Tue, January 08 2008

AstroTurfing burns.  Be authentic or else.

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Social Media •

If you’ve ever taken a dive on AstroTurf, you know it hurts - like the worst kind of carpet burn.  It also hurts to AstroTurf online - which is an expression for seeding fake, faux-grassroots material that’s disingenously disguised self-promotion.  For example, posing as a fan of your employer and posting comments to a blog as if you’re a third party.  AstroTurfing hurts your organization.  It hurts you.  And it hurts the people you deceive.  And the burn is the fifth-degree kind.

There was a sad case of this over the past few days.  Holden Karnofsky of GiveWell, an organization that’s been pushing for greater transparency in grantmaking and results from nonprofits, was found to have been AstroTurfing for his organization.  AstroTurfing is always bad, as I’ve noted on this blog in the Whole Foods case.  It saddens me so much in this case, because Holden’s actions flew in the face of what he called for: namely, honesty and transparency.  Here’s what the Chronicle of Philanthropy described today:

On Metafilter, an online message board, Mr. Karnofsky promoted GiveWell without identifying himself. In one message he asked for ideas on how to choose a charity to support and then “answered” as another writer by touting GiveWell’s evaluations of nonprofit groups.

A Metafilter member uncovered the self-promotion, which violated the Web site’s rules, and announced the discovery on the message board.

Mr. Karnofsky quickly apologized and said that he had a “horrible lapse of judgment” by hiding his identity. He also offered to make a contribution to Metafilter to compensate for his mistake – an offer that was derided by Metafilter contributors as a bribe.

Metafilter members found other examples of Mr. Karnofsky’s praising GiveWell as an anonymous source, including instances where he criticized other nonprofit groups.

I met Holden when he minced no words in criticizing Network for Good (my organization) on his blog, and I responded.  We ended up having a productive conversation and ultimately a collegial professional relationship.  I’ve followed and blogged what he’s doing.  He’s committed a lot of energy to what he believes, and while we haven’t always agreed (including on this blog), I respected his energy and the end result of what he wanted—motivated donors and the most effective nonprofit sector possible.  But it seems his energy has gone terribly awry, and it’s a real shame.  He’s apologized, but he lost his job [clarification: he was demoted] and a lot of people are furious, particularly because Holden (often harshly) demanded such honesty and transparency of others.  Bloggers and commenters have written literally hundreds of posts and comments on this turn of events—read them here. 

I hope some good comes of this - for the [very worthy] work Holden wanted to do and for anyone observing the situation.  I’d like to use this sad tale as a reminder to all of us that you MUST be honest and authentic online, or else.  In the Web 2.0 world, no matter how good your intentions, you pay a big price for misrepresenting yourself.  In your job, please never be tempted to AstroTurf.  Don’t anonymously post good things about your organization or bad things about others without identifying yourself, because it’s unethical in my view.  And if that’s not incentive enough, know that those tricks tend to get discovered.  They will estrange and enrage the very people you set out to influence.  You and your cause will get burned.

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Wed, January 02 2008

Four Things I Wish I’d Known about Social Media

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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I got asked by Beth Kanter to post on this topic: “What if I could start all my social media and nonprofits work over from scratch? What would I do differently? What lessons have I learned that will stick with me for 2008?”

Having Beth Kanter asking me to post on social media is a little like Yo-Yo Ma asking me to play cello for him.  Beth is THE maestro on nonprofits and social media (and she could probably accompany Yo-Yo Ma on flute).  So read what she says first.  Then read what Britt Bravo says.  Britt, in addition to having The Name I Wish I Had, is also very wise on the social media front.  Then you can read my list, which is below. 

Four Things I Wish I’d Known from the Start about Social Media:

1.  It’s not that hard, and I should have gotten over the intimidation factor sooner. Not too long into my job here at Network for Good a few years ago, I kept hearing people reference Web 2.0.  I remember, filled with fear of ridicule for my ignorance, asking people what it meant.  I’m glad I did, because I realized a lot of people had trouble defining it and were grappling with its meaning just like me.  Today, social media to me means the electronic manifestation of the human desire to be heard and seen and part of a community.  It’s using technology as a platform for personal expression and as a means to connect to others around things we care about.  It’s not hard to learn how to do that online - you don’t need any real technology expertise (I’m living proof of that) as much as social skills - and it’s a lot of fun making new friends which is the real point.  No matter how much of a novice you deem yourself, you CAN explore social media and find ways to benefit from it.  If you haven’t, make 2008 the year you do.

2.  It’s about “social,” not “media.”  As I said in this post, while social media seems oh-so-new, what makes it hot could not be more ancient or old-school.  What’s significant about social media is how it allows us to quickly and expansively fulfill our unending human need for connection.  While I myself have fallen into the trap of focusing on my organization’s need to do Facebook or Twitter or YouTube, that’s not the point—what matters whether those are places to strengthen connections with my target audience.  If my target audience isn’t there, I’m not going there. 

3. Social media cranks WOM up to 11What excites me most about social media, now that I sort of get it, is its potent potential to amplify word of mouth.  Good word of mouth for your good cause is invaluable.  People listen to people they know, and if those people recommend something, they listen.  If people make recommendations, that good word of mouth spreads faster and farther through their circles of influence.  Social media enables people to evangelize in their own way, in their own words, where their peeps congregate.  We’re so underfunded and overworked in our sector - how great is it other people can help us spread the word so efficiently?

4. Think before you build something new, because we already have overdevelopment in social media.  You could build (yet another) new social network.  You could create yet another blog.  You could make a new video.  But if you’re one of those underfunded and overworked people, think twice and first read my Four Laws of Social Networking.  You may get further, faster by connecting to existing infrastructure than trying to create it.


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Wed, December 26 2007

Who and why before how

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

When I’m asked about whether I think a marketing campaign is good, I always ask:

Who was the audience and what action was the campaign seeking to effect?

These are good questions to ask yourself before you launch any marketing effort.  Is it well targeted?  Will it resonate with the audience in question? Is it consistent with your brand?  Will it get people to act in the way you want?

In other words, you’d better know




you’re marketing before you jump to


to market something.

Some colleagues recently called my attention to two campaigns, and while they both have merits, I"m not sure they nailed the “who and why” before they leaped to the “how.”

Here’s the first, which was a PETA campaign that was eloquently blogged by CK.  It’s a website trashing the Olsen twins for wearing fur, providing interactive, bloody dress-up games, and a faux Full house video, which unfortunately is nearly as boring and unwatchable as the show.

Dress Up The Trollsen Twins!

So does trashing these celebrities make sense as a marketing strategy?  It really depends on what PETA is trying to do.  If they are trying to please their base, yes.  It’s a highly negative, on-the-attack, celebrity-shaming, attention-grabbing campaign that is completely aligned with PETA’s brand and followers.  If it’s trying to get online media attention for PETA, it also makes sense because it’s blogworthy.  If it’s trying to get the Olsens or other celebs to embrace PETA’s cause and/or get new people to support PETA by writing to the Olsens or giving money, I doubt this will work.  Going that negative will just estrange the mainstream, which includes people who like Mary Kate and Ashley or, if they don’t, prefer to visit Perez than PETA for their Trollsen dose.  Quite simply, the campaign encourages people to think of PETA as being “fringe,” which I think is far less scary than being influential. So if the “who” is new audiences and the “what” is eschewing fur, I don’t think it works.

On to a campaign that is the polar opposite of the Trollsens - it’s a feel-good spot sent to me by a reader from Italy.  Daniele writes:

I’m working for a campaign called superegali.org for the NGO Terre des Hommes Italia. It’s a fundraising campaign for Perù, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe to help kids of these countries. We made a viral video for this campaign where the protagonist is our mascot, a paper toy. The video is a spoof of Dove Onslaught.

(If you want to know what the Dove campaign is, I posted on there here.)

I thought the video was cute (especially if you’re familiar with the cultural reference of the Dove campaign) for an audience of potential supporters in Italy - provided they know the Dove campaign.  But the “why” was unclear.  What does the ad want you to do?  It seems to ask you to rethink the concept of superhero, but it’s not clear what you’re supposed to do as a result, or how cutting out superheroes helps kids.  I think the campaign is interesting but has a perplexing (perhaps even absent) call to action.  So I asked Daniele what was the “why” of the campaign.  She responded the purpose was to spread the word about their work and raise money.  If that’s the “why” of the campaign, I think it could use some tweaking.  Thoughts for Daniele?


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Mon, December 24 2007

Thank you

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Fun stuff •

Before the year ends, I wanted to thank you.  Thank you, readers, for all you have done to make the world a better place in 2007.  I know from conversations with you from this blog just how much you have done - to end homelessness, clean up our environment, protect our lands, feed the hungry, shelter animals, comfort survivors of violence, stop the spread of HIV, and restore hope to the hopeless.  Your commitment to your cause - and your effectiveness in promoting it - is a daily inspiration and a source of deep gratitude.  I wish you all the best in your work in the New Year and always.

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Thu, December 20 2007

What Mac users, alcoholics and Hillary have in common: the conversion factor

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

One of the best books I’ve ever read - and one I quote like crazy in my book - is Influence.  I also love the Influence newsletter from the Arizona-based Influence team. 

Today’s edition asks the question, what do Mac users, Hillary Clinton and alcoholics have in common?  Noah Goldstein, Ph. D., explains:

First-time Mac users have switched from IBM-compatible personal computers, longstanding members of Alcoholics Anonymous have turned their lives around by abstaining from alcohol, and Hillary Clinton switched political affiliations from Republican to Democrat over thirty years ago. In a sense, all three are converts of one form or another. But what can a convert do for us when it’s important to persuade others to take our point of view, give us buy-in for our initiatives, or take a particular course of action?

Social scientists John Levine and Ronald Valle conducted a study to find out. In their study, they had participants listen to a persuasive message in which the speaker was clearly an outspoken critic of alcohol use. Whereas some participants learned that the speaker had abstained from alcohol his whole life, others learned that the speaker was formally a heavy drinker who quit drinking two years prior. The results of the study revealed that participants were far more persuaded by the speaker who was formally a heavy drinker than the lifelong teetotaler. Although there are several reasons why convert communicators are more persuasive, perhaps the most powerful is that they are simply viewed as more experienced in the domain of their conversion. It’s this experience that leads audience members to view them as more of an expert authority on that topic.

This research suggests that when trying to convince others that your position is the right one, you should look for people who have converted to your way of thinking. For example, within an organization, this might mean that when trying to get employees to willingly adopt a new software system, you should ask others who have already adopted it to pitch the idea to more stubborn employees. Similarly, when attempting to get prospective clients to switch to your product from another company’s, try to solicit testimonials from others who have made the same switch, and then convey these testimonials to your prospects.

This is a great insight.  People listen to converts.  I think converts are not only credible to an audience, they are also especially passionate and eloquent spokespeople.

So who are your converts?  Could they speak for you?  Any skeptical donors who have seen the light?  Any beneficiaries who have done a 180?  Find them, and give them a platform to talk about their conversion.  People will listen.



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