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Even Social Ecosystems Have A Caste System For Engagement

By Patrick Sullivan - February 28, 2014

Danielle Brigida is frustrated. As senior manager of social strategy and integration at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in Reston, Va., she found a social media append the organization recently did to be enormously helpful to her work. But, she said, she’s the only one in the organization who uses it.

“It informs strategy but not as much as I’d like,” she said. “We chose not to re-append the data this year because I’m the only one using it. I want philanthropy officers using it. I want the people who run our emails to use it. But at the same time I need to cut people a break. I have to make data manageable and break it into chunks.”

A social media append takes email addresses and matches them with the addressees’ social media accounts. “I use it kind of as a guide for how I do outreach,” said Brigida. “You can pretty quickly assess people based on the data append.”

Brigida and Casey Golden, CEO of Small Act in McLean, Va., have developed a four-tier classification system of social media users that organizations can use to target outreach:

  • Casual users
  • Multichannel users
  • Engagers
  • Broadcasters

Casual users and multichannel users make up about 94 percent of the social media ecosystem. Engagers, about 5 percent, are “the ones who get everybody to do stuff,” said Golden. “They might not be the most popular but they do have relationships. They’re the 5 percent of people who generate the majority of content and get people to take action. They’re kind of like team leaders.”

Broadcasters or citizen journalists are the top 1 percent. “They’re fantastic at creating awareness of things, and they bring a name and speed to campaigns,” said Golden. This level of user generally has thousands of followers but broadcasts more than interacts

The four classifications are often not so cut and dried. Golden cited actor Jeremy Piven as an example. “He’s engaged with you. He’ll retweet and share your stuff. He borders on that key influencer side because of his reach (nearly 2.5 million Twitter followers), but behaviorally he’s much more like a sharing type of person,” said Golden.

Knowing about these four levels and where your users fall on the spectrum can help your organization target outreach on social media platforms. According to Golden, Atlanta, Ga.-based CARE treats its top 6 percent the same way they do major giving prospects, assigning them to relationship development team members. A CARE spokesperson declined to comment on internal donor strategy, but said, “We take into consideration not just donors but engagers. We approach everyone who we interact with in a different way based on needs and interest.”

The University of Central Florida engaged some of these key influencers and engagers this past June for its “Knights Give 50” campaign, an online fundraising and donor acquisition campaign leveraging the university’s 50th anniversary.

Kara Steiner, assistant director of the UCF Fund, said the university recruited 100 so-called ambassadors, reaching out to them on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. They were asked to make a few posts a day about the campaign. “A couple of months in advance we started reaching out to them,” she said. “People on the alumni association board, foundation board, committees, alumni who were already engaged with us.”

The UCF Fund team gave the ambassadors some messages to post, pre-written to keep brand consistency. The ambassadors also changed their social media avatars to the campaign logo. The campaign garnered $15,000 in just over two days, with another $15,000 matching pool. Steiner said the ambassadors had “a tremendous effect.”

“If it was just our team, there’s no way we would have been able to get that frenzy going,” she said. “We definitely acquired more donors and donations due to the fact that people were reaching out within their own network.”

Steiner said that most of the ambassadors were already engaged with the university at the President’s Circle level, meaning they donate at least $1,000 annually, “so we steward them differently (from other donors) already.” Some of the ambassadors hadn’t supported the university at that monetary level but were chosen because of their reach and voice. “We thought it was good to engage them as well,” said Steiner. “We sent them a thank you email and letter, thanking them for their participation and letting them know we’ll be reaching out next year.”

The four types of users is a useful classification, but it can’t be the only one your organization uses. “I segment on passion,” said Brigida, calling the four levels of engagement a secondary classification. “If they’re birders or love kids or love nature, that’s how I organize people.”

Golden explained, “If an influencer has children, it might be easy to get them involved with getting kids outdoors. That would be natural. For someone without kids, it’s not quite on target.”

Golden used the example of a New York City nonprofit that’s campaigning to help Central Park. “They use the engagers and influencers by saying, ‘We’re going to ask you to help keep Central Park great by engaging your relationships,’” he said.

If a supporter self-identifies as a parent on social media, the organization can send that person an email about all the great opportunities for children in Central Park. If they’re fitness buffs, the email could be about exercising outside. Nature lovers would get an email about protecting the wild spaces in the heart of the city.

Segmenting by interest or passion is necessary in cultivating the top 6 percent of social media engagers because social media users can smell when someone’s not being genuine. A NWF supporter might be passionate about organic food. When that person shares something about a NWF anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) campaign, followers won’t look askance at that. “People know he’s passionate about this,” said Golden. “It’s not like anyone convinced him to do something abnormal.”

Be wary of connecting with a supporter via social media, said Brigida. For open platforms such as Twitter or Instagram, reaching out is probably acceptable. “But if it’s not a public-facing platform, I don’t want to mess with it,” she said. “Standard consumers, even though they’re the majority of the (social media) population, if they’re not forward-facing then I would rather that (connection) happen naturally.”

Golden said getting the support of those top 6 percent of social media engagers is similar to cultivating a major gift prospect. “If you really want to get them on board, spend a little time looking at what they tweet about and talk about,” he said. “Get to know them. Make it a win-win relationship.”

Brigida said the most important thing in cultivating support from the top 6 percent is to be genuine and let the relationship develop naturally. “You have to be sincere and just try to connect with them first,” she said. “Don’t have any expectations. It’s like in any friendship, you go in because you enjoy their company, not because you want to ride in their nice car.”  NPT

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