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October 22nd, 2007

Social Media: Does It Get Charity Stuff?

I’m cross-posting this from my other blog over at Does it Sell Stuff.

I call this blog “Does it SELL Stuff,” but really it examines social media’s impact on the bottom line of any organization. An interesting facet of this is charity work, and seeking donations. Just as in the for-profit sector, social media can generate revenue if it’s used correctly — sheer creative uniqueness doesn’t hurt either.

Perhaps only with social media can one man standing in line for four days can result in 100 million free media impressions for a brand, and in selling a single iPhone for $100,000, with the proceeds going to charity.

Enter Johnny Vulkan of marketing agency Anomaly NYC and his innovative work for the charity Keep a Child Alive, or KCA. KCA focuses on generating awareness of the AIDS pandemic in Africa. This isn’t a blog about charity, or politics of any kind, so let’s just get down to how Vulkan used social media to generate such a windfall for this organization.

Vulkan was the first in line for an iPhone at the Soho Apple Store in New York, NY. Now keep in mind he wasn’t the first in line anywhere (that distinction goes to Greg Packer, dubbed the iLoser by the blogosphere), but he was first in line at the Soho store, and he came with a social-media strategy.

Albeit, a spur-of-the-moment strategy.

“We didn’t have a lot of planning,” Vulkan said. “We put the idea together in a couple of days.”

The focal point of that plan was two-fold: first, Apple was tight-lipped about the iPhone and wasn’t giving out information; second, the media wanted information, and would take just about any angle they could get on the iPhone’s launch.

“We knew the media would be covering the story,” Vulkan said. “We knew Apple wouldn’t provide any info, but the media was hungry for info about the iPhone.”

That gave him an opportunity to get attention and leverage it for the benefit of KCA. The deviously simple plot took the following steps:

  • Be first in line, because in social media it’s usually only the first mover that gets coverage
  • Prepare assets that cater to bloggers and social media, particularly photos on Flickr and ready access to links and information about KCA
  • Watch for coverage of the story, then make those links available so the story is more “discoverable”
  • Leverage existing relationships with bloggers, and knowledge of the blogger’s content, to make them aware of the story

“You can’t just ask bloggers to cover something,” Vulkan said. “Too many people do that, without understanding what the blog’s culture, what they cover, or an understanding the volume of requests that a top blog receives every day.” Johnny Vulkan's Flickr page Vulkan started, of course, by being the first in line at the Soho store. He took a picture to prove it, conveniently branded with the KCA logo, then posted that picture to Flickr.

And that was all it took to get things rolling. Vulkan and Anomaly put out a press release, kept an ongoing photostream of Flickr pictures and made them available to the media. These ready-made assets made it a snap for bloggers to pick up the story, and they did, including key posts in BoingBoing and Gizmodo.

The blogger coverage turned into mainstream media coverage.

“A lot of old media came to the story because conventional journalists use blogs as first-round stimulus for news stories,” Vulkan said. “Blog coverage makes the story trickle up to mainstream, then mainstream coverage trickles back down to other blogs.”

At all times, the media coverage focused on KCA.

“They (the Keep a Child Alive organization) said it’s the highest traffic spike they’ve ever seen,” Vulkan said. “They have a lot of stars helping out, a lot of events, but the iPhone event generated their highest traffic ever.”

Vulkan got his iPhone (and got to mug with Spike Lee for the event, but that’s just how Johnny rolls), which was, of course, captured on video and uploaded to YouTube (see the video at the top of the story).

The end result? Throw that sucker up on eBay, and a woman from Phoenix drops $100,000k to get it. Oh, and to support Keep A Child Alive. All of this using donated time (four days in line) and free social media tools like Flickr, YouTube, blogs and press releases. And, of course, the social networks Vulkan and Anomaly have established over the years.

Filed in Blogging, Public Relations, Social Media

Add Your Comment1 Response to “Social Media: Does It Get Charity Stuff?”

Amy Kincaid on October 25th, 2007 at 4:06 pm

Interesting, creative, but probably not practical as a publicity or fundraising strategy for most nonprofit organizations. A typical nonprofit cannot afford the risk of trying something like this without efficient ways to replicate or adapt it.

Honestly, I’m not against social networking or against nonprofit organizations using these new methods for reaching out, joining hearts and minds, generating opinion, inspiring action, or even for asking for support. These new methods can (and in some cases, probably are) helping to build movements to change the world for the better. And BTW, Keep A Child Alive has a beautiful website and looks like it is doing some fundraising things that actually are both fresh and powerful.

In this case, the marketing guy meant well, but for charitable organizations everywhere else, we have to expect even more.