Episode 121 – Focus on short bursts of engagement.

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Episode 121 – Focus on short bursts of engagement.

Short Bursts of Engagement

Today Adam and Marijane, director of marketing/PR for the NHP Foundation, chat about digital marking and why you should focus on short bursts of engagement.

Adam: [00:00:08] Hi, welcome to the Good People, Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about digital marketing and how to make it better so the good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.

[00:00:28] My guest on the show today is Marijane Funess. She directs marketing and PR for the NHP Foundation, a not-for-profit provider of transformational housing for low- and middle- income families and seniors, as a part of the organization’s External Affairs Group. She is especially proud of the group’s Thought Leadership efforts which continually help garner positive exposure and help attract donors and funders to NHPF’s exemplary work. These include symposia—I think I pronounced that right—and other events, content creation, and email marketing. Marijane, welcome to the show.

Marijane: [00:01:05] Thanks for having me, Adam.

Adam: [00:01:07] You almost threw me with that symposia thing. I had to slow down real big there.

Marijane: [00:01:09] (inaudible 00:01:10) of symposium. That’s all that is.

Adam: [00:01:15] I like it. I really like it a lot. It’s clever, but it took me a minute, so I apologize for that. So, Marijane, I’m excited to chat with you about digital marketing; this is going to be fun. So, let’s just dive in. Related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that has worked well for you?

Marijane: [00:01:32] Well, I’ll tell you, I was going to start with a sort of contrarian notion, that as much digital and CRM and social outreach as we do, which is a lot— Hopefully not a lot that it exhausts our list or anything, but we do a lot; but I was also going to say, one of the things that we do well is old-school paper.

Adam: [00:01:53] Wow. Tell me about that.

Marijane: [00:01:56] Well, actually, we do a lot of what we call Thought Leadership; it’s a very buzzy term these days, and usually what we’re referring to is events that we put on, but also based on content that we create, byline articles, white papers, speeches, and other sort of formatted delivery of a high-level thinking, that our CEO and other people in the organization put into writing with my oversight, if you will. What we find, though, is a lot of times people don’t necessarily click on all of the areas that they could click, let’s say, within our website, or within emailing. So, we actually bring paper to our events. We’d actually put it on thumb drives, because we thought everybody would want to still be reading everything digitally, but sometimes there’s really something about the immediacy of paper that we find— People don’t turn us down; They don’t say, “Oh God, don’t overload me with paper in my swag bag,” or whatever. But people, we find, have responded very well getting a lot of our content in good old-fashioned paper. So, that was the sort of the contrarian answer I was going to give you;

[00:03:08] But in terms of your actual question, as it applies to digital and what we do digitally, I think the greatest learning we’ve had over the past few years has been short bursts of engagement. We’ve gotten away from anything longer than a couple of paragraphs in terms of emailing, email marketing, that we do to our exhaustive mailing list and the subsets within, and we try to do them more frequently. So, it’s sort of like the rule of short bursts of activity more often, rather than a monthly newsletter, and something else next month that goes on and on because people have the attention span of a (inaudible 00:03:49), or I think it’s actually the attention span of a goldfish, I’ve heard, which is very short. So, we have noticed that if we send out some short (inaudible 00:04:00), if you will, that either are an article that one of our staff members have— Or our leadership, actually, has written; But perhaps, it’s just the first couple of paragraphs, and someone could click to a link if they want to read the whole thing; or it’s a photo of— In our case, it’s very important to highlight what our residents are doing at our properties, so sometimes it will be a real picture of kids that are doing face painting day, or a holiday; and that’s accompanied also by just a couple of quick sentences, because we find that when we check our analytics, even the openings, let alone the engagement is superior with these short burst of engagement strategy versus what used to be, “Oh my God, how many people opened our newsletter this month?” or whatever. So, we’ve really gotten away from that. And we find, like I said, if you’re linking to something, a relevant article, a survey, you know, just sort of bite-size and visual, that seems to be getting the most traction for us.

Adam: [00:05:04] Yeah, I love that. I love that. Short bursts of engagement, snippets of things with links outbound; that way you can track things. You’re pumping out there more often, more frequently, but shorter bursts of engagement. I love that. Bite-size, bite-size content. We need more bite-sized content. Nonprofits are— All of us are so guilty of putting out too much stuff in too long of a format, instead if we can put something out that people can consume. Man, I love that.

Marijane: [00:05:35] Then, what it comes down to though is, your writing, it just has to be superior, because you have to be able to say so much in the fewest words possible; so much that will make people want to click, or get their emotions up, or read more; just get them psyched in some way. So, it really comes down to very, very crisp, concise and compelling writing, and that is what we strive for.

Adam: [00:06:03] Yes. Crisp, concise writing. I can’t tell you how much I love crisp, concise writing. When I get a long email, my heart just sinks.

Marijane: [00:06:14] It’s true. And you just want to edit it right away and send it back to them, in track changes.

Adam: [00:06:18] Yeah, that’s right. All right. So, now, question number two: related to non-profit digital marketing. Can you tell us something that has not worked well, that we can learn from?

Marijane: [00:06:30] Well, I’ll tell you once again, I was going a little off script here, but I think it applies to any kind of marketing, as much as we try to change things up. This is our thirtieth-year anniversary, so we have a new thirty-year anniversary logo. Obviously, it was important to change that, in terms of what people are receiving from us, what people have built into their email signatures, what’s on our website; It’s very important to reflect this important milestone. But, I find if we change things too much in emailing, it throws people off, in terms of what they expect to hear from us, at a certain time of year, or at a certain kind of appeal, or whatever it is. I think people get very comfortable, in a good way, with seeing your stuff, your graphic identity and things like that, not change too much; and in having conversations with peers of mine that are also in not-for-profit marketing, they’ve kind of found the same thing, that when they’ve made very big changes to a logo, to the title of an event, to titles even within their organization, started naming somebody the Chief Happiness Officer or something; that people— they have a comfort zone with you, and especially this is true, I think, in not-for-profit, and they don’t want to see you swerve too far from that.

[00:08:03] Our advice there is, incremental changes, changes that make a lot of sense, but not wholesale, like I said, logo, or graphic identity changes that will just make people find you less recognizable; because the (inaudible 00:08:18) habitual comforting (inaudible 00:08:21), or whatever comfort of your name, and your graphic identity, and your other attributes are what makes, I think— Whether it’s a donor, or even someone from the press, or someone considering being on your board, it makes them comfortable with you. They see that continuity, and that’s really important.

Adam: [00:08:43] Yeah. So, if I can just repeat it back in a different way, what you’re really saying is, “Be true to your brand.” and not just that, but the brand that your followers, your supporters expect you to be; and if you’re going to tweak the brand that you are, it’s gotta be an incremental tweak, in incremental steps, rather than a wholesale teardown and rebuild, because then you’re going to disenfranchise people that are your supporters, and they’re not going to know what to do with you, or if they even want to support you any longer.

Marijane: [00:09:12] Exactly. We’ve seen people try these very radical changes, and we’ve even made some ourselves, and we always come back to err on the side of, like you’re saying, being true to the brand that people already know; and incrementally, you can introduce, like I said, with the logo change or something like that; We know that we want to do our annual report very differently this year, let’s say, as another example, but not to the detriment of your audience and your supporters; Because it’s so easy these days, given all the tools that we have, it’s easy to go wild and start, “Hey, I could change my website tomorrow and (inaudible 00:09:48) a completely new message.” and all that, and something though, that you don’t want to get bitten by that bug and go crazy with it, because you’ll have plenty of detractors.

Adam: [00:09:59] That’s right. Absolutely. I totally agree with you, and I’ve seen the same things you’ve seen, and I think the iterative steps really make a lot of sense.

Marijane: [00:10:08] Right, strategic. And one more thing I would say also, we rely so heavily, as everybody does, on one’s analytics feedback that you get, in terms of what people are saying to you on Twitter, or other social media. I think you can sort of gauge— As matter of fact, when we did our second symposium— See, that’s the singular; Second symposium last year, we did a survey afterwards, as many people do; and I think that people, even in that scenario, which was a real-life thing versus a digital thing, it was a symposium that was attended by three hundred people; we noticed that many people didn’t like as well the changes that we put in 2018 as much as they’d liked things they’d already witnessed, or been part of, in 2017. So, that was a lot of food for thought in real world versus what we will be doing digitally, but it really hit home with us. So, it’s sort of a philosophy that we want to engender throughout all of our communications.

Adam: [00:11:10] Yeah, it makes perfect sense. So, question number three: related to non-profit digital marketing. Can you tell us something you’re excited about?

Marijane: [00:11:19] Well, I don’t know if I’m excited about it, I’m waiting to see. We just changed our CRM provider, and it’s always hard to make changes. It’s just like when you change any software program, or changing a vendor that you work with; but I am excited about what seems to be the promise of the back-end being easier, neater, cleaner. We’ll find out, because we’re just starting now to work with them; but I think what we’re always excited about is finding the next level greatest thing that’s available to us, particularly in not-for-profit, because there are a lot of vendors in the space with a lot of different tech tools and a lot of different kinds of tools, and we’re all about the tools.

[00:12:08] We’re always looking— I think you said that before when you started the interview with me, that that was one of the reasons you started your podcast, always on the hunt for the good resources. I find that the more I network with my peers informally and formally, we find these great resources that we can share with each other; and even though it’s always— Again, it’s all about change, it’s hard to make big change, especially when you have been successful with a particular company or a vendor. But in this case, if we can improve our open rates and our engagement, and by virtue of all of that, draw more donors to our organization, because that’s what it’s all about in our space, then I feel like that will be a win-win; and I feel like as the providers, the Salsas of the world, or the (inaudible 00:13:04) of the world, as they improve their product, it just ups the game for each of us. So, like I said, even though change is hard to do, we’re willing to make this change because we’re really looking in the service of our business and our appeals, to make sure we’re attracting people the best way that we can.

Adam: [00:13:25] So, speaking of the CRM, the new CRM; Can you share what new CRM you’re trying out?

Marijane: [00:13:31] Yeah. It’s Salsa Engage. Actually, I think they might have changed the name just slightly, from Salsa Engage to Salsa something else, which I can’t think of now. Like I said, we had used one cause last year, and they were great. It wasn’t that we had problems with them, but it was just that, you know, shiny objects; and somebody came to us with having had a great experience with Salsa, so we are just starting to work with them now, and we’re going to see what it involves. The switchover doesn’t seem to have been too unweidly at this point and we’ll see, like I said, what it turns out to be for (inaudible 00:14:11) analytics, because like everybody else, especially not-for-profit, we’re all about the data and if it shows us, like I said, doing better with people on mobile devices, or it shows that the open rate was higher, or it’s better at clearing out some bad names on the list.

[00:14:30] We’re kind of all about that. Then, I would just say, as a sort of a parting shot on all of this, because I come from a PR background, I firmly believe that whatever we’re doing on the marketing side has to be supported by PR efforts. I would never let something sort of languish in a vacuum, if you will. Obviously, not everything can be promoted through the media, but these days there’s enough tools, whether it’s something that you’re publishing yourself, or something that you are relying on third party media to get a message out; if you can make your marketing messages appealing enough and interesting enough to a wider audience— I think we’ve been pretty successful that way, then you’re really touching everybody at a place where they can be reached through information, whether it’s an email box, or something they see or hear. So that’s that sort of part of our strategies.

Adam: [00:15:30] Yeah, I love that. So, Marijane, let me see if I can recap a few things I’ve learned so far, and then I’ll ask you if you have any final thoughts. So, question number one, related to non-profit digital marketing, what has worked well for you; You said actually old-school papers worked well, and having printouts to hand to people in grab bags has worked well, which is amazing. That’s great. Then you also mentioned— And I really love this, short bursts of engagement. Nothing longer than a few paragraphs, and more frequent engagement so that you’re getting your message out there. It’s more targeted, it’s easier to consume, it’s more engaging, it’s more regular. So, people are then interacting with your brand on a more regular basis. I really, really love that. Probably my biggest takeaway today is that, and I’m going to implement that with my non-profit, starting today, I think, and I’m not kidding.

[00:16:15] Question number two, related to non-profit digital marketing, what has not worked well that we can learn from; You mentioned that if you change things too much, it doesn’t go well. You can’t just tear down your whole brand, or your whole process, or your whole anything, and just rebuild something completely and totally different. Instead, be iterative and thoughtful about it, making sure to maintain your brand, maintain your message, maintain that brand integrity, to give people that foundation, that courage or knowing who you are.

[00:16:48] Then, question number three, related to digital marketing, what are you excited about; You mentioned that you just changed to a new CRM, Salsa Engage; and also there’s just all kinds of MarTech tools that are coming down the road, new and shiny, and great opportunities for us to use them and learn from them. You also mentioned, of course, that we need to have a PR component, as well as marketers and as non-profit marketers. So, did I miss anything from that summary?

Marijane: [00:17:15] I don’t think so. That was pretty concise, speaking of keeping things concise.

Adam: [00:17:19] I love concise. I told you I love concise; I’m a big fan. Well, Marijane, do you have any final thoughts you want to share with our audience?

Marijane: [00:17:30] Let me think. I guess the only thing I would encourage— I’m sure most of your audience is pretty familiar and pretty on track with keeping up with their social media, and making sure that they’re following some of the rules and best practices of posting, where it’s like one out of three posts are about you, and the rest are about something else. We’ve noticed in our analytics, because we do social media for both the NHP Foundation, which we said is the developer, the provider of the actual housing itself, but we also do it for Operation Pathways, which is our resident services provider; Those are the folks who are on the ground, at our apartment building providing services, everything that we think, from after-school programs for kids to financial literacy for adults and everything in between; nutrition, all kinds of different courses.

[00:18:26] We handle their social media as well, and we’ve noticed, in terms of— If you want to call it a trend, I’m not sure, it might not be that new; but whenever we are able to post a link of either a video, a short, a very short— Again, very short video, or to an article that, like I said, one of our management, or one of our leadership has written; those seem to really get great engagement, as well as having a great tagging strategy, which I’m sure most of your listeners probably know; but nothing doesn’t trick like making sure you’re doing some effective tagging of important people, important influencers in the sphere. So, I just wanted to throw that out also, because we’re ever mindful.

Adam: [00:19:12] That’s right. We are ever mindful. Marijane, this was so, so good. I really appreciate your time, and I hope I get the opportunity to interview you again sometime soon.

Marijane: [00:19:20] Oh, I would love it. I hope someday I’ll have a podcast; I’ll interview you.

Adam: [00:19:24] Hey, that sounds like a deal. I’ll plan on it. I’m looking forward to that. All right. Thanks so much.

Marijane: [00:19:29] Thank you, Adam.

Adam: [00:19:33] Thanks for listening to the Good people, Good marketing podcast. To get more resources about non-profit digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources. Also, if you want to find me, Adam, your host, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker, or on my blog at adamjwalker.com, where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building, and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks for listening, and tune in next time.

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