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7 Cause Marketing Tips with Social Media and Social People


Social Media Club Chicago gave a special presentation of “Social media for Social Good: Strategies for Nonprofits, For-Profits, & Agencies” on March 21, 2012 hosted by Catalyst Ranch in downtown Chicago. The evening’s featured guests were Jonny Imerman, founder of Imerman Angels, a one-one support network pairing cancer fighters with cancer survivors; and professional cause marketing specialist Mark J. Carter of ONE80, who’s own company helps for-profits connect with non-profits for online and offline marketing campaigns.

About Imerman Angels: connecting cancer fighters with survivors

While fighting cancer at 26 years old, Jonny had loving support from family and friends, but never met anyone his age who was a cancer survivor.  In 2003, Imerman Angels was founded to connect each cancer fighter (an “Angel”) to one survivor who is the same age, same gender, and someone who has already beaten that particular type of cancer. 

Imerman Angels has recruited over 4,000 cancer survivors worldwide – the largest network in the world of survivors. “They’re amazing, passionate people who just want to give back.” Says Jonny.

To spread the word and build long-lasting relationships and support communities, Imerman Angels utilizes everything from their Web presence to social media channels like Twitter & Facebook, to grassroots marketing such T-shirts and wrist bands.

7 Cause Marketing Tips with Social Media (and Social People)

Jonny and Mark spent the evening sharing personal stories and lessons learned on successfully integrating social media with a grassroots campaign, that has pair non-profits with for-profit companies as their supporters, and led to creating positive change in so many lives on an international scale.

(Mark earlier interviewed Jonny and featured his own cause marketing best practices, which I recommend checking out as well.)

Tip #1 - Stick to a singular mission

The very first point made of the night was your mission has to be very narrow, crystal-clear, laser-sharp, and super-focused. “I’m a big believer in being a one-program non-profit. Imerman Angels is about one-to-one cancer support. We are one service only.” Says Jonny. “Someone has cancer, we find them a survivor who had the same thing and beat it, to give them hope, give them help. That's it!”

Of course they refer people to other helpful services in their network when need be, but having a singular program has allowed Imerman Angels to stay hyper-focused and effective with their organization’s goals. “Because beyond that you're confusing people. Once you’ve branded with your logo, people can only remember one or two things about your organization, anyway.” Says Jonny.

Tip #2 – Have an offline plan: go grassroots, dress for conversations, and pound the pavement

Jonny shared that while Facebook and Twitter have definitely been valuable, the #1 way Imerman Angels got their word and recruiting out was simply by pounding the pavement and wearing T-shirts. “I wear this [Imerman Angels] T-shirt every day most wherever I go. T-shirts are conversation starters with people.” He says.

“When you wear a t-shirt, you're showing that you support something. You don't wear something that you don't believe in. It's better than a billboard. You're wearing it and as a human being, when someone says, "what's this?" You have a story to share with them. If you're a cancer survivor, you can both explain what the organization does AND your personal story. It sounds so simple, but for on-the-ground word-of-mouth marketing, that's what works for us. We just got people fired up just to wear t-shirts. They really are the best conversation starters and a great way to reach out to someone.” He says.

Today Imerman Angels distributes t-shirts, wristbands and water bottles – all catalysts for conversations around their brand and the help they provide cancer fighters. “We don't stop talking about it in person. Even though social media is a very powerful thing, never underestimate the power of the ground.” Says Jonny.

Because of the willingness of their volunteers to wear their products with their message in public and at sponsored events, along with an enthusiasm to share their passion and genuinely engage with others in person, the multiplier effect starts to take over. “We probably get 4-6 survivors every day around the world.” Says Jonny.

“Most of us are under 40, so we're already good with dressing casual.” He adds. “We also have wristbands which especially work for the crowd who dresses more formally and goes to work. The simple ways like that is how we've done it.”

Tip #3 – Refine your message

Mark mentioned that working with Imerman Angels was the easiest message to convey through social media, because it was something that already lent itself well to a single tweet or a micro-blog on Facebook. Mark strongly recommends for other non-profits and for-profits doing cause marketing, to take their existing message and practice using social media on refining it to just what needs to be said. “If you can learn to think in 140 characters, it teaches you to communicate clearly and in the shortest amount of time,” says Mark.

Tip #4 - Build a following FIRST

Mark and Jonny agreed that a successful non-profit promotion on social media is one that focuses on building followers before anything that’s money-based. “Never once have I personally ever asked someone for money. I am the most motivated by people,” says Jonny. “Sure, we are responsible for 5 employees on payroll; but the one thing I'm most focused on is finding people, because people are what makes this work.”

Jonny believes the #1 failure of non-profits is being too quick to charge people access, which some could argue goes against the whole point of utilizing social media. “We want people to come and hear about our mission, and get fired up about what we're doing and see what we believe in. Eventually we started charging for events (after 3 or 4 of them), but we built a following before we charged anyone. It has to first be about the people, first.”

Tip #5 - Practice “soft skills” and relationship marketing

While learning the latest technical application with a social media platform can be a good way of getting some extra visibility online and getting attention for the cause, Jonny shared that their success with getting the for-profits on board with their is their ability to do direct person-to-person communications. “A lot of these relationships we establish in the business world were by helping an employee, or someone associated with their employer.” hey says. “The employee tells her friends, her employer, shares it on Facebook and other social media sites to share her experience and the people she meet, including her ‘Angel’ she now has a personal relationship with.”

Tip #6 – Prove your service is working before asking for any money

Jonny says he’s big believer in not asking anyone for a dollar. “If they're a big believer in it and want to support it, they can decide how to do that. That's considered very passive of how to draw companies to us. Others have a much more aggressive approach. But what you have to do first is prove to them that your service is working, before you ask for anything.” He says.

“One thing that has been very nice for us with social media is that it's been very quantitative with what we do,” says Jonny, who can use that data to show to for-profit companies who are interested in partnerships. “Thanks to social media we can now measure our reach and the effect we have on people, especially with our own fans are marketing us. You basically prove through world-of-mouth that it works so well, that some of these (for-profit) companies will come to you.”

Tip #7 – Care as an individual, and work as a community

Jonny says what has made so many people stick with Imerman Angels and spread their message and support is because they always get to see the good their work does, especially through social media. “It's very easy for us to use social media to update and mention our news and match people up, and share our stories.” Says Jonny.

Jonny’s own experience with Imerman Angels over the past 9 years would serve as a good testament for others that social media provides real good in others lives when it can bridge the online-offline for genuine personal relationships, something Jonny himself does all the time.

“I believe in it so strongly because I see it every day. I get the thank you letters, seeing people hug each other.” Says Jonny. "I love my survivors. I go to lunch with them once a week. It can really change your attitude. You need to have that same feeling with whatever you're doing. If you completely believe it, it will work. Just get excited about it, and people will listen and follow, and will want to join you. Not everyone will, but the ones who really get it will join your team."

“One person can't do enough. But as a team, we inspired thousands and thousands of survivors. We shared stories, and we inspired them, and made them believe they can change a life. Everyone who's followed us knows our stories can change a life. The power in it is we're all marching in the same direction, together.”

About the author

Grant Crowell is a self-described “videologist” covering the last and time tested practices with online video and social media since 2005, and has been a freelance columnist in the online marketing space since 1996. His areas of expertise include video SEO, social media marketing, website and web video usability, e-commerce, legal issues, and more.

Check out the SMC Chicago Flickr album for photos of this event by Jeannie Walters, and thanks also to Candid Captures by Catherine for her professional photography work.


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