Useful Tools: Blogs

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on blogs.

A blog (short for ‘weblog’) is a regularly updated site written in a conversational style. Blogs originally started out as online diaries written by individuals, but many businesses now also use them to regularly update their users with information about the latest happenings in their industry. A blog is displayed as a series of posts, usually in reverse chronological order (newest first). Blogs also usually have a comment function where users can reply directly to the post.

Blog posts are generally quite short (usually around 500 to 1500 words) and are usually written in a conversational, informal style. Like all web content, they need to be either useful, entertaining or both. Many business posts use lists (e.g. ‘10 ways to improve your search rankings’) as a way of conveying information quickly and easily. Other, more personal blogs, like those written by public figures such as authors, may give some insight into the writer’s personality or creative process and function as a way to develop a relationship with readers.

Having a blog on your site is a very effective way of maximising your search engine optimisation (SEO), as long as it’s updated regularly. Although there are lots of free sites where you can host your blog—Blogger and WordPress being two of the biggest—it’s a good idea to have it attached directly to your site (e.g. yourdomain.com/blog) as any hits on your blog will also count towards your main site’s SEO. If you build a site on WordPress.com, you’ll automatically have a ‘posts’ page that you can use for blogging (if you don’t want to use it, you can elect for it not to be published).

The main purpose of a blog is to build relationships with your users. You want to encourage interaction, although it’s important to also moderate the comments section so that any offensive comments or users can be blocked. You can also interact with other bloggers in your field to develop relationships and possibly share links or guest post on each other’s sites.

The main thing to remember about blogs is that they need to be updated regularly, so starting one is a long-term commitment. Only get into blogging if you really enjoy it—it shouldn’t feel like a chore, and if it does, your readers will be able to tell. But if you enjoy writing and developing communities, a blog can really enhance your organisation’s website.

Useful Tools: Crowdfunding

Photo credit: Rocío Lara via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on crowdfunding.

‘Crowdfunding’ refers to raising money from a large number of people to fund a project, small business, charity drive or other enterprise. The most common way to do this is through an online crowdfunding site. There are a substantial number of crowdfunding sites around, and many focus on specific types of projects or industries.

Regardless of their targeted industry, crowdfunding sites tend to work in similar ways. A person seeking funding proposes a project, a funding goal and a timeframe. Supporters pledge to make a certain contribution, often for a small reward (the rewards increase in value the higher the pledge). If the funding goal is reached in the timeframe, the project is fully funded and supporters are contacted to contribute their money. If the goal isn’t reached, the project is not funded and no money is collected (an ‘all-or-nothing’ model). However, on some sites—particularly charity-focused ones—the proposer gets to keep whatever money is pledged, even if it falls short of the target (a ‘keep-what-you-get’ model).

A few of the major crowdfunding sites are detailed below. Some of these are for-profit sites, meaning they charge a commission and/or set-up fees, while others are non-profit. Do your research and make sure you choose a platform that suits your needs.

Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform for the creative industries—it focuses on helping artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers and other creatives fund their work. It uses an all-or-nothing funding model, so if your project fails to meet its target you don’t receive any money.

Indiegogo

Indiegogo is open to all projects, from inventions to entrepreneurial start-ups. It is a for-profit enterprise with 5 per cent platform fees and both all-or-nothing and keep-what-you-get funding models.

Pozible

Like Kickstarter, Pozible is focused on the creative industries, but has a wider scope of projects. Its fees vary, from 5 per cent for projects of less than $100,000, to 4 per cent for projects between $100,000 and $500,000 and 3 per cent for projects over $500,000. Its funding model is all-or-nothing.

Gofundme

Gofundme is a personal crowdfunding website, meaning it focuses on personal causes such as medical expenses, volunteering trips or funerals. Because it is charity-focused, supporters don’t get rewards for contributing particular amounts; rather, the premise relies on giving the supporters a feeling of altruism.

Gofundme also has a charity arm, where people can start a fundraising project for a charity from the organisation’s list of registered charities (which are all US-based) and then encourage their friends to donate.

Unlike other crowdfunding sites, Gofundme does not set time goals, so the campaign can continue for as long as the organiser wants. Its fee is 5 per cent and its funding model is keep-what-you-get.

Chuffed

Chuffed focuses on non-profit and social enterprise projects. It is a non-profit organisation and its funding model is keep-what-you-get. It does not charge administration fees.

Patreon

Patreon also targets the creative industries, but unlike other crowdfunding models, it aims to provide ongoing rather than one-off funding (based on the traditional idea of patronage for the arts). While the aim of a Kickstarter campaign is to get support for a specific project, Patreon campaigns are about fans funding the creator rather than the project. ‘Patrons’ provide a tip of a specified amount either monthly or every time the creator releases a new piece of content, and can set a monthly maximum. In return, the artist will offer an exclusive package to their patrons, which may include things like complementary tickets, tutorials or a regular Q&A session.

In principle, crowdfunding sounds like a fantastic way to get a project off the ground, and there is no question that it has given life to projects that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day. However, it is also not something to be undertaken lightly, and its success rates are generally low. According to Kickstarter, 305,250 projects have been launched since the site’s inception in 2009, of which 107,799 have been successfully funded, giving it a success rate of around 35 per cent.

Before you launch a crowdfunding campaign think carefully about a few things:

  • Where will the money will come from? This comes back to having an existing audience.
  • How will you drive traffic to your campaign site? You will need a marketing plan for your crowdfunding campaign, which you should incorporate into your overall communications and social media strategies (see Part 1). This includes producing a professional-looking video about your project, as this is the thing that will (hopefully) be shared widely on social media. Don’t try to do this on a shoestring.
  • What do you offer that’s unique? Maybe you already have an established fan base and you’re offering them something that they desperately want—your next book/album/artwork/invention. But if you don’t, what is it about your project that will draw people in?
  • What rewards will you offer your supporters? Be creative here—don’t just give them a sample of your eventual product. Think about what will most encourage people to donate. You need to offer them something of value in terms of either a product or an experience.

Crowdfunding can be a great way for cash-strapped volunteer organisations to achieve otherwise unreachable projects. But, like all fundraising and marketing, it needs to be approached strategically, with a good understanding of what you want to achieve and how you plan to do it, or it is likely to fail.

 

Useful Tools: Online petitions

Photo credit: Archives New Zealand via Foter.com / CC BY

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on online petitions.

The petition as a means of instigating change has been around for hundreds of years, but gone are the days when putting together a petition meant traipsing door-to-door collecting signatures. Now, anyone can start a petition with a few clicks and forward it through social media. There are a number of online petition sites, but Change.org is the largest and best-known.

Change.org is a non-profit organisation that hosts online petitions for free. It bills itself as a social enterprise that aims to promote social change by giving ordinary people a platform through which to reach decision-makers.

The growth in online petition sites has coincided with a change in the media landscape that means journalists now source a lot of their stories through social media. Consequently, petitions that go viral on social media are likely to get picked up by traditional media and given greater exposure.

However, because there are now so many petitions out there on issues big and small, it can be hard to make yours stand out. Your choice of issue will be part of it—something that resonates with large numbers of people is naturally going to go further than something that is only important to a select few. However, although sheer numbers are important, it’s also important to consider who is signing. For example, you’re petitioning your local council about an issue important to your local community. You may have relatively few signatures because the issue is so localised, but if half of those signatures are from major community and business leaders, your petition will carry more weight.

As with all your other communications, your petition needs to be targeted and run in a professional manner. This means:

  • Tell your story professionally and succinctly, and make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Emotion can sometimes be a useful narrative tool, but decision-makers are more likely to be swayed by logic. Don’t just highlight the problem—put forward a solution too.
  • Target your decision-makers carefully. There’s no point sending a petition to someone who has no power to do anything about your issue.
  • Target your supporters. It’s good to get a large number of supporters if possible, but think also about targeting high-profile people who have an interest in your issue, as having some high-profile names will help add weight to your petition.
  • Deal professionally with your supporters. Keep them updated on any developments and let them know when you’ve reached a resolution. Also consider giving them information about other ways they can get involved.
  • Don’t feed the trolls. If you put forward a strong opinion, you’re likely to hear from people who oppose it equally strongly. Make sure you deal with any negative comments in a calm and professional way. Try to encourage conversations between people of differing views.

Used effectively, online petitions can be a good way for non-profits and community organisations to rally their supporters to a cause.

Useful Tools: Google Analytics

Photo credit: Foter.com

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on Google Analytics.

Analytics is data about traffic to your website—such as how many people are visiting, where they’re from, which pages they visit, how long they stay, where they’ve been referred from, and the conversion rate (how many users achieve your goal for them, such as buying a product or filling out a contact form). Analytics data is useful for improving your search engine optimisation by showing you what keywords users are putting into search engines to find your site, and also for determining the effectiveness of your marketing—you can run a marketing campaign with specific goals, such as getting more people on your mailing list, and then use analytics to see if it has worked.

Depending on which provider your website is with, you may have basic analytics data already built in, but Google Analytics is the provider preferred by most websites.

 Google Analytics

 Google Analytics is a service offered by Google that allows you to monitor traffic to your website. It is the most widely used website analytics tool. The basic package is free, although there are also paid packages that offer more in-depth resources.

Although Google Analytics is free, your website provider may not support it, especially if you’re using an all-in-one provider such as WordPress.com or Wix rather than building your own site. For example, both WordPress.com and Wix only support Google Analytics as part of their paid plans, although they also have basic analytics tools built into all their plans.

Google Analytics provides basic high-level data on its dashboard, as well as reports that give more in-depth information about who’s visiting your website, where they’re coming from and what they’re doing when they get there. Your website profile can also be linked to a Google AdWords campaign to integrate your analytics and marketing.

Other providers

 Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of other analytics software providers and the cost of their packages.

Analytics can provide you with important insights into your site’s performance and the effectiveness of your overall marketing and communications strategy. If you’re serious about improving your organisation’s outreach, you need to ensure you have access to an analytics tool and learn how to use it effectively.