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.

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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.

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.

Doing the Blogger Outreach ROI Math

We've been doing online influencer outreach for a really long time. Back in 2002, while working at a now-defunct startup, I started pitching bloggy industry news sites like At the time, I didn't know that what they ran was called a "blog", nor that what I was doing was called "blogger outreach". We still do (or at least oversee) influencer outreach today, usually as part of broader online marketing and movement building campaigns.

On Google+, Raul referred me to Kerry's recent blog post on the old question of paying bloggers for placement. I left a too-long comment, outlining the state of play from my perspective.

As a footnote to that comment, I thought I'd outline how we think about the dreaded return on investment of influencer outreach.

Focusing on What We Can Measure

As I wrote on Kerry's blog:

When I’m doing online outreach...I’m interested in two things. In the short term, I want to drive high-value visitors to my client’s site. In the longer term, I know a link will help continue to drive visitors, and improve their SEO ranking.

There are plenty of other reasons to do influencer outreach, and they're the same as traditional media relations. For one, it makes most clients happy to see their names in digital print. Then there are the usual benefits of brand awareness. These have value, but it's often difficult and expensive to calculate that value. As such, we focus on what we can measure.

Here Comes the Math

Here's how we think about ROI on influencer outreach. Consider a sample client project where we're working to raise awareness and drive signatures to a petition run by national non-profit organization.

We know, from previous campaigns and experimenting with online advertising, that the average cost per conversion is $1.75. That's the average cost of acquiring a petition signature.

The average cost to the client per blogger for influencer outreach for one campaign might be $150. That includes our research, writing the pitch, sending the pitch, following up and reporting, plus the client's time reviewing the campaign, pitch ideas and so forth. This doesn't mean that we charge $150 per pitch per blogger--our pricing isn't that granular--but when you add up all the time and effort by agency and client, it probably comes out to around that number.

So, if we pitch a blogger on writing about this non-profit campaign, we'd ideally like to get 85 petition signatures to "break even". How many visitors does that blog post need to send to the petition to generate 85 signatures? A good petition might convert at 15 to 20%, on average. However, traffic from blog posts is usually quite high-value, so let's set a conversion rate of 25%.

That means that the blog we pitch would need to send 340 visitors to our client's petition page in order for us to achieve a positive result.

Of course, that traffic doesn't necessarily come all at once--it can continue to trickle in for months or years (though probably not for a petition, which is typically time-sensitive).

For a typical blog, 340 visitors is still a lot. Consider that last year we got a client covered on the world's most popular environmental blog, TreeHugger, and that blog post sent 364 visitors over the course of 2010 to the client site.

Selling Widgets Works the Same

You can do similar math for a for-profit organization that's selling products online. The conversion rate there is much lower--2% might be considered nirvana--but a national online retailer I know is willing to spend $40 to acquire a new customer. In that case, a blog still has to send at least a couple hundred visitors to the client site to make the outreach worthwhile.

We're aware of an emerging set of metrics around "return on engagement", but we remain focused on where the rubber meets the road. We work with our clients to do this kind of math on all their marketing activities, online and off. It enables them to decide what marketing mix to deploy.

Photo courtesy

Hunting for Digital Heads

A recruiter recently asked us what they should look for when recruiting someone qualified to do what we do. It’s a challenge, because even for veterans, our work is really only 10 or 15 years old. It’s still relatively rare to find capable communicators who are both web-savvy (in the ways I describe below), and capable marketers. If your company has decided to bring a digital strategist or social media professional on board, you’re looking for someone to help you manage your online channels, promote your brand, engage an online community, and help you stand out online. Potential candidates will all have one thing in common: an ability to wear different “online hats” and navigate the web and their work with fresh eyes and enthusiasm for everything digital.

These days, here’s what we’re looking for in terms of online communicators and community managers:

1. A Background in Marketing, Communications and Public Relations

A background in marketing or communications, we think, is pretty essential. So much of social media is about building relationships and a technical background, while great for building and using online tools, doesn't necessarily give way to online social skills.

Someone with public relations experience will at least understand the importance of nurturing existing relationships and reaching out to new contacts and communities.

2. Why The Ability to Write Still Counts

When it comes down to it, social media and online engagement involves a lot of writing. You'll want your candidate to have a strong set of writing skills, the ability to meet deadlines and write quickly using proper grammar. Your candidate will most likely be called upon to write in under 140 characters, put together blog posts, reach out to other writers and have a general understanding of how to capture the attention of an online audience. They’ll also have to develop or adopt a voice on behalf of your organization in your online communities and campaigns.

3. Knowing How and What to Measure

Building general awareness and blindly reaching for an online audience isn’t good enough. Here at Capulet, we’ve been invited to work on projects when we were the first to ask the question: "what problem are we trying to solve?" That's where metrics and knowing what to measure, helps. Ideally, your candidate would be able to crystallize what your project's online objectives are and set up the proper checks and balances so you can measure them along the way. This could be anywhere from boosting the number of site visitors to online outreach and specific mentions by online influencers. Or maybe it’s about getting the attention of one person or raising enough money during a campaign. Whatever the case, your digital strategist should be able cut out what doesn’t matter and focus on what counts.

4. Storytellers

So much of what we see online centers on storytelling. Videos, blogs, and many online campaigns will often operate within a timeline and a structure that suggests a theme with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The project objective marks what’s at stake and the climax is usually the outcome of your project or campaign. Facebook and Twitter have had an enormous impact on how people interact with online content. Today, an online interaction is defined by how it relates to the viewer personally and how it relates to their own story.

5. Tools and Why You Don’t Need to Worry About Them (Much)

Understanding which online tools can help you and how to use them is probably the least important skill set you need to consider when looking at a potential candidate. It doesn't hurt to know what's out there to help manage social media channels, build community, and technically set an organization apart. However, the tools will always change. In a way, it's the rules that stay the same and how your candidates use their tools (as opposed to what tools they use) to meet project objectives and manage an organization’s online needs is what really counts.

6. What You Love About the Web

Any successful digital strategist or community manager ought to be able to answer these questions:

◦ What do you love on the web? ◦ What does the web love right now?

The first question is really one of taste, and speaks to the kind of work a candidate might do for you. For example, you can ask them what they think about Reddit. This is usually a pretty good indicator as to whether your candidate knows where to search for interesting content online. They don't have to be an active contributor on Reddit but, at the very least, they should know what it is and why it's so popular these days.

The second question will tell you whether your candidate is up-to-date on what's happening online, as opposed to quickly searching sites like TechCrunch and Mashable for "what's hot."

Part of what makes our work so interesting here at Capulet is the changing digital landscape. What defines the search for a digital strategist is in constant flux and presents its own set of challenges. But its also what keeps us in the arena: breaking new ground and building remarkable online campaigns. If you decide to take the leap and go hunting for a digital strategist, just consider it a bonus if you fall in love with the web along the way.

Five Marketing New Year’s Resolutions for 2011

To start the year off on the right foot, we've compiled a checklist of tips to consider when you engage in web marketing this year. Happy New Year!

  1. Listen First. Before you dive head first into online conversations, take some time to listen to what others are saying about your organization, industry and competitors. Start with Google. Type in your organization, campaign or product name and see what comes up. You can also set up Google alerts to organize multiple searches. Dashboard tools like Google Reader, and Netvibes keep your searches out of your inbox and in one place. And don’t forget about Twitter. Subscription services like Buzzstream and Hootsuite have made it easy for you to search for key words in the twitterverse.
  2. Make Friends. If you've embraced the first resolution, then you already know who's talking about you. You can start to reach out to influencers by linking to their websites, subscribing to their blogs, following them on Twitter, or liking their Facebook fan pages. It’s important to connect with people, organizations and communities you’re genuinely interested in and can make contributions to in the future.
  3. Be Inspired by Others. Give credit and shout-outs to campaigns, brands and organizations you think are doing great work. Sites like Mashable, MarketingProfs and TechCrunch are generous when it comes to campaign mentions and online work they like. Check them out. Here at Capulet, we're consistently impressed with online advocacy campaigns like Code for America, and the World Wildlife Fund. All three of these organizations are a step ahead when it comes to connecting to their audiences and encouraging real world action.
  4. Never Lie on the Internet. Three principles that matter online are honesty, authenticity and trust, which is why you should never lie on the Internet. As tempting as it is to spout off generous fibs in the name of your brand, sooner or later you’ll be caught in the lie and your reputation will take a beating.Here’s a classic example. Back in 2009, a representative in charge of sales at the technology company, Belkin, was caught hiring people to post positive comments about Belkin products on It didn’t matter that the reviewer had never owned the product or even tried it. The rep was trying to create the appearance of positive customer feedback and he got caught doing it. Eventually, news of the lie made its way onto Gizmodo, a popular tech new site, as well as various other news outlets.
  5. Don't be a Social Media Spammer. Social media spam has grown beyond your email inbox and can even appear in the form of your own Facebook feed. As an organization, you must follow opt-in marketing rules. For example, automatically adding bloggers to your press release distribution list is a no-no. Think personal pitches and real connections. Just because technology makes it increasingly easy to send marketing messages to others, doesn’t mean that you should.

These and other resolutions can be found in “Friends with Benefits” by Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo of Capulet Communications.

A Blogger’s Night at the Opera

I've long admired Vancouver Opera's approach to its Blogger Night program and got the opportunity to experience it first-hand when Darren and I were invited as blogging guests to "Nixon in China", the Vancouver Opera's most ambitious project to date--at least financially. First, a little background. For the last year, social media manager Ling Chan has been engaging with online influencers, initially a radical approach for a traditional organization with an aging audience. Ling also launched the successful Vancouver Opera blog. Likewise, the Opera's Facebook page (more than 1500 fans) and Twitter efforts (more than 2200 followers) have grown continually, bouyed by the Blogger Night program.

Blogger Nights at the opera offer a way to introduce and engage a new audience with an old art form. Not only do Blogger Nights provide a reason for online influencers to write about the opera--either about their experience or to review the show--the program represent a genuine effort to educate a new generation of potential opera fans.

Educating our little group was what Vancouver Opera did best at "Nixon in China". Prior to the opening night performance, bloggers got a backstage tour of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Darren and I had a previous engagement so we missed the tour, but it sounded like an informative peek behind the curtain. Before the show and during intermissions (yes, two intermissions!), we were encouraged to hang out at the Blogger Night table. A surprising number of guests approached the table and chatted with us opera newbies. Personally, that set-up is a bit public for my liking--print reviewers aren't asked to write their reviews in-situ--but the other bloggers didn't seem to mind and it did provide a chance to chit chat with colleagues.

At Capulet we talk with a lot of not-for-profits about using social media effectively. Vancouver Opera's approach to new influencer outreach really is an example of blogger outreach done right. After seeing a Blogger Night up close we'll continue to tout this model as an effective way to build a new, real-world audience.

Commoncraft on Social Media in the Workplace

A good chunk of our work these days is spent advising companies on their social media strategy. For larger organizations, that often means embracing a cultural shift about how their staff interact with the web. For some companies, it means no longer denying employees access to tools like Facebook and YouTube. Our good friends at Commoncraft recently created a new video on this very topic: