In 2007, Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog.com, asked his business partner Angelica Alaniz, designer Oscar Tijerina, and programmer Daniel Tijerina how they could encourage their members — about 50,000 bloggers — to do good. So they came up with an idea to create a landing page and then ask bloggers to support classroom supplies for students though the Omidyar Network-supported DonorsChoose.org.
"Basically, we asked BlogCatalog members to take a day off from writing about Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and focus their posts on doing good to support education," says Berkman. "But the initial challenge didn't attract much attention at first."
After a few days with little interest, Berkman thought the program was dead before it started. From what he tells me, it might have died right then and there had it not been by chance that I noticed the campaign and requested a news release, intending to write a post for a business giving blog that my company maintains as a side project.
As it turned out, Berkman had never considered developing a campaign for the program. He didn't have a news release, and didn't know how to write one. So he asked me to write the news release for him to use for my post and then distribute to our appropriate media contacts. The coverage helped propel what would become the first social network-driven social awareness campaign on the Internet, with more than 1,000 students benefitting.
One year later, after Bloggers Unite continued to grow with each increasingly successful campaign, Bloggers Unite for Human Rights became the new benchmark for success. The campaign generated 1.2 million posts that raised awareness, provided varied calls to action, increased attention for Amnesty International, and caught the attention of Veronica De La Cruz, Internet correspondent for CNN's flagship morning news program.
Given the success of the program, I'm frequently asked how does one create a campaign, with hundreds of thousands of bloggers participating, to go viral? My answer is simple. You don't.
Going viral is an outcome, not an intent. Bloggers Unite programs might seem viral, but the large coordinated campaigns are managed from start to finish. And while my list of critical campaign bullets might make it sound simpler than it is, there are eight components that have proven successful in developing social network-driven campaigns.
Eight Components That Make Network Campaigns Work
1. Solicit input for campaign ideas from the network (that now consists of 190,000 bloggers at BlogCatalog). There needs to be some guidance. For example, ours is that the social awareness topic has to be underserved topic as opposed to popular.
2. Once the topic is chosen, find direct benefactors, organizations such as Amnesty International, AIDS.gov, or Refugees United. Benefactors provide an opportunity for tangible outcomes beyond buzz.
3. Working with benefactors, develop a turnkey campaign that provides participants with enough choices to write about what they want, but enough guidance that most will write within the topic area.
4. Create elements for the campaign such as badges, benefactor-supplied support videos, and backgrounders with three to five subject areas, each with links for more information. The objective is to make participation as easy as possible.
5. From these materials, develop a media relations plan and timeline. Unlike many public relations firms, keep the focus narrow, releasing the campaign information only to those media outlets with an expressed interest in that topic, whether it is human rights or AIDS.
6. Solicit participant promotional support from benefactors, promotional sponsors (not paid sponsors), and key network members with an expressed interest in that topic area. In short, create an unofficial team of leaders consisting of 25 to 50 campaign advocates and keep them apprised of what you will release when.
7. Demonstrate that you will take part in the event just like the participants. It's important for bloggers and network participants to see organizers as equal participants, not people attempting to push something forward as companies often attempt to do.
8. Follow the timeline and launch the campaign, recognizing members and encouraging participation every step of the way. When the media takes an interest, encourage them to focus on individual participants rather than the campaign coordinators.
Ideally, but not always, most campaigns require 90 days from conception to completion. Or, as I like to say in classes and at speaking engagements, it only takes about 90 days to change the world.
The program has proven successful enough that Bloggers Unite has undergone an evolution. In addition to coordinating three major events every year, any participant can now develop their own campaign based around a nonprofit event at BloggersUnite.org
. Check it out some time.