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How the National Wildlife Federation Embraced Social

  |  February 22, 2013   |  Comments

"It's a friendly place you can go and hang out": NWF'S Danielle Brigida shares how the 77-year-old conservation group got social.

Who can resist a furry marmot making eyes at the camera, cuddling polar bears, or a majestic bald eagle in flight? These kinds of "awww" images naturally draw people to the National Wildlife Federation's social media pages, in an organic way most brands would envy. Yet fulfilling the non-profit's mission of preserving wildlife and inspiring future conservationists involves more than just posting pictures of adorable wildlife.

Danielle Brigida, senior manager of social strategy and integration at the NWF, has spent the past six years driving the 77-year-old organization's activities on social media - from its beginnings as a MySpace page with only a few dozen followers to a fully integrated social presence with more than 116,000 followers on Facebook, official and staff Twitter accounts, dedicated photography pages on Flickr and Pinterest, and an ever-growing list of platforms and clever campaigns.

ClickZ spoke with Brigida, a self-described "wildlife geek" with a passion for all things social, about NWF's social media strategy and what lessons can be learned from it.

ClickZ: How does the NWF use social media to further its mission of "inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future"?

Danielle Brigida: Our goals are to achieve reach, engagement, and revenue to accomplish our mission. We are always trying to expand the number of people we reach and looking at how they're interacting with the experience we create, using analytics whenever possible. I put out a quarterly report that takes a regular look at how our communities are performing. Are they growing and are they more or less engaged than they were? It also notes if we are mentioned in articles on social media, our top retweeted tweets, how people share our content, and the top referred-to content from social URLs. We also look at the content that drove people to our website from social media.

ClickZ: Are there sometimes surprising conclusions from this data?

DB: One interesting thing is that sometimes our top tweets, which at times are retweeted by thousands of people, are not always the top referring traffic from Twitter to our website. What that means is that people have passed along the tweet but not necessarily even read the article! Still, a show of support, even if not clicked on, definitely counts as engagement. It also gives us an idea of what we need to work on when it comes to getting people to actually click on the article.

ClickZ: What about the third goal, revenue?

DB: Reach and engagement can be easier to measure through social media than some other lines of business. It's more difficult to find out how much money was raised, but we do see donations monthly from referring URLs from Facebook, which means we are succeeding and doing the right optimization on the articles we share. But we don't directly fundraise on social.

ClickZ: Why not?

DB: I think we ask enough for money via email and direct response mailings. That's not what social is all about - it's a friendly place you can go and hang out. Using it as a platform for fundraising could quickly turn our messages there into ignorable noise. If you want to donate, you'll see plenty of links to do that on the NWF blog. So, if I post something on social media, I always link to our blog or website. If you are already online, you know where to go to donate. We make sure that these links are mobile-friendly, and make it quick and easy to donate. Still, social is always changing, so that could change in the future and maybe one day I'll ask for donations - for now it's only in emergencies.

ClickZ: So you avoid the hard sell?

DB: They say you get whatever audience you spend your time talking to. I think it's better to keep audiences intrigued and provide helpful information. If you can add value, they appreciate it much more. Some of our most popular posts on Facebook were not posted by our page. Pages are great, but if they don't represent a group of people out there, they will not make a difference. If someone else asks for a donation on our behalf, we see a bump in numbers.

ClickZ: Can you tell me about a campaign that was particularly successful or innovative?

DB: We have a lot of cool ones. One program called Wildlife Watch lets people log in and share their wildlife sightings over our social media platforms. Also, if you like us on Foursquare, you get wildlife watching tips. People can also share their wildlife photos over Flickr. Facebook has also turned more visual. We have some amazing photographers for supporters and using their images, we can share the beauty of wildlife. If we can get people excited about looking at wildlife that accomplishes our mission.

We also prompt people to use tweet code after they have taken a positive action on a social page. People share that they took an action and that's good for social capital. It drives even more action. Whenever I can integrate that kind of thing, that's when I really like social. For example, we created a fun campaign with [Craigslist founder] Craig Newmark. If people used the hashtag #squirrels4good when they posted something related to squirrels on Twitter, he donated $1 to the NWF.

ClickZ: How did you get into doing this?

DB: This was my first job out of college, but it wasn't supposed to specifically involve social media. I was hired as an assistant and was doing a bit of everything; database management, data entry, scheduling travel. I soon saw that NWF didn't have a social networking presence of its own. In college I used to run an ecology club that used social media to do things like getting students to recycle on campus. I looked at NWF as a giant ecology club! I started social media as a side project and, after getting a bit involved in email creation and HTML, I began updating the organization's Facebook and MySpace presence more frequently. In 2007, I joined Twitter and was active on social bookmarking sites like Digg and Stumble Upon. Back then, social media was news heavy and it was about creating good content. I started blogging and continued to morph how we were engaging with people online. Starting in 2009, I was appointed full-time social media coordinator. I see my ongoing role as understanding the tools out there, helping people know what's available to them, and using those tools to achieve our mission.

ClickZ: How else has social media changed?

DB: It's becoming a lot more commonplace and more integrated into everything we do. The best campaigns all have a social component to enrich the experience. And at NWF, we have moved away from having one person as a gatekeeper for the social media accounts. We have national and regional accounts. I have been a big proponent for having NWF staff on Twitter. Social should be like a hive of bees: value is added when we all talk to people, collect "pollen," and then bring that back to the hive. We have over 100 people on Twitter. Many tweet about stuff that matters to the NWF, but not all are official spokespeople. It shows that we have diverse opinions.

ClickZ: What else has being social brought to the NWF?

DB: Just the act of being on social means that people talk about us more. We are a lot more accessible than we used to be. I think social media has also helped our internal communications. We now use Yammer [a private social network] to talk about what we are doing with one another.

ClickZ: Are there new platforms you are eyeing?

DB: We've been playing with Google+, which fills a similar niche to Facebook in the way you interact with people, as well as Pinterest and Foursquare. We've created accounts on Instagram and Vine and have a small following there as well. Basically I like to figure out how these accounts fit into the work we're already doing - or how we can use the unique platforms these sites provide to tell our story more effectively.

ClickZ: Thanks for the great talk Danielle.

DB: You're welcome!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mary Lisbeth  D'Amico

Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.

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