Gradon Tripp, Founder of Social Media for Social Change
Joe Waters, Director of Cause Marketing for Boston Medical Center
Ken George, New Media Production Manager for WBUR
Brian Halligan, CEO and Co-Founder of HubSpot
Kate Brodock, Founder and Principal of Other Side Group (Moderator)
We’ve included a decent clip of the general discussion, followed by a full transcript.
Note: This transcript was recorded in real-time and is therefore an incomplete record of the panel discussion. Which is to say that this is the jist of what was said. Before attributing any quotes, please first seek permission from the speaker.
Q: Please introduce yourself and answer the question, “What is your definition of social media?”
Joe Waters: I’m the director of cause marketing of Boston Medical Center – and we do a lot of “between non- and for-profit” partnerships, like Project (RED). We partner with many for-profits (point of sale or percentage of sale programs, generally) — a lot of that to raise money for the medical center. One big event, Halloweentown, is put together with iParty, and has been a big fundraiser and very attractive to the what we call “the four-legged four-armed monster” — mothers with kids. I write a blog on cause marketing, as well.
Social media to me is (1) two-way communication (I like sites that talk back to you, like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs), and (2) user-generated work. We’re seeing the idea of someone sitting in an office and generating content going away.
Ken George: Public radio, online production manager for WBUR. Thank you for pledging to your local radio station. I recognize that pledging is a particular type of fundraising, and I’ve been working on pushing WBUR toward social media in the past year. What Obama did with social media to engage and mobilize was great, and I’d like to see public radio do that, too. We have monthly social media gatherings at the station. It’s important to break down the walls between the customers and us. I think a key part of the definition of social media is Creating Value.
Gradon Tripp: I’m in business development at Firstgiving. We use the tools of social media to raise money for non-profits. I think there’s a lot of nonsense out there about social media. I think it’s the just new tool of communication, like a telephone.
Brian Halligan: HubSpot is an inbound marketing company. The tried and true marketing techniques don’t change much across the for- to non-profit spectrum, and you and I are getting better and better at blocking out traditional, interruption-based marketing messages. The old rules are broken and getting more and more broken.
My co-student at MIT created a blog in the early days and was very smart about engaging others. And this helped develop my theory that marketing needs to move from outbound – interrupting you – to inbound. I think of social media as interactive, two-way, many-to-many. It’s great for marketers because you can really lower your marketing costs.
Q: Why did you start using social media, and what’s the process of bringing people onboard?
Brian: When we first started using social media, we initially researched for the idea of our company by checking on the social mediasphere. Blogs, emails, etc. are all important channels to be used, and social media is one of them. And we measure over time the conversation rate for each channel, including social media. Step 1 is creating remarkable content, such as a blog. You want to optimize the blog title, short and sweet, for both Google and concise sharing, such as on Twitter. You almost need to be a professional title writer for social media. Then step 2 is to market it through all the channels.
Joe: We have to be a proactive, progressive fundraising operation – our customers don’t make enough to be our main source of donations, so we have to widen our net. Getting into social media was the next step, and we always want to be ahead of what our partner companies are doing, and now that they’re getting into social media, we can help them with our expertise, helping with the audience, the tools, building a presence, and when they see us as an organization that’s helping add value, that makes a difference when of the many nonprofits they work with, one of them is helping them achieve their marketing goals. It helps us stand out, compared to a nonprofit they work with who they don’t hear from except for once a year when planning the annual fundraiser.
Ken: My eureka moment came when we got comments through some Flickr pictures. It has taken me a good 6 months to demystify social media, and it was scary at first given our prestigious brand, which we’re rather protective of. As a journalistic organization, WBUR is concerned with brand and appearance issues, like avoiding biases.
The goal is to demystify social media to the WBUR folks, and getting our listeners into the building has been a large part of that. Our progress has been in fits and starts, but I think we’re out in front of the comparable public radio stations out there.
Gradon: We have tweetups – take a word, at the letters T-W, and it’s a twitter word. But many of them are just having a beer. So I wrote a blog post, “Let’s have a social media fundraiser.” And this one event that was supposed to just raise a few thousand dollars turned into a $20K fundraiser. Our most recent event raised $30K — half cash and half in-kind donations.
Q: How do you convert followers into volunteers or funders? Followers into doers?
Gradon: You ply them with alcohol. Our fundraising events aren’t different – raffles, silent auctions, alcohol. We had a successful event, advertised as $45 for an open bar in NYC, where that’s a cheap night out. After 90 minutes of that, we bring out the raffle tickets. Things like that – raffle tickets, silent auctions – are the tried-and-true tools of fundraising, and it’s not like social media is going to replace that.
Everyone asks, “What’s in it for me?” We teamed up with content producers who thought we were doing good work and asked them to point back to us, in the channels we work in.
Joe: On twitter, you’re getting a lot of branding and marketing people as early and heavy adopters, and so as a non-profit guy you can have conversations with them about what they’re doing, what their clients are up to, and even looking at collaboration. And a nonprofit talking to a for-profit PR director — that’s an easy and productive connection to make.
Brian: There are several types of content we push out through twitter: blog articles, webinars, video
Joe: Is twitter the death of blogging? Or does blogging fade as Twitter grows?
Brian: Everyone wants to be a publisher. If you create interesting blog content, that works for both social media tools and Google.
Kate: And HubSpot has great video spots.
Ken: Some parts of fundraising, pitching for pledges, doesn’t work as well on social media, since public radio-style pledge drives tend to be very direct appeals, which doesn’t translate as well to social media. But the visits to the station are very powerful.
Gradon: Ken does something subtle — a week before a pledge drive, he’ll ask followers to respond, “Just say hi.” I.e., If you like WBUR, let us know.” Which helps prime the pump. Very clever.
Q: Local vs. National scale efforts in new media, what say you?
Brian: It’s about your product – can it be scaled nationally? If so, social media works, because it too scales nationally. But if you’re a local business with local services, it doesn’t quite work.
The Facebook search bar is one of the most used search engines, and I think it will grow to be a way to find local services. But slicing and dicing down to your neighborhood is still tough. Far more benefit taking something small and expanding nationally.
Gradon: We’re seeing charities raise money online where only a small portion of donors are in the state of the services rendered. The rest live elsewhere.
Q: What is value of using social media to get information, feedback, to avoid mistakes? Research value?
Gradon: I don’t think one should be afraid of making social media mistakes. Jump in.
Brian: It’s a great way to get Beta feedback quickly. Obama’s campaign was great at that market testing.
Joe: I was listening to Blue State Digital talking about social media – they’re the ones who did Obama’s web campaign – and they’re very nice about it, but said that email is the killer app because everyone still reads their email. It’s a better way to reach people, and it’s more actionable.
Gradon: Social media is a tool in the toolbox. Still, the largest response rate is from email.
Brian: At HupSpot, we track a metric called reach. The social media side of our marketing list is growing. I think when someone wants to communicate, you’ll need to tap email as WELL as twitter, facebook, etc.
Joe: Zappos is a great example of doing more of having a logo online, giving the logo purpose and personality. But it is labor-intensive.
Q: What are 1 or 2 really important things for the audience to take away about how to use social media?
Ken: At WBUR, it requires a bunch of people to believe in it and carry the torch. The other crucial thing is consistency. Someone in my organization wants a blog, I give them that, and they post perhaps once a month. It is a time investment, which is something that many don’t realize.
Brian: When my parents watched TV in the ‘70s, they watched the ads. A bit by bit, through TiVo, the remote, Internet content, that interruption-based marketing model has melted. We’re starting to see more and more Fortune 500 companies grow through expertise in the social media and Internet space. You can see it in the quick churn rate of Fortune 500 companies, how many new ones there are every year. My advice is to just get on with it.
Gradon: You get in, you do it, you don’t question yourself, and if you believe in yourself, you’re figure it out and thrive.
Joe: You need to be really into social media, or you need to find someone in your organization who is. You know the book, “He’s Just Not That Into You”? It’s like that.
Kate: A lot of companies try to restrict who can blog or communicate about the company’s activities.
Brian: I think it’s dead wrong to keep employees from blogging. If you were to rank all the marketing efforts of your organization, let’s say there are 15, and if you replace the worst one replace it with a blog, and I guarantee in 6 months, you’ll have a new bottom ROI marketing initiative that is not the blog.
Gradon: Sometimes it’s Steve the mail guy who IS one of the best faces of the company.
Kate: If you can draw parallels between problems like blogging on company time with how companies have dealt with other issues, like personal email, personal phone use, etc., it’s not really that different. To prevent employees from blogging when blocking personal email isn’t done seems misguided.
Q: Isn’t spam an issue? Having your audience feel like you’re selling to them?
Brian: Well, with Twitter you can choose who you follow.
Joe: The twittersphere really sniffs out sincerity quickly.
Gradon: Zappos doesn’t ask you to buy shoes. Instead, it’s a balance between demonstrating personality and providing value.
Joe: It’s about presenting yourself as a progressive, thought leader in the industry.
Kate: It’s about value. It’s not marketing. It’s linked to who you are, and it’s where people go to get information.
Julie: How do balance your personality on twitter vs. expertising yourself?
Gradon: Chris Brogan is a thought leader in social media. He writes more blog posts in a week than I write in a month, and a lot of the time it’s, “I had an idea, here it is.” You get a mix of “if you run a company, here’s what you should be doing” and “It’s Wednesday and that means spaghetti day.”
Ken: I’ve struggled with how to balance my personality Ken George with WBUR. It works best when it’s blurred, but it’s a challenge.
Brian: They’re real currency and social currency. And if you have 5 minutes with Chris Brogan, you shouldn’t ask him for money, you should ask him to link to you on his blog. You’ll get way more out of it.
Q: I work for AIDS Action Committee. We’ve found it difficult to make the conversation two-way. How can we do this better?
Gradon: Before you ask a question to your audience, you have to answer them. Talking to people. If you are the thought leader in the Boston AIDS community, think about what you have to offer.
Joe: One of the things we’ve talked about at BMC is, “What are our issues to talk about?” Health insurance, because people worry about that. Emergency services, because people are fascinated with it – think about the success of ER. For the 2 or 3 things trending in your area, get talking about it if you’re not.
Gradon: My philosophy is to let others be negative, to be bigger and better than that. When I’m negative, it’ll be about a small thing about a site’s layout and then I’ll compliment the site for its content and mission. One time we had an item make it on Digg, and that brought a lot of negative trolls. Digg is full of those. And we let them have their way on the message boards and soon they left. It was easier not to engage.
Brian: I would suggest being polarizing. We did well on Digg at the beginning of HupSpot by posting polarizing articles about Google and Apple. … Or think of it this way: If someone makes a negative comment on your site, use it as a way to show what great customer service you have.
Ken: Occasionally people cross a line, and you do need to set standards about what will be censored. We moderate after comments are posted, and that works for us.