A friend of mine, Jon Stahl over at Philanthropy Northwest, often uses the phrase “the exception that proves the rule” when he describes unusual organizations doing things that lie just outside the norm. Yesterday, I found myself on the phone with just such an organization.
Mark is the founder of a faith-based organization and wanted to chat about the value of their Facebook page today and how to get more from the page in support of his organization’s mission. Their page has grown considerably over the years and months but it isn’t yet doing much to support their mission beyond their Facebook page. Our conversation was one I have had with many organizations over the years. The focus of our conversation quickly turned to how they could better use engagement to find and cultivate individual supporters in a way that would transcend the newsfeed and ultimately transcend Facebook itself.
But before I explain why this organization is the exception, let me introduce the rule that this organization proves. That rule is simply this; on Facebook and off, what matters most for organizations that depend on people to accomplish their work, has less to do with sheer numbers and more to do with an organization’s ability to identify their most ardent supporters and then cultivate those people into donors, partners and leaders for their cause.
Mark and I spent about an hour on the phone talking about how his organization could be doing this directly inside Facebook. We are all constantly reminded that there are over 1.2 billion Facebook users worldwide and 128 million users in the US. But those numbers do not matter! What really matters are the individuals that your organization is reaching and engaging with in real ways through the Facebook channel.
Your organization may have 10,000 to 2 Million fans (those individuals that “like” your Facebook page) on Facebook, but if you can’t identify and reach even one person that you know cares deeply; one person that has taken action beyond clicking like; one individual whom you know you can pick up the phone and call or email with a personal request knowing they will drop what they are doing to lend a helping hand, then you’re missing the whole point of Facebook and it is likely time to reevaluate what you’re doing and why.
Reaching people on Facebook has and always will require great content that gets people to share it with their friends. But reach alone does not make change. Change takes action and the more people that are willing to do real things, the more change your organization can accomplish. Whether that engagement is simply signing a petition to end a government shutdown or donating money to build a new church, organizations should be investing in Facebook not just for “fans,” but also for supporters.
I asked Mark if he could identify who his most ardent supporters are or if he had begun to capture contact information from people so he could reach them directly via mail, email or phone. I could hear his head shake on the other end of the phone as he confessed that he couldn’t do either of these things. And here’s the exception part of this: Mark’s Facebook page has 24 million fans. Hidden somewhere within those 24 million fans there are individuals that will some day be donors to his cause, partners in his work and leaders in his mission.
But until Mark starts engaging these people in ways that allow him to find, track and capture these people so he can reach them directly, 24 million will just be a number. Mark sees the potential that his Facebook page holds, but just like the organization with 2,400 fans, Mark knows that the real value of his page rests not in the aggregate 24 million so much as it does the few individuals that engage time and again.
So there’s my rule of the day. I would love to hear your thoughts. What rules guide your work on Facebook?