This is a guest blog by Darian Rodriguez Heyman. You can read more about him in the short bio at the end of this piece.

You may not have heard about Lara Stockman's "25 Days to Make a Difference" blog, or how, after profiling different nonprofits, random acts of kindness, and community-driven efforts she mobilized an audience of 25,000 readers after just a few weeks. So what, you may ask? Well, when it all began she was just only ten years old.

Social Media as an Equalizer

The point is that social media is the great equalizer. Gone are the days of the megaphone-the era of the top-down broadcast approach to big advertising is slowly fading away, as evidenced by the fact that more people saw Volkswagen's Darth Vader commercial on YouTube than at the Superbowl, by a longshot.

But more to the point, what are the implications for nonprofits, and how can social change organizations harness the viral marketing potential that draws so many causes and companies online?

Recently I've written about what I call the "Kevin Bacon effect" and what I consider to be the "Two Keys to Social Media Marketing Success" - see Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog and the Huffington Post, respectively. But given TechSoup's focus and audience, I thought I'd dig into something a bit sexier: data.

I've been traveling around the country with our Social Media for Nonprofits conference series (coming to San Francisco on 11/4 with TechSoup's Marnie Webb keynoting, Atlanta  on 11/17, and NYC on 1/30/12 - save $20 with "TechSoup" code) and promoting my new book, Nonprofit Management 101. I've heard leading thinkers like Beth Kanter, Geoff Livingston, and Guy Kawasaki provide nonprofit execs with practical tips and tools-actionable insights nonprofits can use immediately to raise more money online, market their organizations, and affect policy.

Representative Samples?

One thing that I find not enough folks talk about on stage is the integral role that data plays in online marketing efforts, and in particular the three ways that the nature of accountability fundamentally changes once you get on the web.

Online, accountability is complete, direct, and immediate. Indulge me.

Think back to those megaphone guys: Coca-Cola, Visa, you name it. When they get ready to run that Superbowl, World Cup, or Olympics ad, they want to make sure they get the best, most compelling commercial in front of those millions of eyeballs. 

So what do they do? Focus groups. They ask people what they think they'd do after seeing this ad vs. that one (FYI, Shakespeare invented the word "advertisement" from the Latin ad verto, or to "turn towards).

And how many people form their "representative sample"? A couple hundred, if they're lucky and well resourced.

And finally, how long will it take them to crunch the numbers and turn data into knowledge that can drive decisions? Weeks, if not months.

Oy, what a mess!

Leveraging Free and Simple Tools to Gather and Test Data

Now let's compare and contrast the difference when a marketer, any marketer, goes online and leverages free and simple tools like Google Analytics, which any nonprofit can get for free.

In short, online you can easily look at what the entire audience reached ("complete") actually does ("direct") in real time ("immediate"). This enables savvy marketers (yes, that includes nonprofits!) unparalleled flexibility to test campaigns, creative, messaging, and imagery-something that any cause or company needs to take full advantage of, especially in a down economy.

The online fundraising experts at Network for Good recently turned their donate button from gray to red and immediately saw a 30% increase in donations. Just think about how that impacts their ability to serve the community.

So instead of taking a "spray and pray" approach to your next campaign, carve out a few small slices of your mailing list, try out a few different subject lines, photos, lengths, and layouts, and go beyond guessing and work with what works.  Whether it's your next newsletter, the color and design of your donate button, or the copy you use to describe your efforts in the search engines. The key to success is strategize, test, and optimize. 

Then it's time to break out your own personal megaphone and go as big as you can.

Darian Rodriguez Heyman

After five years of service, Darian recently stepped down as Executive Director of Craigslist Foundation. While there, he helped launch Nonprofit Boot Camp, the Environmental Nonprofit Network, and the Next Generation Leadership Forum. He recently launched the nationwide Social Media for Nonprofits conference series and his new book, Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals, includes practical tips and tools from 50 recognized experts across 35 topics. He is a public speaker, executive coach, and consultant, as well as a guest blogger for the Huffington Post and producer of the Advancing Social Impact blog on Skoll Foundation's Social Edge. Follow Darian Rodriguez Heyman on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@dheyman.

Becky Wiegand is the Webinar Program Manager at TechSoup.org
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