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Where have all my ‘friends’ gone?

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John Klein

John Klein

John Klein

There is an old Sicilian proverb that goes something like, “Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.”

This certainly holds true for social media, where the success of nonprofit communication efforts ebb and flow, often without clear reasons.

Since social media is potentially the most effective medium (low-cost, high potential return), nonprofits are beginning to recognize the variables that can have a negative impact on their campaigns, and are learning how to combat them.

Why don’t my ‘friends’ like me anymore?

Earlier this year ExactTarget, an internet and social-media research firm, conducted a poll on social-media usage and defection across an array of popular sites and blogs.

In response to a question about why people “un-like” or “un-friend” groups, some of the top responses were:

  • The company posted too frequently
  • The content became repetitive or boring over time
  • Their posts were too promotional
  • The content wasn’t relevant to me from the start
  • The company’s posts were too chit-chatty, not focused on real value

Think about these responses as a member of your own groups.

Your interest, beyond the mission of the organization, is based on the value of the information, communicated in an interesting way, that doesn’t sell too much, and doesn’t exist as a chat room, per se.

Thinking about your campaigns from the perspective of the reader (or consumer) will help drive your content and frequency.

Keeping your ‘friends’ by telling them a story

In “The Dragonfly Effect,” by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, the authors moved from a typical technical treatment of social media (the mechanics of creating and managing groups) to describing the success of campaigns based on messaging and creativity.

The four pillars of their framework, based on the four wings of the dragonfly, are a combination of:

  • Telling a story – engaging others on an emotional level
  • Empathizing with your audience – letting people engage with your brand to learn what about it is important to them
  • Emphasizing authenticity – being transparent about your mission and whom you serve
  • Matching media with message – using video, audio, graphics and text to best tell that story

The critical element for nonprofits is that a social-media campaign is just that: A campaign that requires the same kind of focus and narrative as an advertising campaign, a traditional public-relations effort, or even a movie or television show.

A real-life example

I applied these ideas in an integrated media campaign for a nonprofit organization earlier this year.

This group has a long history of impressive and fruitful associations that together provide the foundation for a compelling story – one that hadn’t been told.

For the social-media component of the campaign, I wanted to use these associations to tell this story, build the social-media network and learn how this activity supported the broader organizational goals.

I posted three different stories per week on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, leveraging existing digital content, video presence on YouTube and links to the organization’s website.

The first six weeks went like gangbusters: New “likes,” new group members, daily, weekly and monthly users up dramatically, positive blog comments.

The author believed he had cracked the social-media code.

And then, during the seventh week, the trend reversed: Weekly and monthly users down, no blog comments, even a few “un-friends.”

My guess is that the collective social-media following just grew tired of the campaign – too many posts that grew boring over time.

But the nonprofit learned how to tell a compelling story, how long to tell it and benefitted from a significant net gain of friends in the process.

Ask any practitioner of social media and they likely will say success is based on a process of trial and error.

But that learning will lead to a method of creating content, sensing its shelf life, understanding when to add new content or change the campaign – all to keep your friends interested and coming back.


John Klein is president of Trilithon Partners, a marketing consulting agency based in Cary, N.C.

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