The Right Technology for Reaching Your Audience
Last year, Lander~Grinspoon Academy, a small Jewish day school in Northampton, Massachusetts, placed 2nd (People’s Choice) in the Jewish Day Schools Video Awards, which were sponsored in part by the AVI CHAI Foundation. How did they garner enough votes to beat larger schools? Executive Director Bil Zarch explained on his blog afterwards that it wasn’t just the quality of their video. He credits “people power” for the win. In his words, the school
“used all of our resources to get the word out about the contest, encouraging our greater community to send out the link to their friends and family. And it worked! We got creative, and we hit often. Practically every Jew in the Pioneer Valley (and a lot of non-Jews as well) knew that LGA was participating in this contest.”
They used channels both online and off to spread the word and ask others to take action on their behalf: personal meetings; eNewsletters, Facebook; traditional newsletters, etc. In the end, it was word-of-mouth, spread via online and offline channels, that resulted in their success. In fact, Lander~Grinspoon had run a successful Double Chai fundraising campaign earlier in the year; the people they worked hard to cultivate for a gift at that time were much easier to convince to support them in the video competition.
That said, the Lander~Grinspoon team would be the first to admit that the process would have been easier had they already built strong online networks to tap into. For example, their Facebook Page was not fully formed or regularly updated at the time. Social channels—Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.—allow organizations to find and build community, a network of interested constituents, ready to act on your organization’s behalf before you need it.
So organizations need to think about their goals: what do they actually want people to do? Enroll their children in your school? Donate? Attend an alumni event? Only when a school has defined its goals should they consider the tools/channels to utilize to reach those goals. A common mistake organizations make is setting up a profile on a channel with no strategic consideration of how it can help them realize their goals. For example, many organizations rushed to Twitter or Pinterest when those social networks first appeared, but then failed to utilize them effectively to build community.
To select the right technology to reach the right audience and move them to act, keep the following in mind.
Consider your goals first. Everything else follows from your goals: technology choice, communication plans, person responsible, etc.
Select a tool based on your goals and audience. Don’t select the “hot” tool or one you happen to be comfortable with.
Don’t silo. Make sure everyone involved in communications at your school works together to reach your goals.
Assign resources; do the work. You can’t build community online without some effort. It works best when someone is ultimately responsible for reaching your goals.
Put in the work now; move to act later. Build your community and relationships in advance. Only later, when you’ve built trust with your community, then ask for help.
So what are the right tools/channels for reaching your audience? Now we’ll review a few tools that have strong community-building potential, and think about how other organizations have considered the above steps in implementing these tools. But you’ll have to consider your particular goals and audience to decide which will work best for you.
The best book group I’ve ever been involved with was a #tweetchat. What’s a #tweetchat, you ask? On Twitter, hashtags (words with a # at the beginning to allow simple search and discovery) are a great way to build and join a conversation on a specific subject. As an example, your school might include the #jds (Jewish day schools) hashtag for others in the Jewish day school community to find your tweet when they search that tag. #Tweetchats take this a step further by using a specific hashtag at a specific time to hold a conversation on a particular subject.
If you search for #MyBookClub, you’ll find discussions around the monthly books they discuss, often with the author included. That was the #tweetchat book group I found so effective. The conversation about the nonfiction book (Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki) was stimulating, I gained new insights into the book, and I met a number of new people on Twitter with similar interests. Others have had similar experiences with #tweetchats and are excited to take part in them. To make a successful #tweetchat, you need to:
- Create a short, clear hashtag
- Discuss an interesting topic
- Promote the #tweetchat widely
- Prepare questions in advance
- Facilitate the discussion
- Follow-up: search the hashtag and continue the conversation long-term; connect with new Twitter users who took part in the chat
#Tweetchats are great for raising the awareness of your school or a specific program. For a day school example, let’s say Lander~Grinspoon was starting a new science program and wanted the larger local community to be aware of it. They might schedule a live #tweetchat with a new hashtag like #LanderScience. Next, they’ll promote the time and subject matter of the #tweetchat across Twitter and various other channels and prepare questions to ask the audience during the #tweetchat. Anyone on Twitter can respond to the questions, ask their own questions, or simply join the conversation. And everyone who takes part in the chat shares their posts with all of their Twitter followers, growing the reach of your organization beyond its existing constituency. People can search and join in the #LanderScience conversation when the #tweetchat is finished as well. It can be an ongoing conversation, continuing the reach of the initial event.
Want to find a real-life example pertinent to Jewish day schools? Search #jedchat. This is a thriving Jewish education #hashtag that started off as a weekly #tweetchat.
Live Facebook chats
I work with many Jewish overnight summer camps who have found creative ways to use specific online tools to reach their goals. URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp, for example, realized that first-time camper parents are often anxious about what they and their child can expect from their summer at camp. The camp had already promoted and facilitated a private Facebook group for parents, so they leveraged that audience by holding a live chat for first-time parents on the group. An added bonus? Anyone who wasn’t available at the time of the chat could go back and read the questions and answers in the private group later.
In this case, a #tweetchat may not have been appropriate. The camp wanted a private venue to allow parents to ask sensitive questions. They also had a closed group of parents and didn’t have a need to promote the chat beyond this audience. Jacobs Camp understood their goals and audience and catered to their needs with the right tool.
In some cases, integrating multiple tools or channels is optimal. URJ Eisner Camp enhanced their annual phone-a-thon by incorporating a free live UStream video feed on their website of the festivities (like a traditional telethon), a live #tweetchat incorporated into the same webpage, and a big Donate Now button on the page. They also asked donors to post a link to the page on their own Facebook profile to promote the phone-a-thon to a wider audience.
Each individual part of this phone-a-thon was meant to reach a particular goal:
The UStream live video and live Twitter feed engaged the existing audience and also brought in new people to the event.
The Facebook posts raised the awareness of the event to a wider audience.
The Donate Now button brought in donations.
The integration of each of these tools increased the success of the phone-a-thon by working together to reach these goals. As a result of adding in these components, their phone-a-thon resulted in 20% more individual donors from the previous year. The event itself brought a nearly 300% increase in web traffic to the site over an average day. The video itself had a total of 38 hours of viewing by over 120 unique visitors.
Like Lander~Grinspoon, which utilized both offline in-person meetings and online outreach to reach their goal (gathering enough votes to place in the video awards), URJ Eisner Camp integrated a number of tools and channels to increase the effectiveness of their campaign. When considering your goals, remember not to silo efforts; your content on each channel can work together to multiply your success.
You can do it
Each of these projects was successful because the organization started with clear goals and then developed a smart communications and community-building strategy that aligned with them. And they selected tools that could effectively reach these goals. Don’t try to put a square peg into a round hole: the greatest technology in the world will fail miserably unless it is optimized for your needs. URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp’s parents would not have felt comfortable asking sensitive questions in a public #tweetchat. At the same time, a private Facebook group would have been far too hard for me and other nonfiction book readers to find to get involved in #MyBookClub. Finally, don’t underestimate the need for hard work; in every one of these examples, it required committed effort by real people to leverage the power of these tools.
Now it is your turn. What do you want to accomplish? What tool(s) will help you reach these goals?♦
Kevin Martone, technology program manager at the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy, helps organizations utilize technology to reach their goals. He can be reached at email@example.com or @kmartone on Twitter.