Stewart also noted that it's important to maintain your guiding ethos, but be prepared to expand, change, and reinvent your methods and delivery systems. The Internet and world are constantly changing; be prepared to rethink the use of copyright and the function of intellectual property.
Jonah Seiger of Connections Media was the day's final presenter. He began by referencing Metcalfe's Law of social networking: The value of a network increases exponentially with each individual node. He urged participants to understand "influentials," an elite 10 percent in any network who influence purchasing power of the rest. Interactive media enable connections in a network, he said. These connections are made both on- and off-line. Power networks are the cornerstone of a communications strategy and the internet makes it measurable. "Everyone comes with a network," he said. "Identify the influentials and arm them with the information they need to recruit your network." He stressed that there is no template for networking with a website so it's necessary for organizations to know when to use external forces in order to grow their network. Give people the opportunity to be advocates, he urged. Incentivizing this process gives them a feeling of ownership. This can be done in the following ways: (1) give individuals the opportunity to be a leader, (2) give credit, (3) give access to candidates/high-level people.
Seiger concluded by returning to the concept of Return on Investment introduced by Daub. To maximize ROI, he suggested (1) do what you do best, (2) build strong relationships, (3) use the network as a vehicle for expansion, (4) follow-through on your message with data, (5) keep your email list current, and (6) advocate productive members of the community.