New M+R Benchmarks: digital ads growing


Every year we're excited to read the annual M+R Benchmarks study report to see what nonprofit organizations across the country are doing in the digital space. It was released yesterday and there's a lot to learn!

  • We're still digesting everything but the thing that jumped out is that nonprofits of all sizes are increasing their use of online ads. In fact, overall spending on digital ads grew by 69% – and small and medium-sized nonprofits definitely are a part of this trend.

So what are nonprofits' goals and where are they putting their online dollars? And where are they putting their online dollars? About a quarter seeks to build awareness/branding, another quarter is to advocate for policy/legislation and almost half is devoted to fundraising. Display and search ads still dominate but social media ads are on the rise:

M+R Benchmarks can help you plan and evaluate your digital strategy – why not download the report today?

Firestorm in the Friendly Skies

United Airlines created a communications crisis for itself in a big way this week, that's for sure. If you enjoying time off the grid in an internet-free location, let me review the particulars:

On Monday, a shocking video of a bloodied United Airlines passenger being forcibly dragged off an airplane in Chicago became a viral sensation on the internet. Apparently airline staff decided to bump four paying passengers in order to get airline employees to Louisville for crew duty the next morning – and although three accepted cash incentives, a doctor declined and was summarily and violently evicted from his seat.

Wait a minute: there were SO many ways to solve this problem without triggering at $255 million stock nosedive, not to mention a crisis communications meltdown. As my long-time friend Diane Dillingham pointed out, couldn't they have offered $1000 or more to de-plane? What about a charter flight for the employees? Hey, a rental car or Lyft would have gotten it done in less than five hours. Hell, Chicago is their hub – wasn't there a corporate jet in a hanger somewhere?

Okay, let's focus on the communications lessons, not all the common sense prevention moves they could have made. Because honestly, every organization – nonprofit and for-profit alike – can learn from this case study.

The first rule of crisis communications is simple. It's to tell the truth, tell it fast and explain how the problem will be fixed and never, ever happen again. The reality is the United CEO was nothing short of a disaster for days after the video blew up the social and traditional media worlds. Check out how United's message evolved:

  • 2 hours post-video posting: We asked the customer to leave and when he refused, we called the cops but I guess we apologize for the overbook situation.
  • 17 post-video posting: We regret that we needed to "re-accommodate" the customers.
  • 21 post-video posting: We are more or less justified because the passenger was "disruptive and belligerent."
  • 42 post-video posting: We take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.
  • 68 post-video posting: This will never happen again and we are going to refund every passenger on that plane.

Yikes, what a P.R. disaster! It's hard to fathom how the United CEO (ironically) just won PR Weekly's "communicator of the year award" given his tone-deaf response this week – but let his misfortune be your guide.

Somehow United forgot that communications is no longer organization-to-target-audience any more; in fact, it's not only a two-way street, but more a network with the potential for explosive reach. Virtually everyone has a phone camera now and you should expect their photos to appear on multiple platforms, tagging decision-makers, influentials and media outlets as a matter of course. Folks are content creators and will show off their sense of humor at your expense like these folks at #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos.

Be truthful, authentic and above all, be human. Own your mistake, genuinely apologize and explain how you will make it right. If you do this while being contrite and real, your supporters will not only get over it, but most will stick with you for the long haul.

Learning the comms ropes

Even though I‘m the new Progressive Promotions intern, I’ve sort of been an intern my entire life. Growing up in a rabidly political household, I always knew the what was happening in the national, state, and local political scenes. My parents taught me to always take a stand.

My first protest march was to keep Walmart out of our neighborhood. I thought every preschooler held signs at 6:00 a.m. on election day. When I was 11 years old, my mom made me knock on doors for Obama every Sunday afternoon. As a teen, I interned at the Capitol in the House Majority Office and then canvassed all last summer. Now I’m majoring in political science at Metro and interning here three times a week.

Election night knocked the wind out of me. I pledged to fight for the rights of immigrants, minorities and the concept of a free press. So I reached out to the best fighters I knew, the warriors at Progressive Promotions so I could learn how to make real and substantial change in the world.

I’ve focused on issues that matter to people my age, like immigration and how our environment is in peril – and understand that the political process can be a long, hard slog. After two months, I also have learned a lot about making the case for progressive issues, including the need to do:

Research. Research is the key to any messaging campaign because statistics tell a story that no prose can tell. Stats ground what you're talking about and relate it to your audience. Using research educates your audience.

Messaging. Once you do the research, then you need a message. Your message is the frame you use to tell your story, capture what people care about and how you get them involved.

Storytelling. Even if you have a message and have done the research to back it up, you still need stories. While statistics ground your message in reality, stories give your message emotion –  which is what gets people to really care about your message.

Planning. This is maybe my fourth draft of this post, and that happened because I didn’t make a plan. If you don’t have goal and plan for what you are trying to accomplish, none of the other stuff matters.

Earned Media. Earned media = news stories, so when a camera crew comes to cover your press conference because you (or me) called them at least three times to let them know what’s happening. So you want to earn media to reach people who still consume news from TV, radio, newspapers and more traditional sources.   

Digital Strategy. In the 21st Century, any campaign needs to include digital strategies – social media, website, emails, etc.  Campaigns need to have a multifaceted approach with graphics, posts and videos to keep up with competing messages for people who spent time online.

The truth is change doesn't come easily – but we must persist in standing up for our values, like the equality that this country fails to fully grasp. So I’m learning to celebrate our small victories and how to fight on in the face of defeat. And more than anything, I’m grateful to work on issues I care about and to make a difference, one small step at a time.


KISS...and other lessons from the 2016 election cycle


Now that 2017 is here – and we’ve had two months to recover from what happened nationally on November 8 – we are ready to go forth and kick some @ss for our progressive clients! But first, we thought we’d share the three big lessons we learned from the wins and losses of 2016:


Lesson 1: Message Simplicity.

While we flinch at the content, Donald Trump’s message was short, clear and clean. He mastered the art of boiling down his positions into short, pithy catch-phrases like “make America great again” and “drain the swamp.” The Trump campaign didn’t care that immigration policy is complicated – they went with “build the wall” and let the details fall aside. In the lightning fast online world, Trump’s messages were so simple to retweet and share that they flooded our ever-shrinking attention spans and drowned out Hillary Clinton’s well-thought out strategies. So even though she’s far more qualified to lead, her message didn’t break through. Our take-away?

KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid is even more important than ever.

Lesson 2: Authenticity.  

Colorado’s minimum wage campaign was able to move the winning message by having real spokespeople from around the state to be compelling voices for raising the wage. Workers earning less than $12/hour, supportive business owners and respected economists around the state made the “fair, smart and modest” case for Amendment 70, heard by voters because they had “skin in the game.” It’s clear that authenticity is what our audiences crave, so it’s up to us to engage in a real away across all our platforms.

Lesson 3: Truth.

There was a virtual avalanche of falsehoods during the cycle, in Colorado and across the nation. Fake news was so pervasive online this election that there are now browser plug-ins to filter it out for you. NPR released a 12 point article on how to spot it yourself. The good news in Colorado is voters didn’t seem to buy the lies – Rachel Zenzinger DIDN’T travel to China on the public dime and research shows that modest minimum wage increases DO stimulate local economies, they don’t tank them. But trust in institutions like TV & newspapers is at an all-time low, so voters are turning to their computer screens for the latest information because it’s the medium they interact with every day so it’s up to us to continue building our digital presence

It is our job to create clean and “real” communications that appeal to what voters know to be true. So let’s use the lessons we learned in 2016 in the next 5 months to expand opportunity in Colorado, over the next 23 months to change Congress and in four years to Dump Trump!

Where did autumn go, anyway?

Progressive Promotions has been busy!

While the national elections didn't go the way we had hoped, Colorado progressives got stuff done. And Progressive Promotions was here to help!

Colorado Families for a Fair Wage – the folks who ran the successful campaign to raise the minimum wage – scored media big-time, including stories in the Durango HeraldBoulder Daily CameraNational Public RadioFox 31 and Univision, and op-eds in the Glenwood Springs Post IndependentColorado StatesmanDenver Post and the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Our digital team created some really amazing videos that inspired target voters to know, care and vote this year – check these out, focusing on Dr. Brooks and civil rightsT-Rex/ease of voting and a Latino family that cheers together, votes together.

Rising insurance rates is just one of the issues the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative tracks – in the Denver Business JournalDenver PostCortez Journal, Gazette and Public News Service – and addressed the problems with free-standing E.R.'s in the Boulder Daily Camera.

Our GOTV digital ads ran to a highly targeted group of inconsistent voters and lookalike audiences. We conducted research on them to create content we knew would resonate with them and it worked — we hit above average on every metric we were aiming for!

Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat: What You Need to Know

Remember when everyone said the cool kids are all on Snapchat? Well the times, they may be a-changin’!

Facebook’s new Instagram Stories has seriously cut into the Snapchat market. Instagram has already added a more robust direct messaging feature to keep up with Snapchat’s person-to-person communication, but Instagram Stories takes aim at the heart of Snapchat itself.

So what’s the difference?

Instagram Stories works similar to Snapchat – timed, accumulating posts and a 24-hrs display time. The main differences are:

  • Filters: Snapchat’s geofilters & its now iconic (or infamous) face-mapping filters shine, giving it the edge over Instagram Stories. This is the main difference that keeps Snapchat users loyal.

  • Audience: In Snapchat, you can choose to send a snap to a particular subset of viewers or to your entire following. Instagram Stories are public to all Instagram users, but your followers are notified when a new story is added. Instagram also allows you to hide a particular story from any set of users.

  • Saving: Instagram Stories has the option to save before & after the story is published, beating out Snapchat which only lets you save content before it goes live

Instagram Stories’ biggest advantage is that the feature is built into their already hugely successful app. This means that Instagram’s 500 million users (compared to Snapchat’s 150 million) have a lot fewer reasons to leave.

What does this mean for nonprofits?

If your nonprofit focuses on Millennials – particularly Millennials of color – you should be on a video messaging app anyway (if not, take this as your official recommendation).

While it would be tempting to say Snapchat is dead based on the numbers, it still reigns supreme among teen users. And as of now only 1/5th of Instagram’s total usership is on Instagram Stories specifically, but 100 million people is nothing to take for granted. So it looks like youth-centered organizations should dedicate time to both in order to maximize their reach, at least for the time being.

How do I use it?

Create a compelling story is the best advice here. When you do that, followers get a peek into what your organization is doing – and when you make each post link to the next, many will feel they can’t miss a single one. Here are some tips to making an irresistible Instagram story:

  1. Speak in Instagram’s authentic, chatty and sort of laid back voice. It’ll resonate much more than an authoritative organizational tone.

  2. Use the features: Between emojis, marker tools, and filters, you have many different tools to get people engaged in your content and create a story that plays out from frame to frame. You don’t have to use everything at once, but at least one tool per story.

  3. At the end of each day’s story, encourage followers to keep following. If you plan a series or campaign that plays out over a few days, tease the next day’s events to keep them coming back.

  4. Tie in other platforms: Save each clip and post the best one of the day to the main Instagram page telling people to follow the challenge in the IG story. Let your Facebook followers know that they should also follow on Instagram so they don’t miss out (everyone hates FOMO).

Take Home Message?

If your organization has the time to devote to both, then go for it. If not, focus your energy on Instagram to reach almost as many people with less effort.

In defense of spin


Watching the Democratic Convention together, my friend “Mr. Skeptic” snorted, “This is just a slick show populated by Hollywood stars and career politicians, full of lies and spin.”

Okay, some of that may be true – except for “spin.” Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe spin = lies. I think what many mock as spin is actually advocacy.

Mr. Skeptic grew up during the Watergate scandal and is fundamentally suspicious of government and politicians. He assumes that like Nixon and his CREEP team (the Committee to Re-Elect the President), public figures are usually lying, ambitious opportunists who only care about increasing their power. To him, politicians spin the truth as a way of avoiding the facts. In other words, spin is lying.

Like many of his peers, he’s an Edward Snowden/Julian Assange fan who actively worries about the government spying on us -- he even harbors a sliver of belief that the Bush administration was behind 9/11. Bottom line: he distrusts politicians and government.

I grew up in the post-JFK era, believing in the value of serving one’s country and community by being a public servant; I believe in the government that gives us schools, roads, parks and a social safety net; I believe that most politicians are committed to their values and until they get to Congress, don’t receive much personal gain. While there certainly are exceptions, in general I trust them.

When Donald Trump is asked about his sacrifices and says he is a successful job creator, Mr. Skeptic hears that as the same ol’ spin. I hear it as bullshit, not spin.

When Trump’s campaign creates a video distorting Clinton’s stump speech in which she says, “We aren’t going to raise taxes on the middle class” to “we ARE”, that’s a lie, not spin.

When faced with criticism or follow-up questions, and he complains about how the media treats him poorly, that’s avoidance, not spin.

Here’s Trump’s M.O. as Eli Stokols recently wrote: Trump's (Detroit economic) speech was full of falsehoods and misleading statements. He attacked Clinton … said that she would raise taxes on the middle class, even though she has not . He stated, "No one will gain more from these proposals than low-and-middle income Americans"; the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, however, has concluded: "the largest benefits, in dollar and percentage terms, would go to the highest income households." And Trump repeated a claim that the government employment figures are manipulated even though not a single serious economist has validated the claim.

Because Trump is a liar and Clinton is supposedly “untrustworthy,” Mr. Skeptic thinks all politicians lie, and that all PR is diverting the public’s attention away from the truth.

In my mind, spin has integrity because it absolutely is based in truth and uses facts for advocacy, even though it specifically highlights what we like about a policy or candidate. Lies and obfuscation do not.

Spin is part of our advocacy PR toolbox. We look at reports about climate change, declining coal production and a foreseeable loss of jobs – our “spin” is to say we need plan for our sustainability (and continued existence!) and create economies built on a more sustainable energy base. Trump looks at those numbers and says “I’ll bring back the coal industry,” ignoring the hard science demonstrating we’re headed for mass disaster unless we get serious about renewable energy. There are a lot of global corporations with a lot of power and money invested in the status quo and they’re not going to let reality interfere without one hell of a fight.

When PR professionals spin a story for their clients, we are sharing a perspective with the media and the public that is rarely heard over the din of corporate, well-financed interests.  We spin for balance.

What do you think? Is Trump’s lying just spin – or is spin a more laudable endeavor?

Hashtag Handbook

Chances are you’ve heard about hashtags. Hashtags are all over social media, and are so pervasive that people even use them when speaking offline. Your organization probably uses one or two hashtags often, and a couple of fancy ones for when there’s a special event. If you’re of a certain age, you might be astonished at how the humble “pound sign” became so important.

What are hashtags?

To create a way to organize online content, developer Chris Messina proposed the idea of deliberately putting “#” in front of words or phrases in 2007 on the platform Twitter, and the practice has been integrated into Instagram, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and many more since.

Hashtags are just that ---tags--- that create categories out of all the things people are talking about. Whenever you use a hashtag, that post is grouped with every other post containing that same hashtag in a single feed or conversation.

Hashtags are basically the Dewey Decimal System of the internet.

What can I use them for?

Hashtags can serve a few purposes.

Monitor an event. By encouraging your Twitter followers to use a certain hashtag when they’re at an event your organization is sponsoring, you can check the activity of your hashtag to know how many people are engaged online, as well as in person. Tracking the hashtag can also be useful if you want your attendees to help you create shareable content online. Take “Netroots Nation”, an annual conference. It’s easy to see what the favorite moments and big takeaways were in St. Louis this year by following the stream at #NN16

Track messaging traction and engagement in larger conversations. You can even use them to track how many people watching are engaged with your issue and what they are saying about it. Are the talking points of your campaign sticking or is another frame winning out in the conversation using the hashtag? In Colorado, the most notable example of this is #COleg, where all the reporters, legislators, and political organizations can be found during our legislative session. From January to May, this hashtag is the place to be to voice your opinion on current legislation and understand how opponents are framing it as well. Beware though: the trolling on this hashtag has become intense.

Make your content align with trends. In addition, hashtags can show you what topics are popular at any time on the platform you’re using so you can engage folks where they already are. Whether that’s Pokemon GoManhattanhenge, or the Trump/Pence campaign logo, looking up the trending hashtags on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram will let you know what is trending in the moment so you can create and/or share related content - making it more likely to be engaged with.

How should I use them?

Twitter. This is the hashtag’s birthplace - you still get the most bang for your buck with hashtags on this platform. One, maybe two hashtags work well; any more and these already short posts seem spammy. When creating new hashtags for your organization, be sure to make sure people aren’t already using it, or else relevant posts will get drowned out. No matter what, simply having a hashtag in a tweet gets it twice as much engagement as a post without one.

Use a hashtag to create a “Twitter Chat” or to ask people to submit their questions or pictures about an issue you care about. Or use hashtags to see what the other side is saying.

Facebook. There used to be a time when the social media savvy teased people for using hashtags on Facebook. Even though the platform is compatible with hashtags, they are still hit or miss when it comes to how well they increase engagement. Our recommendation – don’t bother.

Instagram. This is where hashtags get fun. On Instagram, the more the better -- well, at least up to 30. Engagement spikes by 70% when you use 11 or more hashtags per post. Maximize your reach by piggy-backing on popular/relevant tags, and go for gold!

However, as with most things, do your research. Hashtags on Instagram create micro-communities -- the more unique, the more engagement you get. Find influencers in your area and see what hashtags they are using. Collect a few and start using and testing them. Once you find the best ones, have them ready to copy and paste every time you post.

Like many things on the internet, hashtags are not a goal unto themselves. They serve as a great tool to boost your message, get a clearer sense of how your target audience is interacting with your issue, and create a community around your issue. That being said, when you’re putting together your digital strategy, the focus should be content. The best content will always attract the people you want to… #hashtags will just help them find you.

Media mistakes...mea culpa time?

Virtually everyone I know – Democrats and Republicans alike – is completely flabbergasted by the rise of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. I mean, wasn’t he a tacky, third-rate reality TV show blowhard just a year and a half ago?

Maybe so – but he’s managed to defeat all the actual serious Republican candidates and is the Party’s nominee for the President of the United States. And if that doesn’t scare the pants off of you, I don’t know what will.

So how did we get here? Of course, the fact that the system is rigged against all of us in the 99% – and Trump has tapped into that – is a big part. The anger and anxiety Americans feel is legitimate, and supporting Trump is a way to flip the bird to the political and financial elites for those on the right. Some of Bernie’s most vocal advocates have similar motives on the left.

While the media isn’t responsible for Trump’s garnering the GOP nomination, there’s no question it played a large role in how he rose so far so fast.

I know I’m old school but I really do believe that serious journalism is the essential “Fourth Estate” that keeps democracy functioning – it serves a watchdog role that keeps elected officials and the judiciary more or less accountable for their actions. Plus I know many journalists who take their jobs seriously and produce high-quality reporting. So I knew we were in big trouble when I read what CBS Chairman Les Moonves said about the Trump candidacy a few months ago: “It may not be good for America, but it's good for CBS."

It seems that media outlets became more obsessed with ratings than concerned about covering those individuals running to become arguably the most powerful person on the planet. Trump’s outrageous comments (about immigrants, Muslims, women, Republican rivals, you name it), pugnacious interviews and violent rallies attracted millions of eyeballs – while stories about his business record and actual policy positions were ho-hum for a public accustomed to a steady diet of reality TV shows and Buzzfeed articles.

And whatever happened to fact checking? Like “The Donald’s” allegation that Mexicans in the U.S. are largely criminals yet the actual statistics show that Mexican immigrants have a lower rate of committing crimes than native-born Americans? And what about his recent statements that American terrorists like Omar Matten, the deranged shooter at the Orlando GLBT Latinx event and San Bernardino’s Syed Rizwan Farook were immigrants? Except...not!

There have been exceptions, of course – the New York Times, The Guardian, NPR and PBS come to mind. And God bless the Huffington Post who added this disclaimer at the end of every article about Trump: “Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar,rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”

Nevertheless, mainstream media producers and editors generally chose to run wall-to-wall “infotainment” on the campaign rather than performing their duty to inform the public about things that actually matter in the presidential race.

But even though the media didn’t take their responsibility seriously enough for the last year or so, the good news is that there are four and a half months left in the campaign. There is still time for the media to make it right and cover this race with the seriousness and decorum that it deserves. We're waiting...

How to Help Your Non-Profit Win at LinkedIn

You’ve checked out our post about navigating the personalities of social media for your organization. (If you haven’t, head over here. We’ll wait.). You’re already using the biggies: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. But you know some of the other platforms could be your secret weapon --- if you can use them to the fullest potential.

If you’re thinking about LinkedIn, here’s how you know if it’s right for you, and what you need to know to maximize your reach. First things first:

Who is on LinkedIn? Business-minded and career-focused influencers. Those forward thinkers who tend to be politically active and engaged in their communities offline. LinkedIn is also a job recruiting platform, which ensures that you can reach people at all levels of work experience, from a variety of industries.

Great. Where should I start? There are 2 types of pages that you’ll need for your organization’s LinkedIn to thrive.

  • The Company Profile: The company/organization profile represent your organization as a whole, like a Facebook page. This is where you’ll post regularly to keep your audience engaged and active. Encourage current employees to join the Company Page too! See how the Red Cross does it.
  • Influencer Profile: This page belongs to the person on your staff who provides the most knowledge or visibility on your issues. Often this is your Executive Director or Lead Policy Specialist-- someone who can post the more in-depth content, and can be seen as a thought-leader whose opinion matters. Follow Beth Kanter’s lead.

How do I make good profiles? Because LinkedIn is a professional platform, your organization needs sleek profiles to garner respect and engagement. Here’s what you should focus on:

Profile Photo: For the Company/Organization Page, make it a high-quality version of your logo. For the Influencer Page, a straight-on photo with neutral background from mid-chest up. This isn’t a passport photo or a one of you in action.

  • Headline: A 120-character primer that comes up in the LinkedIn search. This is a great place for your organization’s mission statement or a concise description of your influencer’s role in the organization.
  • Summary: Give page visitors your story here. Tell them about your organization’s founders, what regions it covers, and what has been accomplished. An Influencer’s Profile should tell briefly about what they do and makes them qualified to do it.
  • Credentials: Useful for completing an Influencer’s profile, fill out professional experience, skills, education and certifications, similar to resume format.
  • Groups: Make sure that your Influencer is a part of relevant groups on LinkedIn, to establish their credibility, and increase the network.

What is the language? Professional. Think anti-click bait and gifs. This is not the place where you post the photos of your latest event or rally. LinkedIn users expect a lively professional discourse where they can find information that will give them an edge, whether it’s the latest credible opinion on a big issue, or how a local issue can affect their business or organization.

What are my tools? You can post, repot and gain data insight:

  • Posting: Engage your connections (like Facebook friends) by posting industry articles and think pieces about your issue Monday to Friday when they’re at work. Get them involved by asking them to weigh in on the topics you present. No need for fluff but a catchy, unexpected headline always helps.
  • Reposting: Everyone loves to hear themselves talk. By sharing the posts of people you are trying to reach, you can make them feel valued and get them interested in what you have to say in return.
  • Data Insight: Get in-depth analytics of who is visiting your site using the Insights Data Pixel that LinkedIn provides. If you’re trying to reach young tech workers, it’s good to know if your site is only being visited by older politicos so you can change your strategy.

Any bells & whistles? LinkedIn’s magic lies in targeted ads. Once you’ve identified your audience, you can go as broad or as specific as you need across age, ethnicity, location, company size, and more.

  • Sponsored Updates: Put money behind regular posts (like “Boosting” on Facebook) to get them seen by exponentially more eyes.Onsite Display: Stick clickable ads with eye-catching photos. Use them to get more people to your site or for valuable message testing.
  • Sponsored InMail: “Hack” LinkedIn’s messaging feature once every 60 days to deliver a specialized message. The best part? It’s delivered while the user is online, so they’re much more likely to open and engage than traditional email. do I win at LinkedIn?

  • Know your audience.
  • Make clean Profiles.
  • Post/repost on-topic, professionally written content daily on your Company Profile.
  • Be active on relevant groups.
  • Post monthly long-format pieces on your Influencer profile.
  • Utilize the ads.

Then reap the benefits of this active, engaged user base.