Making the Grade: Capulet Goes Back to School

I would have made an excellent student at boarding school during my high school years. The idea of rowing teams, beds away from home and independence from my family appealed to the grown-up in my teenage, Anglophile heart.

So, I was delighted when Capulet was invited to collaborate with one of Canada's top boarding schools, St. Michaels University School (SMUS), to help them attract more bright minds.

The Best School Year Ever is a contest we helped SMUS devise, produce and promote to students in high schools across North America who want to win the chance to live and study on campus in Victoria, BC. The first grand prize is a full ride—room, board and tuition, worth about $50,000. There are also two runner-up prizes of a boarding scholarship worth $10,000 each. All three finalists win an all-expenses paid trip with their parents or guardians to visit the school. The contest ran for the first time in 2014 and SMUS is just about to wrap the third iteration of the contest, selecting a winner for the 2016/2017 school year.

When we started the ideation process for a Remarkable for SMUS back in 2012, we were inspired by Tourism Queensland's marketing campaign to attract new visitors with the "The Best Job on Earth" contest. The contest subsequently expanded into a program called The Best Jobs in the World. You may remember that contestants were invited to submit a video demonstrating why they were the best choice for the role of an island and park ranger.

Like the Tourism Queensland contest, students entering SMUS' Best School Year Ever contest were also required to make a short video. They also filled in an application form and uploaded a recent report card. And, like The Best Job in the World, the winner would write about their SMUS experiences on the school blog.


Why a Remarkable for SMUS?

1. To innovate. After attending a Capulet workshop on building Remarkables, SMUS Marketing Director, Laura Authier, was ready to take the plunge. Adding a Remarkable to SMUS' marketing mix would be a way to reach more students and different kinds of students than the school was reaching with traditional marketing, such as print ads.

2. An updated approach. Running a video contest was a way to experiment with a more modern approach to marketing, including running campaigns on social media platforms, trying Facebook advertising and rolling out drip email campaigns alongside the contest.

3. Get people talking. An initial goal of the campaign was to create PR opportunities for the school with the contest.

How'd We Do?

So, how'd the contest measure up against the goals? 

  • SMUS received contest videos from students in cities across North America—places the school had never reached before.
  • Best School Year Ever became a kind of 'skunkworks' for the marketing department who've used the contest as a testing ground for social media marketing activities, online advertising and email campaigning. It provided a reason for the marketing team to innovate and learn.
  • The contest didn't get a ton of media attention, though it did achieve some radio and print PR, though most of it was local in Victoria, BC.

There were, of course, some unexpected outcomes too. The most interesting was that the contest, which was conceived of as purely a marketing campaign, became an effective lead generation activity. Students who submitted videos but didn’t win still opted to attend SMUS after going through the contest experience.

Want to learn more about SMUS' takeaways running The Best School Year Ever? Check out Laura Authier's presentation on the project at the Beyond the Hype Conference in 2014.

Are Your Values Aligned? What NGOs Can Learn From Free Poppies

1964231683_174777c300_z A few months ago, the Journal of Consumer Research published a research paper called The Nature of Slacktivism". The researchers shared findings from a series of studies focusing on our "desire to present a positive image to others." Charities and not-for-profits were especially interested in what the study had to say about how an initial, public act of giving can affect more meaningful acts of support for a cause.

Here’s an example from the study. Before Canada's Remembrance Day, participants were given a poppy to wear to show their support for veterans. One group had the poppy immediately pinned on their coats--a public act of support--while the second group received the poppy in an envelope and were asked to privately put it on at their convenience.

Participants from both groups were intercepted a few minutes later by another researcher who asked them to make a donation to support Canada's veterans. Those who received the poppy in the envelope--a private token of support--donated nearly three times more as those wearing the poppy.

Are Public Acts of Support Less Valuable Than Private Ones?

This result might worry non-profit marketers. It suggests that public acts of support (in person or online) are less valuable than private ones. If we're concerned with on-boarding new supporters and moving them up the engagement ladder, then asking them to publicly like a Facebook page or share charitable content online might not be a good thing. This seems worrying indeed.

Much of the discussion surrounding these studies focused on this public-private dilemma. But, I believe the more powerful and actionable study results involve the notion of 'values alignment.'

In one of the team's studies, participants were asked to join a Facebook group. For half the participants, the group was identified as a public group, and for the other half, it was private. They were then instructed to read an article about the group. Finally, they were asked to reflect on how that group's values aligned or didn't align with the their own values. Then, they were asked to consider undertaking a subsequent, more-involved task (stuffing envelopes) for the group. The results are striking.

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 11.22.05 PM

As you can see, participants who agreed that their own values aligned with the organization’s values were likelier to agree to providing subsequent support. The values alignment question seems to be more crucial than the public-private one.

Aligning Values Before Actions

Until recently, we could see the practice of values alignment in play on The much-emulated startup has been successful at generating a massive following by curating and optimizing viral content with a positive spin. When you visited a page on, the site presented you with a light box designed to capture your email address. Unlike many such lead-generation tactics, however, the light box first asked you a question like "Do you support equality for all?" Only if you clicked the 'I Agree' button did you then see an email sign-up field. Upworthy rigorously tests everything about their site, and I'm assured by a colleague from the company that this values alignment approach outperformed the more conventional one.


You can apply this values alignment trick to your own charity and non-profit lead generation tactics. In social media, for example, it could take the form of rhetorical questions that precede clickable links. If you're not doing so already, this approach offers a great opportunity to test the effectiveness of your messages. Try this experiment. Write one conventional Facebook ask, and one that incorporates values alignment, and share them each with geo-targeted sections of your fans. See which post earns more engagement, and then iterate appropriately.

Of course, we shouldn't over-emphasize the results of one series of studies, but there’s a lot to be gained from taking a values-oriented approach to your online marketing.

Beautiful Websites, Capulet Approved

Digital strategists pay a lot of attention to social media tools, digital tricks and marketing tips. But, we don't always keep tabs on website design trends and evolution. Today we're celebrating some of our favourite websites of 2013 and letting you in on why we think they're so good. Knock To Unlock Knock is a smartphone app that lets you lock and unlock your phone, computer, or tablet by knocking on it, just like you would a door or tabletop. The website has almost no text and depends primarily on video, which reflects the app's simple but clever concept. This is an example of a website that's prioritized video over text and has integrated it seamlessly into the overall design concept in an original way. The downside? Depending on your internet connection all that streaming video may slow down the site's load time.

Waterlife It's hard to click away from a website that plays an inspired musical composition by auteur Brian Eno. Greeted with Eno's "An Ending (Ascent)," an instrumental piece that evokes the feeling of floating, visitors move through gripping storytelling of the last great supply of fresh drinking water on earth. The National Film Board's digital projects often hit it out of the park and this is no exception. WaterLife is a beautiful site that delights visitors while staying true to its advocacy mission.


Bear71 Another NFB project, Bear 71 is an award-winning website/documentary that elegantly marries digital advocacy, video storytelling and user interaction. Using sound, video and game-inspired features, visitors follow a grizzly bear in Banff National Park as she navigates a landscape that borders wild and urban areas. In 2012, Bear 71 won the Gold Cyber Lion Award at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. Two years on, it's still a compelling example of how to inspire an audience to action with online storytelling.

Rolling Jubiliee The Rolling Jubilee is an infographic inspired website that packs a truckload of information--videos, graphics and copy--into a clearly presented scrolly site. The Rolling Jubilee raises money to purchase debt at pennies on the dollar and has already relieved nearly $15 million worth of debt. Though visually it's quite a subdued website, it does a fine job of making complicated ideas and information bite-sized and digestible.

Slavery Footprint This is a scrolly site that hits home. Slavery Footprint invites visitors to test connections they might have to modern-day slavery, based on current lifestyle and purchasing decisions. Take the survey and then move through the question tree by scrolling up, down and side-to-side. The site user interface design is intuitive and fun to use.

The New York Times "Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek" The New York Times continues to experiment with digital long-form journalism and succeeded with this spellbinding website that gracefully integrates text, graphics and video. This project even spawned a verb: "to snowfall".

The Roaring Twenties This site does a remarkable job of exploring the soundscape of New York City in the roaring 1920's. It uses an archive of documents from the period and snippets of early film to send the visitor back in time. It's a great inspiration for any organization with access to interesting archival materials.

For these websites and more, check out Darren's Pinterest collection of digital "Remarkables."

The Age of Persuasion Is A Near Complete History of Marketing

"Advertisers are constantly accused of creating trends, shaping attitudes, and planting new behaviour in consumers. But in fact, the opposite is true: advertising doesn't set trends, it follows them. Bold new ideas are embraced in advertising only after society has long since appoint them. Advertising is the great mirror of society." - Terry O'Reilly & Mike Tennant

I first discovered author Terry O'Reilly through his CBC radio program, "Under the Influence." I remember driving in my car learning about the intention that goes into selling high-end products and how retailers in the luxury goods business approach their brands. I was fascinated by the stories behind some of the planet's best-known luxury brands. I was also concerned I was becoming a marketing nerd. Who else is riveted by stories about Tiffany's and Club Med?

Turns out I had simply stumbled across some of the best storytellers in the marketing world; storytellers who were reaching an audience well beyond their own professional arena. I was immediately turned on to the radio series based on the book by Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant titled "The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture."

Even before opening The Age of Persuasion (four years after it was first published) I had heard about some of the case studies and examples featured in its pages, including Volkswagen’s “Lemon” print ad (as featured in Mad Men) and Coca Cola’s Santa super-success. O'Reilly and Tennant’s collection of experience, expertise and study culminated in this "bible" of North American marketing history.

Each chapter opens with a myth that is countered by plenty of examples. Many of the case studies are widely used and known among marketers, so the content feels slightly dated in 2013. At the time the book was written, however, there was still a considerable online/offline dissonance.

Still, the authors succeed in writing delightful, humorous chapters. Diving into a book all about marketing can be, for some, like cracking open the schematics to a truck engine. While its subject matter is niche, a larger audience is reached using humor. The Age or Persuasion presents a series of case studies and marketing examples that nearly anyone can appreciate. It deconstructs each example and often pokes fun at the relationship between the consumer/reader and the product/subject.

The CBC has commissioned a third season of the "Under the Influence" radio series which, no doubt, will deliver examples of story, fallacy, trickery and many more strategies from the marketing world. The new season kicks off on CBC radio one in January 2014. I look forward to hearing O'Reilly's voice reminding me, once again, why we're living in The Age of Persuasion.

*The Age of Persuasion was originally a podcast-turned-radio show based on the book that evolved into the new series, "Under the Influence."


Stories From Fireworks Factory

For the first half of 2013, Capulet has had a specific gathering on its mind. June marked the first Fireworks Factory, an intimate conference for smart, senior digital marketers hosted just off the coast of British Columbia, Canada.

Participants gathered for three days and two nights to absorb, discuss and share their marketing work through a storytelling lens. Our goal and hope was that people left with a new professional community from which they could draw and a sense of nourishment from the food, setting, and music that was part of Fireworks Factory.

Just over 40 participants joined us this year with a speaker line-up that included CBC Spark host, Nora Young, charity: water digital director, Paull Young, Lee Lefever of Common Craft, Rob Cottingham of Social Signal and singer-songwriter-storyteller John Mann. The agenda included keynote presentations, an "Epic Fail" session and case studies all threaded together by a storytelling theme.

In among the Gulf Islands at the Galiano Inn and Driftwood Village, participants were active in tweeting and posting photos. We've captured some of that social media flotsam and jetsam in a Storify thread here.

We had a remarkable time with all of our participants, the discussions they nurtured, and the network that will continue for years to come. Take a look at what some of this year's participants had to say about the gathering:

"This was a rare bird in my typical conference year: a small, intimate gathering where every speaker was keynote-calibre, the discussions were deep and the takeaways were truly thought-changing." - Laura Authier, St. Michaels University School

"Finally a conference for marketers that recognizes that the true value of an event isn't in the formal sessions but rather in creating the space for informal communities of practice and trust networks to form. And the formal sessions were great too!" - Elijah van der Giessen, TechSoup Global

"This was the first non-BS marketing conference I've ever gone to. Talk about intimate and interactive. Egos (if they existed) and titles were parked at the door and everyone [was] looking to share and learn from one another. Can't wait until next year." - Kenny Grant, Full Stack

"Fireworks Factory was the ultimate blend of intelligence, creativity, and inspiration. The people, the conversation, the location, everything worked together to create this completely unique experience." - Ian Walker, Perch

We've set the dates for our 2014 event. If you're interested in attending Fireworks Factory June 3 - 5, 2014, let us know.



Lee LeFever's The Art of Explanation and Why it Matters for Marketers

Explaining products, services and ideas is at the heart of marketing work. So, why are so many marketers poor at explanation? Since Capulet began in the early 2000's, we've worked with high-tech start-ups. A challenge in this kind of work is helping companies explain brand new, often complicated technology products to potential buyers. Too often, we get distracted writing about business benefits and product features before getting at the heart of what these tech products actually do. That's because explanation is hard. Lee LeFever is half of the duo behind Common Craft, the explanation company well known for animated videos that use paper cut-outs to explain complicated ideas. Some uber-popular videos you may have seen include "What is RSS" and "Copyright and Creative Commons". Common Craft videos have accumulated millions of views for a reason—they’re picture-perfect explanations of complex ideas.

LeFever’s recent book, The Art of Explanation, is a how-to guide to making ideas, products and services easier to understand. The first thing you'll learn is the difference between explanations and the marketing jargon we often fall back on when we don't do the hard work of thinking of audience first and empathizing with them. The book guides the reader through the stages of planning, packaging and presenting successful explanations. It's peppered with real-world case studies and lessons learned that help bring LeFever's theories to life.

I found the chapter on storytelling especially interesting. Using storytelling as a marketing tool is all the rage, but understanding how to implement it in professional communications is tricky. LeFever recommends which storytelling elements work best in explanations, such as introducing characters your audience can care about. He also thoughtfully points out situations where storytelling doesn't work very well.

Another tip I love is to make connections between something the audience already understands and your product or service. LeFever uses a great story to illustrate this point. How did the filmmaking team of Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusset pitch their Oscar winning movie, Alien? With three simple words: "Jaws in Space." A solid example of this concept in practice is the description of Instagram—it’s Twitter for photos, of course.

Whether you're new to explanation or are looking for better ways to educate students, colleagues and customers this book delivers solid takeaways. If customers understand what our products and services do, they'll be primed and far more receptive to the rest of our marketing messages. You can find The Art of Explanation on Amazon.


Movement Marketing on the High Seas

We first met Lifeboat founders, Tim and Alia, at Web of Change, a small and intimate annual web conference in British Columbia. It's not the likeliest of places you’d expect to meet, connect with and eventually befriend people who work in the digital space. Picture an island community that takes three ferries to get to and that often finds itself without power during storm season. Ours is a friendship that began on ferryboats and was nurtured on a windy west coast beach. That was several years ago. Fast forward to the present. Tim and Alia invited Capulet to join the crew of Lifeboat to help steer the digital marketing efforts behind their new project. It was a no-brainer for us, not just because they are friends, but because we were excited to be part of something we think matters in our personal and professional world—how we connect with one another. At Capulet, we work with companies and organizations to help them identify what's remarkable about their work, and then we help them tell their stories. It's what we call creating "remarkables" and it’s part of a larger approach to movement marketing, or building an engaged community around an organization or product. We think Lifeboat is shaping up to be a big remarkable.

Since coming on board this project, we've encouraged Tim and Alia to do what comes naturally to them: honest storytelling, finding the funny, and being the first to identify and mobilize a movement around the friendship crisis. Here’s what we mean:

Stories float our boat Often, what's remarkable about a cause or organization can be expressed in a very simple story. It's why marketers love to talk about myth (read Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, you won’t regret it.) Time and again, we draw from the archetypes that make up our oral and written history and apply it to marketing. As aptly stated in one of Alia's blog posts, every story has an antagonist or bad guy. Lifeboat's is the friendship crisis. A narrative is beginning to emerge from all of the work and research Tim and Alia have done on the science of friendship. It's been our job to help them craft this narrative and share it with a wider audience.

Find the funny (or, at the very least, sound human) Tim and Alia have an unwavering ability to speak from the heart. Their voices and personalities are infused in Lifeboat’s messaging. The ability to make people laugh is a worthy gift and when it comes to your own project or organization, the more you do to celebrate the funny/absurd/ridiculous/human aspects of what you do or the cause you represent, the easier it is to connect with your audience. You can see Tim and Alia’s personalities in full flight in this video.

Be the first Lifeboat isn’t the first to argue that deeper personal connections can lead to a fuller life. It is, however, the first to build momentum and a community of practice for becoming better friends. When you're the first to the mark, you typically get more attention.

Working with Tim, Alia and the rest of the Lifeboat crew reminds us of how much we love to do what we do: craft stories for the web. Not only are we lucky to be surrounded by good friends, we're honoured to participate in their remarkable movements, like Lifeboat.


A three-day web conference for smart web marketers

Last summer, we started talking to colleagues about creating a web conference in Vancouver. I think there have been several good marketing events in Vancouver, but no great ones. We connected with about 30 of our friends and colleagues to pick their brains. We ended up with these criteria for a conference:

  • The smartest marketers would be there
  • The conversations would be about web strategy, not WordPress plug-ins
  • It would be an emerging trust network, where we could talk about failures as well as successes
  • It wouldn't have any sponsors
  • The speakers would have insights to share, not products to sell
  • It would take place in a natural setting near, but not in, Vancouver

A few months later, Fireworks Factory was born. We're betting our time and money on the belief that there's an appetite for this kind of conference in Vancouver.

For who's coming, who's speaking and other details, visit the Fireworks Factory website.

Why is it called Fireworks Factory?

We lived in Malta for a year in 2007, on the small island of Gozo. Each town on Gozo has a week-long religious festival--Malta is the most Catholic nation outside of the Vatican--punctuated by fireworks and pyrotechnics. These explosives were all homegrown, crafted in a community-owned fireworks factory on the edge of town. Men from the village would spend time there building and testing fireworks, in the hopes of outdoing their rival towns. Occasionally, something horrible would happen.

Still, they were communal spaces where something risky and breathtaking gets imagined and created. That seemed like a good metaphor for the kind of conference we want to run.

Apple Fan Boys and White Papers

Over the years, Darren has spoken at several events hosted by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS). These speaking gigs often cover the work Capulet does in online marketing from its early days working in the software industry to Darren and Julie's current work with non-profit organizations. In May, 2012, CPRS featured Darren in their "Essentials" newsletter profile.  In the article, Darren talks about becoming "a big Apple fanboy", what intrigues him about crowd funding, what it's like working in the south of France, and an upcoming white paper Capulet is releasing with some pretty interesting data.

While we can't say much about the white paper just yet, stay tuned for details and the opportunity to read it this fall.



Meantime, you can read Darren's CPRS interview, here.

How To Ask A Customer for a Press Review

Photo courtesy Jon S, flickr user.

Sharing your customers' success stories with the press can be a great way to highlight your work and to help bring attention to your customers. However, getting customers to participate in joint PR isn't always easy. Here are some of the ways we prepare business PR stories and get customers excited about coming along for the ride.

1. Tell a Winning Story

Select winning stories to share with the press to improve chances of success. If your story is weak, or even mediocre, sit tight until you've got a winner. That way your customer isn't disappointed, and you don't overwork your press contacts.

2. Timeliness Is Key

If your customer is keen to participate, clearly articulate expectations and deadlines early on. Don't get stalled waiting on an indecisive partner. If you need customer feedback, prepare content in advance for quick and easy approval.

3. Align PR Goals

If your customer has their own PR team, get to know them and the kinds of stories they're trying to tell and who they're trying to reach. Develop story ideas that align with their internal goals and you'll find they're keen to work with you.

4. Show, Don't Tell

Show customers examples of successful PR. This is tough if you're just starting out so, instead, point to examples from other companies of what you're trying to achieve.

5. Build Joint PR into the Contract

An easy way to ensure that customer success stories are at your fingertips to pitch to press is to build that activity into contracts. That way, your customers are prepared for PR right out of the gate.

Now, you're ready to start pitching customer stories. Here are a few examples of the kinds of customer success stories Capulet has helped to land: A Technology Switch Bears Mobile Commerce Fruit; Deepening Engagement, One Drawing at a Time; and Open Sourcing May be Worth the Risk.

Top Five Tips for Retaining Online Community Members

A former client recently called to talk about her new role as an online community manager for a children's clothing company based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She explained that the page began losing "likes" a few weeks into her posting schedule. After a look at the company Facebook page, a talk about her content curation style, and some consideration around changes taking place on Facebook's end, we think we know what went down. Here are our take-aways in five points. 1. Losing Can Sometimes Mean Winning

Loosing fans isn't always a bad thing. If you've recently gone from not working with a social media strategy to consistently scheduling content once a day that aims to engage and inform you audience and you're still losing people, it could be that those dawdling audience members are simply not interested in your new approach. If you hadn't been posting  that much before and only recently changed up your routine, you have to expect some of your fans to opt out because their expectations aren't being met. The good news is that from here on in, armed with your engaging content and new schedule, you can hope to connect with fans and community mangers who care about what you have to say and have the potential to turn into donors, customers and heavy-hitting supporters later down the line. In other words, your fan base may be smaller but the fans themselves are more likely to care about what you post.

It's also worth noting that, according to, Facebook recently began to aggressively deactivate fake accounts and remove those account "likes." If you've noticed your very large fan base taking a plunge, that could be part of the reason.

2. Moving From Likes to Comments to Shares

Likes are great, comments are better and shares are the best when it comes to Facebook. Keep in mind moving community members up this social media engagement ladder takes time and effort or, at the very least, really great content curation. Those fans who comment and share your posts have shown a commitment to you and that commitment should be rewarded with content they want to share with their own, online communities.

3. Schedule Your Content Consistently

Post once a day, even on weekends. Unless you've tested it thoroughly and can honestly prove that an audience wants to hear from you multiple times a day, chances are posting once a day is enough. That's certainly what Darren Barefoot and I learned from our study on Facebook and the kind of content that goes viral.

4. Listen Carefully and Respond Thoughtfully

It's easy to forget about your fans who post to your Facebook wall with the timeline feature now enabled. Don't forget to check-in every so often and use the drop-down menu at the top of your timeline to see who's been tagging and sharing content with you. If you can, always add a little note to the posts that make it onto your wall.

5. Stop Name Dropping and Start Telling Stories

If you're managing sponsorships on behalf of a non-profit campaign or responsible for mentioning corporate partners in a capital campaign, remember that you have an obligation to your community to curate quality content. In other words, don't waste your time by posting logos and listing off tags or names (that's what #ff or "follow friday" is for on Twitter.) Instead, if you need to make a corporate or sponsor mention, first ask the company in question what story they want to share with your community. From there, you can build a story around the mention.

(Blog post photo courtesy flickr user, Adikos)

Social Media Strategy for Online Community Managers

As our Social Media Marketing Masterclass series continues into autumn, we prepare to step back from our work around specific niche industries and focus on the work online community managers are doing collectively in their field. If your company or organization uses social media to reach clients, followers and supporters, then online community management is part of your work. You can click here to register for the online community management masterclass or read on to learn more about the workshop. More and more, we place value on creating successful online communities in business and the impact they have on our offline work. Our workshop will help you identify which tactics, channels and tools will help you succeed. We'll share proven strategies and techniques for growing, sustaining and engaging an online audience. In this one-day workshop, you will develop strategies that will:

* Help you decide which social media channels are right for your organization * Ensure that you implement best practices for engaging online communities * Introduce social media campaigning as a subset of online activities * Define key performance indicators (KPIs) and measure online activities and investment

This small-group workshop is designed for Online Community Managers currently responsible for social media channels and strategy. Strategy discussion, examples and best practices are customized for participants with an intermediate understanding of online tools and community management.

Where and When? 300 - 163 West Hastings St. (Entrance is at Hastings and Cambie, next to Bean Around the World) Hollyhock Room, 3rd Floor Friday, October 26, 2012 9:30am - 4:30pm Lunch and coffee served

Click here to register for your Social Media Strategy Masterclass.

Your Instructors Capulet staffer and expert online campaigner, Theodora Lamb and social media strategist Channing Rodman will lead workshop participants through a process for designing web-thinking movement marketing plans, strategies and tactics.

Theodora’s passion for non-profit causes led her to work in social media where she helps to strengthen online communities. She works with several organizations including the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation as an online community manager and with Mountain Equipment Co-op’s on wilderness protection across Canada. She’s also developed online communities for the BC Mental Health & Addictions Services, the Women’s Health and Research Institute and the Asia Pacific Foundation. Theodora’s background in radio and television allows her to bridge her passion for storytelling, media and the web and when she can, she loves to write about redheads.


Channing Rodman is a social media strategist and writer. She works with non-profits and businesses to help them connect better on the social web, and can explain the point of Pinterest to your grumpiest executive. Since moving to Vancouver in 2009, she has helped to launch online initiatives for some of BC's largest public agencies and not-for-profits, including BC Hydro and the BC Children's Hospital Foundation. Some of the themes she explores in her work include how to translate online activity in real-world action, serious games, and the future of memory on social media. She is a new parent, she loves libraries, and she will always tweet back to you.

(Cover blog photo courtesy flickr user D Sharon Pruitt.)

Research and Data: How NGOs Win with Facebook

Capulet spends a lot of time working with non-profit organizations and how they can better engage their online audience with meaningful content. It means we spend a lot of time thinking about social media and why some organizations receive more likes, comments and shares on Facebook than others. It was time to put our experience and long-held assumptions to the test and back them up with actual data. We decided to embark on a research project in order to answer this question: what kinds of content gets liked, commented upon and shared on NGO Facebook pages?

What Did We Do?

We first identified 20 Facebook pages run by large and well-known environmental non-profit organizations across North America. On average, each organization had about 160,000 fans. We searched for organizations with a fan base in and around that number to keep the playing field relatively equal. While we only researched environmental NGOs, we're confident the our results could apply to any charity or not-for profit organization. For-profit companies might be interested in the results, too.

Next, we evaluated the 50 most recent Facebook posts by each organization which gave us 1,000 posts to work with. After that, it was time to do a data dive. We've compiled the results into five critical lessons on how NGO's can win with Facebook.

Darren and I first presented our findings at NetSquared Camp back in May, 2012. In July, 2012, Greenpeace published our findings on their Mobilization Lab website.

Lesson One: Link Generously

Organizations that apply an open, networked approach to social media channels will engage their audience more successfully than those who only talk about themselves.

In our study, the NGOs that performed poorly published lots of links to their own site, and few to anybody else’s. 37% of all posts we looked at linked back to home pages and website pages while the top performing organizations regularly linked to other sites – mostly mainstream news articles about their causes – as often as they linked to their own website.

Lesson Two: Don't Overwhelm Your Audience

You may think you post the perfect content for your online community but if you post too often, you risk alienating your supporters. Something that surprised us in our research was how little the top tier organizations posted, online. In fact, they only needed to post once a day (including weekends). We also noticed that Thursdays had the highest average engagement, followed by Saturday and Sunday so if you haven't been thinking about content on the weekend, it's time you should start.

Lesson Three: You're Probably Not Sharing Enough Photos and Videos

Of all the types of content we looked at -- photos, videos, photo galleries, status updates and links -- fans were likeliest to like, share or comment on a photo. Based on all we know about Facebook and Edgerank (Facebook's algorithm that determines what content makes it into your newsfeed), this didn't surprise us.

We were surprised, however, to discover 18 of the top 20 most engaging Facebook posts were photos. In particular, our study showed climate change campaigners performed well, sharing well produced and thoughtful photos, infographics and videos. Videos also tended to perform well but still only accounted for 11% of all the posts we looked at while photos accounted for 26%.

Lesson Four: Emulate the Superstars

The two organizations that stood out at producing engaging content were Earthjustice and the Surfrider Foundation. We highly recommend taking a look at these two organizations and paying close attention to their Facebook posts and social media channels, in general. We also know that these two organizations do excellent work offline, as well. It's great to see that their real-world success extends to their digital channels, too.

Lesson Five: Overlay Powerful Text on Evocative Photos

Of the one thousand posts we looked at, the top ten were all photos with some characteristics in common (check out the slideshow, below, to see all ten photos):

  • All of the photos featured emotional or provocative subject matter.
  • Most included a simple powerful message in overlying text.
  • Most seemed to be taken, or touched up, by professionals.
  • Only one of the photos’ captions included an ‘ask’ that users like or share the photo.
  • There was only one infographic among these popular images, and it was very simple.

Jodi Stark, Healthy Oceans campaigner for the David Suzuki Foundation, attended Netsquared Camp back in May, 2012, when we first presented our findings. She took our research to heart and produced an image of oily seawater, and overlaid it with a powerful message about oil spills. Jodi writes:

"We posted this on Saturday [David Suzuki’s page had roughly 200,000 likes at the time] and in short order, we got 1,000 shares, 180 comments and 342 likes. The page was also liked by 1,000 more people this weekend. We can’t attribute this to the image, but we do know that with 1,000 shares, we got huge exposure to lots of new Facebook friends. We also got 3050 visits to the blog from Facebook (out of 4500 total visits) and 560 people who followed up and signed our action. In Facebook Insights, the post is currently second (out of 158) post for ‘engaged users’ and ‘most talked about’ for 2012."

You can find the slides from our NetSquared Camp presentation here, along with a few insights that didn’t make it into this post.

With more than 1,000 posts to work with, there's a lot we can do with the results and the kinds of comparisons we can make. If you're interested in hearing more and if you happen to be in the Vancouver area on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012, Darren and I will be presenting our findings and answering questions at Net Tuesday. Visit here for more details.

Social Media Master Class Series

After much planning, several trans-Atlantic Skype calls, and countless calendar updates, Capulet is pleased to announce a new workshop series that we call the social media marketing strategy master class series (now that's a mouthful.) Time and again, we find ourselves commending training opportunities and conferences that deliver tangible advice and real direction while criticizing those workshops and conference sessions that fall short of experience and new learnings in the field of social media.

We've taken the best of what we've seen and combined it with what we know to bring you five separate workshops. Each one is designed for senior marketing professionals in distinct industry sectors. Strategy discussion, examples and best practices are customized for each workshop and will be led by Capulet staff as well as individual instructors from our network of web marketing experts.

The calendar is up and, if you're game, we look forward to meeting and working with you to rethink and/or refine how you acquire customers and build online community using promotional techniques and smart digital strategy that resonates with a web savvy audience.

All workshops run from 9:30am to 4:30pm and are based in Vancouver in the Tides Canada building at 163 W Hastings Street. See "Upcoming Workshops" below for the complete list of sessions.

The following is a list of our upcoming workshops:

September 13, 2012 Social Media Strategy for Small Businesses
October 26, 2012 Social Media Strategy for Online Community Managers
November 23, 2012 Social Media Strategy for Healthcare
February 22, 2013 Social Media Strategy for Educational Institutions and Organizations
April 26, 2013 Online Movement Building Strategy for Not-for-Profits and NGOs


(This awesome photo is courtesy Christopher Sessums, a generous flickr user.)

Slides and Notes from NetSquared Camp

Theo and I recently completed a research project regarding how NGOs can better perform on Facebook. I'll be publishing an article about our research shortly, and will link to it from here. In the meantime, here are the slides we presented on the research at NetSquared Camp. After the slides, you'll find a few notes about the research which couldn't fit into the article.

Some other observations we made in our research (which are also in the slides, as it happens)

  • Likes are obviously more popular than comments, which in turn are more popular than shares. We found that for every one comment, there were there shares and 11 likes.
  • The top performing NGOs published once a day, seven days a week.
  • Hardly anybody ever uses Facebook Questions, Facebook's poll feature. We encountered exactly two poll questions in the thousand-odd posts we examined.
  • The equation we used to measure engagement was:

    Engagement = Likes + (Comments * 2.5) + (Shares * 5)

    I conferred with a number of colleagues, and settled on these weightings. We all agreed that a comment was worth more than a like, and a share was worth more than a comment.

"Calculate It" image courtesy flickr user Dave Dugdale.

Copyright and Doing It Right

Something you may not know about the Eiffel Tower is that a night time photo of the structure costs more than a day time photo. That's because there are not one but two copyrights to consider at night: the tower and the lighting design that's only featured after dark. This was the introduction Martha Rans made during her session on Canadian copyright and Creative Commons at the 2012 Northern Voice Conference. Nothing beats a piece of cultural trivia at the top of a session designed to navigate and translate the Canadian copyright system.

The Northern Voice conference brings together bloggers and web enthusiasts to talk shop and, every year, Martha -- a copyright lawyer and director of the Vancouver-based Artists' Legal Outreach -- is invited to share what she knows about Canadian copyright. And, trust me, copyright is everywhere. To quote Martha: " it doesn’t matter if it’s high art, low art, pop art, bad art or not art at all."

Artists Legal Outreach is a group that provides legal advice to artists in Canada. On their website, Martha and her team explain how Creative Commons licensing works, the six different licenses available, and the four different conditions that make up each license. All of the content on is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada license and is best referenced by looking at the website, directly.

One of the four conditions of a Creative Commons license is "Noncommercial." According to Martha and Artists Legal Outreach, if you want to use someone’s work licensed under the Noncommercial condition and if your work or organizations makes money in any way, you can’t. As an online community manager and someone who deals in online content on behalf of non-profit organizations, I'm often faced with the question of what's considered commercial* content. The obvious answer is anything that generates a profit on behalf of a business or company. But when you actually consider what's considered "commercial" under Canadian copyright, it's not necessarily cut and dry. For example, I use a tool called to search for photos on flickr licensed under Creative Commons. I'm careful to search under "commercial" conditions because money still changes hands when it comes to fundraising initiatives. When I asked Martha about this, she explained to the audience how we need to "unpack what we mean by commercial."

Upacking Canada's copyright system and all the things we don't understand about it is a huge challenge. To complicate things, the US system is very different from Canada's copyright laws which makes things particularly interesting when you consider the domains and content we share on a day-to-day basis. That's why Artists' Legal Outreach is so valuable to Canadians trying to navigate their own copyright system. Martha and her team work to break down the rules legislation by piece of legislation.

As an individual or organization who uses content from the web, the best thing you can do for yourself is knowledge-up on Creative Commons, use your common sense and always take care to attribute the work you use. And maybe stay away from posting night shots of the Eiffel Tower.

*See Martha's note, below.

This photo is by flickr user Darren Barefoot and it's licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license or CC BY-NC 2.0. Of course, you can see for yourself.

Online Quiz Platforms

Are you an Idea Monkey or a Ringleader? That's the question Maddock Douglas, a strategy and innovation company, is asking human resource and management experts, and you! We helped Maddock Douglas develop a fun online quiz called "Free the Idea Monkey" that helps professionals discover where their leadership and innovation strengths lie. We researched a variety of off-the-shelf quiz software and are sharing our list of some of the best available options. Our research results may surprise you. Sometimes "old-school" beats "new-school", depending on requirements and budget. If you think we've missed something, please comment below.


We started building the "Idea Monkey" quiz on Wildfire's platform. That's because we've used the platform for two past contests and were pleased with its performance and usability. Online support is available and you can either pay as you go or request a quote for custom features. But as we got further into development, we realized we didn't have as much freedom as we wanted. Facebook isn't an important piece in this quiz, and Wildfire excels at Facebook integration. We also couldn't add all the sharing functionality we wanted to the quiz results landing page. While Wildfire is ideal if you're looking to host a quiz exclusively on Facebook, we needed more flexibility and fewer Facebook bells and whistles this time around.

Fluid Surveys

After we realized Wildfire couldn't fulfill all of our needs, we turned to Fluid Surveys. With Fluid Surveys, you can theme your quiz and maintain complete control over your style sheets (that's what you use to design your website.) It's tablet and mobile friendly and you can also customize a quiz in different languages. It certainly had the functionality we needed but the price for the most flexible enterprise version was over budget for this project. So, we continued our search.


iSpring is a flash-based quiz builder. You should know that we didn't actually kick the tires on this software, but it appears that you can incorporate audio, video, and custom images. The software looks a little complicated and there may be restrictions on branding and customization. It's currently listed at $199 and comes with available online support. Online support is a perk, particularly if you're keen on customization.


Tabletquiz is an option if you're looking to build an app, exclusively and separate from any quiz software that you might embed in your website template. Again, this wasn't exactly what we were looking for, but it's good to know it's out there in case we're interested in building an app for the iPad.

Do-It-Yourself (In other words, get a developer to build exactly what you want.)

In the end, we went old school with Javascript and php. The "Idea Monkey" quiz logic uses Javascript plus some php to make each question in the quiz mandatory. It calculates the results and directs users to the appropriate results page. (We apologize for the developer talk. At least you'll know how to "talk shop" with a developer if you go this route.) The code was dropped into a CMS page template, and design work was done to make it look good. Using "Add This" on the results pages made sharing quiz results on social media channels flexible and robust, which was a "must-have".







Bonus: For Teachers in Search of Online Quiz Software

Along the way, we came across examples of quiz software for teachers. While these online tools didn't fit what we were looking for, we thought they were fine examples of how teachers and instructors can utilize online tools to better manage their tests and classrooms. and are both worth a look if you're in need of this type of online functionality.

Apple Fan Boys and White Papers

Over the years, Capulet has spoken at several events hosted by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS). These speaking gigs often cover the work Capulet does in online marketing from its early days working in the software industry to Darren and Julie's current work with non-profit organizations. Last month, CPRS featured Darren in their "Essentials" newsletter profile.  In the article, Darren talks about becoming "a big Apple fanboy", what intrigues him about crowd funding, what it's like working in the south of France, and an upcoming white paper Capulet is releasing with some pretty interesting data.

While we can't say much about the white paper just yet, stay tuned for details and the opportunity to read it this fall.

Meantime, you can read Darren's CPRS interview, here.

Checklist: How to Choose a Design Agency

As a kind of add-on to another project, we helped a non-profit client select a design and development agency to re-design their website. As part of that work, we assembled an extensive checklist of questions to ask the candidates. With our client's permission, we've reproduced the list here.


  • For the key people working on your web project, how much experience do they have?
  • Confirm which staff will actually be working on the project.

Subject matter expertise

  • Have they developed other sites for non-profit organizations?
  • Have they developed other sites related to your particular cause?
  • What is their background or experience in search engine optimization?


  • Do all of the web projects they've recently worked on have a similar aesthetic? That's okay, as long as you like that look and feel.
  • In your initial conversations about the aesthetic you're after, does the agency staff communicate in language that you can understand? Are they able to articulate back to you what you're after?


  • What technologies (platforms like WordPress or Drupal and development environments like Ruby or PHP) do they have experience with?
  • Do they have expertise in a particular technology? If so, ask them when it's not appropriate to use that technology? You want to avoid an agency where every problem looks like the perfect nail for their hammer.
  • What changes will you be able to make to the site without their aid, or that of another designer? Ask for a demonstration on another site they’ve worked on of how to make those changes.
  • What CRM systems (such as Convio, Democracy in Action and so forth) do their technologies integrate with?
  • What CRM systems have they completed recent integration projects with?
  • What are the staff training implications of the technology choices the agency makes?
  • Can you to talk to a customer for whom they completed an integration project?
  • Have they talked to you about the mobile audience, and how their design will accommodate users on smaller screens?
  • Do they talk about where and how to host your web project? Do they have a relationship with hosting companies?
  • What considerations does the agency give to web accessibility?

Support and Maintenance

  • Do they offer ongoing support?
  • How much does ongoing support cost?
  • What response time do they offer with their support package?
  • Can you talk to one of their customers who have been a longtime user of their support services? You want to talk to somebody for whom the honeymoon period is over.


  • How will billing work?
  • What systems and practices do they have in place to ensure that they don't exceed the agreed-upon budget?
  • What happens if they find they need to exceed the budget?
  • In their proposal, have they accounted for additional costs unrelated to staffing, such as stock photography or software subscriptions?


  • What are the milestones associated with their development process?
  • What are the deliverables associated with each of these milestones?
  • Are they comfortable with hitting the deadline you've identified?
  • Who will be the project manager on the project. Ask if you can have a quick call with this person, to gauge their likability and communication style.
  • How many design revisions are included in the process? That is, how many steps are there between the first draft and the final one.
  • If you need to register a new domain, who will do this?
  • Will the agency have a role in developing the website content? If so, what?
  • Do you have multi-language needs? If so, has the agency worked on other multi-language sites?


  • Do you actually like the people at the agency? You're going to be working with them for months.
  • Who will own the source files (Photoshop files and such) associated with the project after their work is complete?
  • Who will own the copyrights associated with their work on your web project?
  • Have they genuinely attempted to understand your organization's goals for the web project?
  • Do they speak in web marketing lingo, using terms like 'conversions' and 'calls to action'? While it's not hard to fake this, a few probing questions about previous projects should separate the fakers from the experts.
  • Where is the agency located? A few in-person meetings can go a long way.
  • Do they outsource their work? If so, what parts and to whom?
  • Has the agency asked about the demographics of your audience? If many of them are elderly, for example, or in the developing world, then they'll want to factor these issues into their designs.
  • What is their reputation? Ask your colleagues if they've heard of the agency, and what they think of them.