Blue Sky Factory – Email for Non-Profits: Understanding Feedback Loops
By: Blue Sky Factory
One of the areas in which non-profit email marketing differs from its for-profit counterparts is that increasing audience for the purposes of spreading a message (as opposed to driving sales) can be a primary goal. The more people who hear about the cause you’re promoting, the more you are succeeding in your mission. The closest analog in the for-profit world might be brand-building, where the intent is to build awareness and not necessarily direct lead generation. Today, let’s explore an interesting and powerful idea in the world of awareness building.
In a fascinating and engaging TED Talk, MIT researcher Deb Roy illustrated that in the new digital world, some fascinating social structures are manifesting themselves that previously were unseen. Using television as the common content pool and social networks as the common commentary pool, Deb shows how a piece of content can not only get people talking, but get more people to it. Fast forward to about 11 minutes, 30 seconds into the video if you don’t have time to watch it all:
Ever been to an event where someone put a microphone too close to a speaker and an ear-piercing shrill tone stopped the whole room? That’s a feedback loop. That’s what Deb Roy is demonstrating in the video – that audience and content create a feedback loop in which content is distributed to a small amount of audience, which then in turn spurs discussion and additional audience, which then in turn creates additional content.
How do you apply this very complex concept to your non-profit email marketing? Deb’s talk illustrates this key concept of the feedback loop that nearly every marketer gets wrong. If you tune in to conventional wisdom in marketing, you’ll typically hear one of two schools of thought.
The first school of thought is that it’s all about your database, and nothing else matters. List size, donor database, Twitter followers, email subscribers – build the list or go out of business. Nothing else matters. Let’s call this the speaker in the audio example above.
The second school of thought is that it’s all about content. Content, content, content – create great content and the masses will flock to your door. Build it and they will come. Nothing else matters except great content. Let’s call this the microphone in the audience example above.
Both viewpoints address independent entities – the content and the distribution network. Focusing too much on either piece to the exclusion of the other is ultimately harmful to your efforts to build awareness and audience. A microphone without a speaker will never create a feedback loop, and vice versa.
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