Social Media Conversion – The Wrong Question?

During a talk tonight I was asked why charities tend to be bad at converting social media relationships into concrete support and donations (aka combating clicktivism.) It seems to me that this is actually the wrong question: generally, social media is not so much a way for finding new customers as it is for developing existing relationships with your supporters. It isn’t the top of the funnel, it’s somewhere further down.

Take this as a for-instance: I support a local dog shelter in Chicago and I tweet about my experience there, asking my friends to support it. You might favorite the tweet because you want to support me and I’m doing a good thing. But if you live in California and are a cat person, the chances that my tweet will suddenly convince you to support the shelter are low to nil. (Of course so are the chances that we are friends.)

My contention is that much giving is local and all meaningful giving is cause-based. I might briefly support a charity I don’t really care about because a friend is running a marathon in support, but that will not result in a real and lasting relationship with the charity even if I like, favorite and rebroadcast my friend’s posts.

On the other hand, if you’re motivated about a cause – you just moved to Chicago and you’ve had a soft spot for our canine friends – then my support of a relevant charity will serve as proofing – as an indicator of which organization might be good to support.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but an analogy is Trip Advisor. My friends may tweet all day long about the amazing places they go to eat in New York and San Francisco, but I don’t care and won’t engage until I go there myself. On the other hand, if I’m on my way to New York and Trip Advisor shows me my friends’ favorite spots, I’m going to make an effort to get a reservation.

My point here is that thinking of social media as the top of the funnel is wrong for charities in a lot of cases. List building needs to begin with the cause that motivates someone. Social media’s strength is in the consideration phase of supporting an organization. This is the approach we’re pushing at Public Good Software and I think it more accurately models how people really thing about giving. 

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