The Two Keys to Social Media Marketing Success

There are two salient takeaways that I believe anyone looking to take a cause viral need to know in order to be successful online: the secret to going viral; and how to approach World 2.0, where everyone is smarter than anyone.
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As I've been traveling around the country with our Social Media for Nonprofits conference series promoting my new book, Nonprofit Management 101, I've enjoyed listening to industry leaders like Guy Kawasaki and Beth Kanter shed light on the changing media landscape. In particular, I've learned about how nonprofits make the best use of social media to advance fundraising, marketing and advocacy goals.

Although our focus may be on providing nonprofit execs with practical tips and tools -- actionable insights nonprofits can put to use immediately -- there are two salient takeaways that I believe anyone looking to take a cause viral, whether that's feeding the homeless or pushing product, need to know in order to be successful online: the secret to going viral; and how to approach World 2.0, where everyone is smarter than anyone.

1. The Secret to Going Viral

My diligent research has proven that I will hear the word "viral" within 42 seconds of talking with any organization interested in marketing a cause or product online. Everyone wants her campaign to harness the immense word-of-mouth power that is the allure of social media. Though, for all the speakers I've heard promise to share the secret to going viral, it was a casual conversation with my mentor and friend, Bill Ryan, that finally offered enlightenment. It's simple yet confounding: C+C+C = C.

  • Compelling: Never mind the what; the key is sharing the so what with your audience. If you can't convey why they should care, and how what you're talking about relates to their interests... it's game over.

  • Concise: Einstein said it best, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." How can you expect folks to spread the good word if it's too long and complicated to remember?
  • Credible: Great, so you've engaged me and done it quickly, but if you try and tell me that your magic beans are the cure to cancer tomorrow, I'm onto whatever else my fascinating network of do-gooders and colleagues is up to.
  • Put 'em all together and you get the key to viral victory:

    • Contagious: The holy grail of social media marketing is attained when your engaging, short, and believable message takes fire and people start spreading it on your behalf; hopefully even remixing your message and broadening your appeal.

    2. Crowdsourcing 101

    As Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg first noted in 1949, we have entered a world where everyone is smarter than anyone. Never before has this concept held more true. From 1768 until just a few years back, the Encyclopedia Britannica was the quintessential fountain of knowledge, with its ivory tower approach to amassing and disseminating knowledge. They employed thousands and spent millions building their empire, only to have a rag-tag, open source team of techies turn their world upside down.

    Today, Wikipedia continues to rely almost exclusively on volunteer editors and supporters, instead of paid professionals--this June they tallied over 11 million edits in all, with loads of contributors all working on any one article. Their approach yields quality and quantity; as early as 2005, the journal Nature claimed Wikipedia was as accurate as the Encyclopedia, and today it contains over 50 times as many words and articles as its predecessor. Why? Because Wikipedia empowers a community of people, albeit small in proportion to their overall user base, to actively contribute to its fountain of knowledge. They are YouTube, not Paramount.

    So whether it's Wikipedia or YouTube, The Red Cross or charity:water, the question is not how can you use social media and the Internet to expand market share or spread the word about your cause; the question is, How can you use interactive technology to create a mutually beneficial partnership with your constituents? Put yourself in their shoes and make sure you have a clear, compelling reason for why they should bother listening to you in this attention economy, and certainly why they should go through the effort of telling their friends about you. Then open your arms and welcome their input and active participation in shaping your content. In this world, context, not content, is king.

    The secrets to going viral and crowdsourcing may be useful and powerful insights, but never let anyone tell you they're a social media expert; the field is moving too quickly for anyone to claim guru status in this newly forming world.

    So tell me -- what are the most useful insights you've come across that guide your efforts online?

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