So, you want to change the world. Or you want to call attention to a specific issue or change behavior in some way. These days the first thing anyone does (and should do) is utilize social media. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest, to name a few. But are you using social media effectively or are you just checking ‘social media’ off your ‘to do’ list? Are you hoping your directorial debut with a flip cam will go viral the way the Kony video raised awareness about African dictators (93 million hits), and that your profound prose will hit a chord like Mario Vittone’s ‘Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning’, or are you deliberately drafting a social media strategy and sticking to it? There is no formula for developing viral content, your audience makes that decision, but through a disciplined strategy that identifies your audience and targets your social media efforts accordingly, you are more likely to succeed. The bottom line? Raising awareness and changing behavior require the same marketing principles and business discipline as selling cars. It requires effective social marketing, or ‘harnessing market forces to change behavior for the public good’. It is what social entrepreneurs and not-for-profits do when they want to see real results and real change.
The good thing and the bad thing about social media is that you can reach an enormous audience. Good because it has never been easier to reach an enormous range of people. Bad because one size does not fit all. Let’s look at a few examples related to water and drowning, identify the target audience, and assess their effectiveness.
Social innovators, Matt Damon and Gary White, have taken on the issue of clean water. They are reaching their target audience of socially-conscious adults with compelling Twitter-friendly statistics, targeted e-mails, highlighted ‘featured fundraisers’ which makes it clear that individuals can make a difference, and links to social networking sites, including a YouTube channel with a number of videos. On average they are getting about 3,000 hits on each video. It would be interesting to see if they are from repeat visitors or new visitors to the site and adjust the content appropriately. Predictably, the videos highlighting Matt Damon are substantially more popular, so a great use of his star power. I’d prescribe more videos with Mr. Damon that are provocative, challenging and in-your-face – he has the passion and persuasiveness, let it come through more forcefully.
Another clean water effort by the less well known Gift of Water has a far less sophisticated social media reach, but they have produced the holy grail, the viral video. 1.8 million hits in under four weeks. I suspect it’s the provocative comparison of lifestyles that struck the fine balance between implying guilt at what we have, which results in donor fatigue and inaction, and showing how a small effort can make a bit impact using some effective and rather subversive tongue-in-cheek humor. Their video demonstrates that even a relatively small organization can have a big impact if they know their audience.
Drowning prevention has few successful initiatives to highlight, but let’s look at what is being done well. One of the best is out of the UK, a YouTube video about Tombstoning. The target audience was teenage boys and young men. The style is identical to the type of amateur video that would be uploaded by a thrill-seeking teen looking for peer approval and was posted on the social networking site frequently used by teens. The challenge? Getting the audience. The relatively high level of hits (16,000 in 2 years) is almost certainly due to the concerted effort of all water safety/drowning prevention organizations in the UK to promote and get traditional media coverage of this video, so I’m putting this as an early ‘win’ that needs some concerted follow-up using other social media channels.
There is another outstanding video by the California Department of Boating and Waterways. The target audience is teenage boys and young men again. Short, heroic and action-packed – it resembles the trailer for a shoot-em-up action film. Perfect media channel for the age group, YouTube, but little traction, only 3,000 hits. I’m diagnosing lack of ability to reach the target audience. Did they reach out to teens on Facebook? Enlist real life action figures (Coast Guard, SEALs, Special Forces) to promote the clip via Twitter? (I’d pitch it as a great recruiting tool) And come on, it’s California! Did they call Hollywood’s real life action figures and ask them to push it on Twitter and Facebook? Promote it through traditional media channels? What about having it as a 30 second TV ad on MTV or in the middle of any of the popular teen programs? Isn’t there a rule that a certain percentage of ad time has to go to social causes? Great effort, but no follow-up or market positioning.
And finally, a campaign targeting dads from the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. Good use of humor and of introducing the idea of ‘layers of protection’ in a memorable way, but again, no traction. Same diagnosis, lack of ability to reach the target audience. How are they going to reach the dads? Were the news media alerted and asked to talk about the issue in the time slots that dads are most likely to be watching the news? How about asking Best Buy to play it on their TVs on Saturday mornings for a month? Or Home Depot near the gardening and patio furniture sections in the spring and summer? It would be a great high-profile corporate social responsibility effort. Sometimes the best way is to identify who has influence, namely the moms. Were the mommy bloggers aggressively courted? Was it pitched to early morning talk shows at the beginning of the swim season? Any Tweeting? And it looks like a good candidate for Pinterest.
It’s harder than it looks, so why take the time to figure out an effective social media strategy? Because intention without action doesn’t accomplish much. We can reach the world, let’s change it positively.