Hey Social Media, Show Me The Money!

First, let me apologize to all of my social media guru friends and colleagues. What I'm about to share may greatly distress you, disturb you, and just plain insult you. Too bad. This is something that has been pent up for way too long and it is time to let it out. If you are really upset, take it out in the comments.

I attend and speak at a lot of conferences related to fundraising and marketing. And it doesn't matter where I go, or what the focus of the conference is-- inevitably one of the keynote sessions is going to be talking about "how social media is going to transform your organization." But the case studies they offer up are all about some obscure campaign that's earth shattering success is measured by the number of "Likes" on Facebook. Are you kidding me? As if you can take those magical "Likes" and cash them in for something real and tangible like a meal for some poor child in Africa, or a cure for cancer, or to support a missionary in China. Show me the money!

Okay, so my beef isn't necessarily with social media. It is in the way we use and measure social media. Maybe it's just because I'm a direct response guy, but I want to be able to show how social media moves the needle when it comes to the three key building blocks to fundraising success: new names, new donors, and more donors. The rest is just fluff. Let me share with you a new recipe I've been cooking up with social media.

Eggs, Milk, Flour, Sugar, Butter

Each of these elements have tremendous utility on their own. However, if you combine each of these elements in the right measure, under the right conditions, you get something completely different-- you get a cake!

Same is true with our different communication channels. We sometimes get so myopic, so siloed in our thinking about what we are going to say on each channel that we miss the greater opportunity to combine the channels to get something that is way better than just the sum of the parts. So, we decided to test it out.

'What if We Could Get 100% Response Rate on a Direct Mail Piece?'

That's the question we asked ourselves. Now, we know that for all practical purposes expecting a 100% response rate is tomfoolery, right? I can see the old-school DM guys having some fun with this. But if we made our direct mail dynamic...if the mail wasn't an end in itself, but a beginning...if we could find a way to make a direct mail piece go viral...then, maybe we could talk about a new concept-- the Effective Response Rate. The effective response rate is the total number of responses--from any channel-- that all originated from a single piece of mail.

Well, I'm sure you can guess what happened...I mean, I wouldn't write a blog post about an experiment that completely flopped would I? [Hmmm...that is an interesting question, I actually think I would if I thought that there was a key learning that could be taken from it.] The campaign that we launched combined highly personalized direct mail, with an online interactive game and social media, and our effective response rate for the direct mail piece was 213%. Boom!

How did we do it?

First, we started by thinking about our ideal target audience. Our plan was to create a campaign that they would want to engage in. Did we have specific business objectives? Absolutely. But instead of making those objectives the focal point of our message, we created an environment where the target could experience our value proposition instead of us shouting about it.

Then, we made it fun. We created a competitive environment where people were incentivized to engage with the campaign every day, and most importantly, recruit others.

Finally, we made it easy for people to recruit others by integrating social media. By providing a team incentive, and an individual incentive we were able to drive the right behaviors that helped us accomplish our business goals.

In the end, we were able to experience the exponential benefit of tightly integrating the channels to accomplish far more than each could accomplish on their own.

Want to See the Actual Case Study?

I'm being somewhat vague intentionally. See, I would love to have the opportunity to talk with you about exactly how we were able to generate an effective 213% response rate for our direct mail campaign-- but you have to meet me half way. Shoot me a direct message on Twitter at @DigitalDonor, and I'll set up a time to walk you through the case study. I'll also probably ask you some questions about your specific business or campaign objectives so be prepared to share that. Together, we can think through how you too can combine all the channels to bake a sweet treat for the CEO.


  1. Hey Tim, intriguing stuff! 213%? Pretty amazing stuff, but all sorts of questions come to mind from a fellow direct marketer and skeptic! Like: was the DM list insanely tightly segmented and relatively small so the effective response rate could have a chance to be so high? Were there truly ZERO other channels that might have motivated the response or was this a multichannel integrated campaign? Was the response donations or some other lower-friction action that we might expect higher response rates?

    Regardless of how you slice it, still impressive and well written.

    Keep pushing the envelope,


  2. Dave,

    Thanks for the feedback and the juicy questions. Allow me to respond:

    1. The DM list was very targeted (with a about 1/3 of the records that were complete propsect thrown in just for testing purposes). And that is exactly the point. The DM 'actual' response rate was 18%-- not bad in itself-- but to your point, we mailed (mostly) to people we knew would respond. The mail piece was the ONLY entry-point to the campaign. No other mention was made in any other channel by design so we could effectively measure what the effect would be from people that responded to the offline piece to the online component.

    2. YES-- the campaign was integrated once the folks got online. This was another component of the experiment. We wanted to see how we could "Flip the Funnel" and empower our existing audience to help us recruit new people. And they did. The 87 people that responded to the direct mail piece, went online and recruited 1,903 more people. That's 2087% viral recruitment rate. So though you are correct in that we only mailed 488 people in this test campaign, we got 1,039 people to respond to the offer. No matter how you slice it, there were more pieces put back into the baskets than were originally handed out.