Keeping up with the digital Joneses

Have you noticed that constant feeling of being a couple steps behind in digital? You’re not alone. The speed of change is increasing every day. It can be dizzying.

In the world of fundraising and marketing, the status quo response to this rate of change is often that we need to create more content. Essentially, we’re tasked with telling more stories, in more channels, more often.

Problem is, this isn’t the right approach; all it will do is cost you money and burn out your team.

Last week, content strategist Georgy Cohen wrote an excellent piece on the Huffington Post about how to manage your digital growing pains. Georgy focuses on higher ed, but this article is essential reading for any nonprofit, straight up to the C-Suite.

Here are some of the most pertinent excerpts.

Don’t just churn out widgets: value matters more than volume

Are you running an assembly line?

“We feel a lot of pressure, both externally and internally, to create content. Twitter accounts! Videos! Blogs! Microsites! Email newsletters! The more widgets our factory churns out, the better it must be, right? But that pressure is not always well founded. Volume can no longer be the determining factor of success; it must be value. And value means correlating the outcomes of our efforts against goals we establish at the outset. What are we trying to accomplish, and do these efforts move us in that direction?”

A scattershot approach to digital content efforts won’t be effective. Georgy just gave you permission. You don’t have to create a video because someone thinks it would be cool. You don’t have to be on every social network. Be rigorous about defining goals, only then should you move on to choosing channels and tactics. We’re disciplined about defining metrics offline. It’s time we brought that approach online, just remember the metrics may be different and more varied.

You may not know your audience as well as you think

How well do you really know your audience?

“‘I know my audience’ can be either a sage assertion or famous last words, depending on what you mean by it. If you mean that you’ve come to understand your audiences’ needs through research, focus groups, and analytics, then great. If you’re assuming that you know how they’ll use digital media simply because you’ve been working with them for the past 25 years, then you may need to revisit your assumptions.”

Georgy’s call is incredibly pertinent for our industry, which tends to do one of two things when targeting their digital content. Either we:

  • Assume we understand how to engage with donors online because of their history of direct mail interactions.
  • Or we say we are going to pursue a vaguely defined younger audience.

Both of these approaches are foolhardy and potentially disastrous. The only way to truly understand who you are communicating with online, and how they want to interact with you, is research. I strongly recommend you invest in some — just make sure it’s the right research (more to come in a later post).

New challenges require new processes and support systems

Are you trying to make your old processes work in a new world?

“As these changes reshape our organizations in ways we can’t control, let’s regain some sense of order through increased education and enhanced awareness. Develop training groups and guidelines that not only help people understand how to effectively publish in a digital space, but connect them to one another as a support and knowledge base. Acknowledge people’s pain points and find ways to support their professional development to adapt to the new communications reality. Get buy-in for changes to old processes and workflows necessitated by the shift to digital publishing, and spread awareness of what they mean and what will come of them.”

Some argue the same fundraising content that works off-line will work online, but this is too simplistic. It may even be flat wrong. Let’s get a little more specific. The elements of a good story haven’t changed. People’s giving is still triggered by emotional connection. They still confirm their giving decision by looking for facts and credibility indicators.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Publishing for the web is not the same as print. Web writing is not the same as writing a brochure or a direct mail piece. The sooner we admit this the better. It’s time we invested in the processes to support this new type of publishing and took the time to learn how to successfully create content in the digital world.

What now?

I’m assuming if you’re still reading, you haven’t gone over and read Georgy’s whole article. You should probably do that right now.

After you’ve finished reading, print out the article and drop it off on the desk of everyone in your organization’s leadership team. This advice is that pertinent.

If you want to talk more about a strategic approach to digital content, or just want some more resources, shoot me an email or connect with me on Twitter. I’d be thrilled to have the conversation.

Photo Credit for square peg round hole photo: ePublicist CC-BY-ND-2.0