My guest on the show today is Emilee Syrewicze. Emilee is the Executive Director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, a nonprofit in Charlotte, NC dedicated to educating and advocating to protect the Catawba River (which is one of the most endangered rivers in the United States). The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is one of the most influential environmental nonprofits in the American South and is leading the effort to clean-up coal ash in North Carolina.
Highlights from this Conversation
- What has worked well for you?
- Three years ago had a very old website and no social media to speak of
- They got coordinated
- They were able to create a new website, singular Facebook page, and other social sources
- 61% increase in Facebook following in the first year once they got coordinated
- Prioritized their audiences to target demographics
- Twitter allows you to target very small, niche audiences
- Instagram is really on the rise
- Stories feature has been exceptional
- What hasn’t worked well that we can learn from?
- If you try to reach everyone, you will reach no one
- Break out demographic and prioritize them
- What are you excited about?
- Stories on Instagram
- They are getting a lot of views from younger people there
- It has made them more relatable to the masses
- Sometimes you just have to have fun on social media
- Stories on Instagram
Adam: [00:00:02] Hi, and welcome to the Good People Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about nonprofit digital marketing and how to make it better, so that good people at good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency that specializes in nonprofit work, and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.
[00:00:25] My guest on the show today is Emilee Syrewicze, who is the executive director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, a nonprofit in Charlotte, North Carolina, dedicated to educating and advocating to protect the Catawba River, which is one of the most endangered rivers in the United States. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is one of the most influential environmental nonprofits in the American South and is leading the effort to clean up coal ash in North Carolina. Emilee, thanks for joining me on the show.
Emilee: [00:00:56] Well, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Adam: [00:00:58] Well, this is going to be so much fun. Do you have anything you want to add to that bio there?
Emilee: [00:01:03] I don’t think so. The one thing I would add is that I am in no way a marketing expert, but I do my best in the context of my leadership at CRF. So, hopefully, you know, someone will find our story and what we do interesting.
Adam: [00:01:16] Well, that’s the goal. That’s the goal. It’s to understand one another, what we’re all doing and so that we can all grow together. So, I think this will be a lot of fun, a really good and timely conversation.
Emilee: [00:01:29] Excellent.
Adam: [00:01:29] Alright. So, question number one, related to nonprofit digital marketing, tell us something that has worked well for you.
Emilee: [00:01:38] Well, I think, in order for me to accurately answer that question, it’s important to know where we as an organization started. So, about three years ago we had a website that was about fifteen years old and it was never … it was very … low traffic rate. And our social media was virtually nonexistent. We had some scattered pages here and there, no coordination with Instagram, Twitter, nothing like that. And so, we were really starting kind of behind the times three years ago, when I first came to the organization.
[00:02:14] We didn’t have much marketing to speak of and so we actually got coordinated. And I think, being coordinated as an organization, your board members to your staff to your members and volunteers, that is something that has worked well for us, and it worked well in the sense that we were able to create a new website, create a singular Facebook page and feature that linked directly to other social media sources, like Twitter and Instagram, and it’s unbelievable, but until three years ago, we had never really done that. We were really behind.
Adam: [00:02:55] Right.
Emilee: [00:02:55] And within the first, you know, year or so of us being coordinated, we saw a … I mean, we honestly saw a 61% increase in our Facebook following, we saw a 78% increase in our Twitter followers, and in Instagram we saw approximately a 30% increase, just in doing that simple thing, which was being coordinated and strategic. But we essentially prioritized our audiences. You know, if you try to reach out to everyone, you’re going to reach out to no-one.
Adam: [00:03:33] Right.
Emilee: [00:03:33] And so, we decided to target certain demographics of our supporters and followers with certain marketing features, and that has seemed to definitely make a difference.
Adam: [00:03:47] I love that. I’m a big fan of micro-targeting and really going as specific as you possibly can, so, and Facebook makes that really easy.
Emilee: [00:03:56] Yeah.
Adam: [00:03:57] Maybe not so in some other platforms, but it’s really powerful in Facebook.
Emilee: [00:04:00] Yes.
Adam: [00:04:01] That’s great. That’s great. And related to, you know, you mentioned the growth on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, is there one that you find yourself more successful at than the others?
Emilee: [00:04:15] Well, I mean, again, it depends on which demographic we’re talking about. If we’re talking about people over forty, no question – Facebook is definitely the one that we’re most successful with, and that is, to be honest, that is the majority of our followers.
Adam: [00:04:33] Right.
Emilee: [00:04:33] Because that’s just … those are the people that have the time and money to give to charitable organizations, right?
Adam: [00:04:38] Right.
Emilee: [00:04:38] So, that Facebook is – and that’s why we were so successful on Facebook in particular. If we’re looking at success with getting news and events out to what we would consider influential people, so, State or local, sometimes U.S. legislators, senators, representatives, news channels, we find that Twitter – for that very focused demographic – is exceptional. There is no question that that is why, by targeting those very small nuanced audiences, that’s why we saw such growth on Twitter. I mean, 77% in just about eighteen months to two years is pretty big. So, I think that utilizing that appropriately is what helped in that way. But more and more, we’re seeing an increase in our Instagram followers for people who are under thirty-five.
Adam: [00:05:36] Right.
Emilee: [00:05:36] So, we actually started a group here at the Riverkeeper Foundation called ‘Young Allies of the River’. It’s basically a young professional organization for folks who care about local water, right. And so, we decided that our best tool to promote Young Ally events, and not just events, but news that they might be interested in, was Instagram, and the news stories feature on Instagram has been exceptional for us in that regard.
Adam: [00:06:12] Right.
Emilee: [00:06:12] So, I would say it depends on your demographic, but I think those are … that’s kind of the breakdown for us.
Adam: [00:06:18] I love that. I love that. That’s really great, and I’m glad that you’re moving forward aggressively and, you know, using the new features in Instagram and really pushing forward, because you’re right, the ability to communicate with very specific audiences in each of these platforms is really profound, so, that’s fantastic. So, next question, related to nonprofit digital marketing, tell us something that has not worked well that we can learn from.
Emilee: [00:06:45] Well, I think I sort of alluded to this in the beginning in that if you try to reach everyone, you’re going to reach no-one. That has been the staple of our difficulties in reaching out to potential new members, our existing members. You know, we don’t have a mission where we can target a certain demographic, you know, and say, “Okay, well, we’re only going to focus on moms, because we’re an organization that serves children or whatever”, or we’re not, you know, the Boy Scouts and we know that all gentlemen with children and your grandchildren, that’s our demographic. We don’t have that luxury, right. We’re serving everyone.
Adam: [00:07:25] Right.
Emilee: [00:07:26] Everyone who drinks water which, in our case, is two point four million people in our river basin. So, we struggled for a long time with that and we would just send, you know, blanket Facebook posts out or we would just send mass mailings or postings on our website and hope people found them, but that didn’t work. It took a lot of time, it didn’t work, and it was a very frustrating thing.
Adam: [00:07:51] Right.
Emilee: [00:07:51] So, when we finally had a marketing committee that decided to break out various demographics and prioritize them “Let’s go after the homeowners on the lakes or rivers first, then let’s talk to people in public health, or …”, you know, when we did that, it worked. But just blanket marketing was really … it was a big waste of time and money.
Adam: [00:08:18] Yeah, as it tends to always be.
Emilee: [00:08:20] Right.
Adam: [00:08:20] I mean everybody’s so extremely unique and really, we’re being hit and inundated by so many messages on a daily and hourly basis that, if the message isn’t really, really, really customized to our needs in particular, we’re just, I mean, why would we ever notice that thing?
Emilee: [00:08:38] Exactly.
Adam: [00:08:38] And so, to your point, I mean, I love that. You know, break out all of the demographics, begin defining what they are, and then push forward from there, and you can really make a lot of headway.
Emilee: [00:08:51] That’s right.
Adam: [00:08:52] I love that. Okay, and last question, related to nonprofit digital marketing, tell us something you’re excited about.
Emilee: [00:09:00] Well, again, I kind of dropped this hint a few minutes ago, but it was our new discovery of a feature that’s actually not that new anymore, but it’s the stories feature on Instagram or a similar thing on Snapchat. We’re finding that we’re actually getting a lot of views from younger people, and is that demographic very lucrative right now? No, but you’ve got to start somewhere. You know, that demographic is going to be lucrative in ten, twenty, thirty years.
Adam: [00:09:29] Right.
Emilee: [00:09:28] And so, getting them involved right now is something that’s more of a long game, but using those features is, to us, really helpful, and it’s also really fun. You know, it’s made our organization a little bit more relatable, I think, to the masses – and I genuinely mean not just those target demographics either. We started posting fun things, which we had … it seems strange, but up until then we really never have done that before…
Adam: [00:09:55] Right.
Emilee: [00:09:55] … up until about a year ago. We post just fun things if we’re out on the river. Like, for example, we have a local brewery here in Charlotte, Triple C Brewing. They created a special brew called Hazy River IPA, and they’re donating a Dollar a pint to the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation. And so, they had a huge release party and we included, our Young Allies of the River and that, and we decided to – leading up to that release – to do a lot of Instagram stories and Facebook posts that were just fun. There was no law or policy or chemistry or environmental science in those posts.
[00:10:36] These were completely fluff, but they were really, really great at getting people out and realizing, “Oh, wait, these guys are actually really fun and, yeah, they’re doing good work, but they’re hilarious” And so, doing that, I think, you have to … we’ve discovered that balancing fun and business kind of in equal measure on social media, will lead to great things. So, we’re excited to do more of that and to utilize those story features to do it, not just because it’s bringing younger folks but over time, it’s actually making our organization a bit more relatable.
Adam: [00:11:14] Yeah, wow, I love that. I think you might be the first nonprofit leader marketer that I have interviewed that has talked about the importance of being fun. But I think you’re onto something. I mean, I think it’s really, really smart. I mean, the brands that we often identify with, they have these certain qualities about them that are very personal, that are almost very human, and if you can goof off a little bit on social media, it really goes a long way into showing the personality of your organization and helping people identify with you and who you are and what you’re about, and then really helps them to want to get behind what you’re doing and support it. So, I think that’s a really, really, really smart thing that you’re doing.
Emilee: [00:11:58] Well, great, yeah, we love it.
Adam: [00:12:00] That’s great. Well, let me see if I can recap and just kind of provide some overview here for our listeners. Related to nonprofit digital marketing, for what has worked well, you said three years ago you basically had an ancient website and no social media to speak of and so you got coordinated – that was the keyword, coordinated – and because of that you were able to get a new site, able to refine and improve your social media presence, and you had huge increases in each of them. I think you said 61% increase in Facebook, I think you said 77% in Twitter, over eighteen months. I forget the Instagram number, but I know it was significant.
Emilee: [00:12:37] Thirty.
Adam: [00:12:37] 30% in Instagram, and you did that by prioritizing their audiences into really, in targeting demographics to really understand how these social media platforms work and targeting the people and using them in the right way to interact with them there. You also mentioned that Twitter allows for you to really target very, very small niche audiences and really reach out to specific people, and that’s been really powerful, and that Instagram has really been on the rise. And I’ve seen that as well in both of my companies and just in general also.
[00:13:10] For number two, what has not worked well that we can learn from, you said if you try to reach everyone, you will reach no-one, which I totally agree with. And that you need to break out all of your demographics and then begin to prioritize them, because you can begin to reach everyone but only micro-reaches to all of the small demographics that you have then prioritized. And so, you mentioned the homeowners on the river was a great place to start. I think that’s brilliant and really, really smart.
[00:13:38] And for what are you excited about, you said stories on Instagram. They’re getting a lot of views from younger people and it’s important to go ahead and capture the younger audience now. I think you’re on to something there. Nonprofits have a tendency to kind of ignore the younger audience, not recognizing that the long game is often as important as the short game and engaging with the younger audience now can pay huge benefits down the road for us as nonprofit leaders. You also said it’s made you more relatable to the masses and sometimes you just have to have fun on social media to make yourself, your brand, your organization more human and more relatable. Does that sound about right?
Emilee: [00:14:15] I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Adam: [00:14:17] Well, you said it. I just took the notes, so. That was great. You did a great job, so. Well, this has been so good, Emilee. Do you have any final thoughts that you want to share with our listeners here?
Emilee: [00:14:30] Not really, but just to say, I think this is a great idea to have a platform like Good People Good Marketing that allows great causes and people to share sort of things that work and don’t work just because why not teach each other and learn from each other. I think it’s fantastic, so thank you for including me and I really appreciate it.
Adam: [00:14:50] Well, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I think our listeners … I know our listeners are going to get a lot out of it and I’ll look forward to getting to speak with you again sometime.
Emilee: [00:14:59] All right, thank you so much, Adam.
Adam: [00:15:01] Thanks for listening to the Good People Good Marketing podcast. To get more resources about nonprofit 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.