Interactive Fundraising: Getting Into the Inbound Marketing Game
It’s happening all around us — marketing is changing. It has to. Many traditional marketing methods (where we pushed our messages at the audience) are becoming more expensive and less effective, as people get better at tuning out marketing messages blasted at them. For example, we use TiVo to record TV shows and fast-forward through the commercials, and we use caller ID to screen phone calls and spam filters to protect against unsolicited e-mails. More and better tools help us screen out messages we don’t want — and other tools have emerged to help us find the stuff we are interested in. Our ability to screen out the "noise" and find the "good" stuff forms the underpinnings of inbound marketing.
For-profit businesses have increasingly embraced the principles of inbound marketing via efforts on Facebook, Twitter, Google AdWords, YouTube and search engine optimization, among other things. These tools may have started off as buzzwords or hype but are starting to demonstrate their utility and promise, as hundreds of millions of people embrace (and even start to depend upon) these services.
Dharmesh Shah, the founder and CTO of HubSpot, an online marketing company that is at the forefront of the inbound marketing revolution, recently spoke to a group of nonprofit leaders in Washington, D.C. He said that “nonprofit organizations can benefit from social media even more than businesses for one simple reason — they are much more likely to have a message that people want to spread. Social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter can help promote a cause in ways that were not possible a decade ago.”
A key principle to inbound marketing is getting found by people who are interested in what you do. Shah does an outstanding job of describing the essentials of inbound marketing in his book, "Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs," which he co-authored with Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott. Three high-level principles discussed are:
Create remarkable content.
Google loves content and rewards information-rich sites with more traffic. Nearly every organization has a compelling story to tell, as well as passionate supporters. Focus on pulling this content to the surface and putting it on the Web, where people interested in your mission can find it. The content can be text-based; blogs are a great way of creating fresh and interesting content. (If your organization isn’t blogging yet, start today!) Content can also be in the form of short videos, webinars, e-books, tweets, etc.
Content is all around you and happening every day. Bringing it to the Web will help prospective supporters find and then connect with you. The more content you publish and the more pages you create on your Web site, the greater the likelihood people will find you when searching. Not every piece of content will be a viral home run, such as the "Pink Glove Dance” from Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Oregon that received more than 8 million views on YouTube, but be creative and create some content that does have this sort of big, viral potential. According to Shah, the bottom line is that there is a direct correlation to the number of pages on your Web site (i.e., the amount of content) and how you rank in Google search and are found by supporters.
Build your social capital.
Building a supporter database is core for just about every nonprofit. It’s important to know addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc. The reality is that more people are connecting and communicating on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Organizations should focus significant energy on establishing social connections with their supporters and prospective ones on these social-media sites (just as they do in building their databases).
For example, on Twitter, it’s easy to search by any keyword for the most influential people on the social network, with a site like Twitter Grader. You can follow these people, and in many cases, they will follow you back. Now, you are connected and can begin to develop relationships. When you do this, you will see that some of your supporters are incredibly "connected" with hundreds or even thousands of like-minded "friends" that can help you spread your message. The reason that we all put blood, sweat and tears into maintaining our databases is to help in communicating with interested supporters. Investing time (not money) in establishing similar social connections will help your organization significantly expand its reach.
Go where they are.
Fish where the fish are. Google AdWords and Facebook ads are excellent resources that will help you target online advertising by geography, age range, gender, keywords or areas of interest. They are easy to use, and you can start with a minimal budget, to see how it works in targeting supporters. If you haven’t already, try setting up accounts on these sites, and begin the process of placing an ad. Don’t worry! You won’t have to actually place the ad if you don’t want to, but as part of the process, you will be able to see exactly how many Google searches are done on a certain keyword or how many women between the ages of 25 and 50 are living within 50 miles of Boston — and have indicated an interest in "diabetes" on Facebook (there are 3,360).
For many, this way of thinking and marketing may be new, and like many new things, it may be a bit daunting. However, the good news is that success in this new landscape is predicated on brains and creativity rather than having a big budget. This is particularly important in the nonprofit arena, where budgets are typically tight.
It is important to remember that we are still early on in the emergence of inbound marketing. I believe that these changes will be profound over the coming years. The challenges and opportunities with inbound marketing lie in simply getting started. For those of you for whom this isn’t new, kudos for already recognizing the promise of inbound marketing and possibly starting to see real results. You may also appreciate that succeeding requires being "in the game," with learning and testing. It often means moving outside of your comfort zone; however, the risks of failure are low. There is minimal investment or technical expertise required, and the rewards are unquestionably high.
Mark Sutton is president of Artez Interactive, U.S., an online fundraising solutions provider. He can be reached via Twitter @marksutton.