[We recently had an outstanding pledge drive, and our digital team contributed significantly. NPR asked me to write a blog post about our efforts. Due to formatting constraints they had to summarize and bullet-ize the post, so here’s the whole thing in its original form, because I’m so proud.]
Here at WABE in Atlanta, we just wrapped up our Spring pledge drive. We received a total of 15,393 pledges, totaling $2,022,405. It was our most successful drive ever, and our social media efforts played a big role.
Getting involved in the planning process from the very beginning was the first smart thing we did. It’s hard to be part of a conversation if you’re not in the room! As Digital Services, we wanted to find opportunities to tell a story about the station, what role we play in the community, and humanize the voices that so many people spend so much time with.
Playing off of our Radio Operations Manager Dave Barasoian’s very detailed spreadsheets, we found ways that digital could contribute to each day’s message in unique and engaging ways.
Assistant News Director Charles Edwards came up with a hashtag, #WABEis, that we’d use to give the audience a chance to tell us who they think we are, and why what we do is valuable. It also gave us another way to involve our volunteers, by having them finish up the thought on a whiteboard.
And me, I wanted to do videos. I had been pushing for “the story of pledge,” a series of short videos covering how it all comes together. Listeners don’t always get everything that goes into a pledge drive, and I thought we could tell them.
Over time, thankfully, we came to realize how boring that could be.
Then Erin Wright, Arts and Cultural Programming Assistant for radio, took part in an NPR training webinar. She’d been interested in making videos with our local talent for some time, and just then, a fortuitous invitation from NPR arrived.
She says, “I got an email from NPR Digital Services advertising a webinar on ‘Building Your Brand with Video: The Basics.’ Perfect timing. The example videos in the webinar were intimidating, especially to someone with no visual experience, but the moderators stressed to us to ‘do what you can, with what you have, where you are. And know your limitations.’”
Given that video production can be nerve wracking and intimidating, I created a motivational poster for Erin, encouraging her not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough. The Internet of course obliged with a photo that fit our needs perfectly. All I had to do was add the motivational text.
We had also recently engaged our first ever digital intern. Nicholas NeSmith came to us from Gwinnett Technical College with plenty of experience in photography and video production (and his own gear!).
The first video we produced was with a spokesperson for Trees Atlanta. We have a pledge partnership with them that promises to plant a tree for every pledge we receive on one day during the drive. Erin conducted the interview, Nick created the video, and we posted it on our YouTube channel.
According to plan, Individual Giving Director Fred Skey included that video in his daily email, and it quickly became our second most popular video of the last year (number one had been uploaded in 2011). It also helped us to get 2,273 pledges that day, resulting in 2,273 new seedlings being planted in Atlanta in honor of WABE listeners.
Then came the fun ones. Erin had the idea that we might ask some of our hosts to imagine what they’d do if there were no WABE. Steve Goss became a kindergarten teacher, Denis O’Hayer became a stand-up comedian. Erin arranged a classroom for the first, and got permission to tape the kids (including parent waivers!).
For Denis’ comedy performance, we just happened to have a brick wall set in the studio, making his relatively simple to put together.
Total production time on the three one-minute videos was about 16 hours, from concept to completion.
We’d decided to release these in the second week of pledge, as the noise of the first week would have died down, and the audience might need to be shaken up a bit and entertained as we continued to interrupt their daily routines with our requests for support.
So on Tuesday at noon, again in conjunction with Fred’s member email, we released Steve’s video.
It was also posted to the station’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Within the hour I saw something on YouTube I’d never seen before, “301+”. Turns out, when a video gets a sudden spike in traffic, YouTube stops counting so that a human can go check to make sure the viewer numbers are legitimate. We broke YouTube!
By Wednesday, YouTube had confirmed we were for real, and Steve’s numbers shot up to 1,618 views! The post on Facebook reached 2,334 people, and 1,531 of those were ‘viral’, meaning spread by the audience. It was shared 17 times, and 28 people ‘like’ it. We were ecstatic.
On Thursday we broke YouTube again with Denis’ video. It was released at noon and went out in the member email. By Friday it had been viewed [dramatic pause] 4,082 times.
Denis told me that one contributor emailed him saying that he’d already given during the drive, but the video inspired him to give again and keep Denis “on the air and off the stage” as suggested in the video.
So while it was unbelievably thrilling to see the granular success of the videos, it’s important to stress that they were part of an overall strategy of drawing in listeners, demonstrating our organization’s openness, contributions to, and membership in the community, and showing our audience that we have a sense of humor.
Being involved in the planning process was also critical, as was (especially) executive buy-in and willingness to be flexible and try something new.
A lot of thought and planning went into this. One of the perceptions digital struggles with is that we can just “put this on the Web”. Nope, it was 16 hours, a production crew of two, dedicated gear and expertise, and a creative attitude. We were able to legitimize ourselves by being part of the conversation. We demonstrated our benefit to the station financially and in increased traffic and audience engagement. (Coincidentally(?), our Facebook fans grew by almost 10% over the two-week course of pledge. Usually we grow by about 1% per week. )
Also, it wasn’t just a digital effort. It was everyone. We all contributed, and we all benefited.
Finally, we had to do just one more thing, say thank you. That we did with an iPhone and the entire staff gathered together in the studio.
Now we just need to come up with something even more amazing for the Fall drive (ideas are welcome!) …