Kaboom, a nonprofit aiming to build playgrounds for kids, boosted its Twitter followers by about 100 recently with the help of a new service called TwitCause. However, like brand marketers, advocacy and nonprofit groups are struggling to measure how their social media numbers translate to real action and real donations.
"We're still sort of like everybody in that we're trying to find that magical formula that leads to results," said Mike Viepti, communications manager at Kaboom. "We're anxious to see just how much impact Twitter has on direct action," he continued. "Ultimately, what we want to see is direct action as the result."
The group, which pushes for play areas in close proximity to all children, considers unstructured play to be a solution to problems such as childhood obesity. It was recently featured as the cause of the week by TwitCause, a service launched early last month by social media outfit Experience Project.
So, far, the service is almost exclusively focused on producing a viral effect, having been used to promote nonprofit causes such as The V Foundation for Cancer Research and Slow Food USA by getting TwitCause followers to re-tweet posts about the organizations. But the ultimate goal seems to be to connect corporate brands with nonprofits, perhaps by getting companies to donate a few cents to a charity every time someone re-tweets a post about it.
"[Corporations] want to be on social media platforms," said Experience Project CEO Armen Berjikly. "They want to work with entities that are driving good in the world." Berjikly believes that nonprofits and their causes could be the missing link between corporate brands and the social platforms in which they want to interact.
"You get a very strong crossover between the cause, the brand, and the community," suggested Berjikly.
TwitCause itself more than doubled its Twitter following in a matter of days last week. The service is running a social media campaign in conjunction with HÄagen-Dazs in support of the ice cream brand's "Help the Honey Bees" initiative. The campaign involves challenging supporters to eat natural foods and post photos of themselves planting flowers.
While attaching causes to brands could help translate tweets and Facebook friends into donations or other tangible ROI, most nonprofits and advocacy groups are far from figuring out how to quantify their social media presence or connect it to real-life activism.
To help uncover the best approaches to marketing via Twitter on behalf of advocacy, political, and corporate clients, Josh Koster, partner at digital consulting firm Chong + Koster, has used a free URL-shortening tool created by StumbleUpon. Su.pr allows users to track traffic, clicks, referrers, and retweets associated with its shortened URLs. To Koster, it's not that the service is the only one out there that enables Twitter tracking, it's that it's simple enough for small budget and short-staffed organizations to actually employ it. "The fact is, because the campaigns now have [a way to track their Twitter programs easily]...it means they'll be doing it at all."
Another new offering serving advocacy groups is act.ly, which allows people to sign a petition by tweeting it, and others to do the same by re-tweeting.
Most agree it's too early to truly grasp the connection between the viral effect of social platforms and real-world activism. However, as new tools emerge, the focus on the ability to accumulate friends and followers will shift to more meaningful statistics.
"The era of the popularity contest," said Berjikly, "is no longer an outcome that [organizations] should be satisfied with,"
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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