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Engaging Networks’ #spark11 conference for non-profits

On Tuesday 14 June 2011 I attended Engaging Networks’ Spark event in London. Engaging Networks is the new name for Advocacy Online – the supporter engagement software that allows organisations to manage fundraising, campaigning/advocacy, email and social actions in a centralised platform.

The event was sold out with almost all of the top charities represented. Most of the people I spoke to had only used the platform for ‘email your MP’ campaigning actions, so everyone was interested to hear about the more advanced features and new functionality.

Here’s my take on the day summed up via various Tweets on the hashtag #spark11

Although Facebook was not the focus of his session, Graham Covington, Managing Director of Engaging Networks, talked about the challenges we all face with trying to move supporters from Facebook into our own communities and sites, and how it’s not in Facebook’s interests to help you do this. Rather than struggle with this however, I personally would recommend thinking about what value your organisation can get from engaging with your Facebook audience within Facebook. That’s where they want to be, that’s where they’re comfortable and where they’ve chosen to engage with you. So work with that.

Rachel Collinson led a nice simple introduction to widgets. Since widgets have been around for so many years, I’m still surprised at how little they’re used, and whether they’re still worth talking about. So it was useful to hear some clarity around when they’re NOT useful. I imagine lots of organisations develop widgets without checking these things, and once one fails, perhaps avoid investing in the future. As we always say, when deciding on a digital strategy, think objectives first, technology last.

There were however a few examples given of successful widgets, and when using the Engaging Networks platform it appears to be quite straightforward. One such example is the Which? Stop ‘rip off’ charges pledge.

Duane Raymond spoke about data integration, and also made the point that when thinking about data analysis, think about what you want to know first, rather than looking at the data first and trying to figure out what it could tell us.

An interesting use of audience profile data was in proving to those you’re trying to influence that the statistics are relevant. The example was given of campaigner pressure on a corporate brand around an issue – when presented with a list of petition signatures, a brand may say, “but these aren’t my (target) customers, so I don’t care”, but if we can show them the campaigner demographics, we can prove that they are.

This was great advice and included an example of a charity asking lapsed supporters what would make them return, which got a 15% response rate. Keeping content relevant to the audience is really key, and if they come back with different answers, that’s when you need to segment the audience so you can tailor your messaging. I’ve recently used Facebook Questions as a quick and easy way of checking how broad the topics should be on my own Stop Dorries’ abstinence for girls sex education bill campaign.

An added benefit of this is that if you later receive criticism for the focus of your message, you can point back to when you asked and how the majority of the audience has replied. It also means people are less likely to complain in the first place, and will be more understanding, should the direction of the messaging sway from how they personally think the campaign should be run, because the views of the majority of supporters has been made visible.

One of the most valuable pieces of functionality within Engaging Networks sounds likely to be the Profiling Tool. This allows us to create profiles of people based on where they’ve come from (source site or hardware, e.g. via Facebook, via email, via a mobile etc.), how many actions they’ve taken so far (at the second stage, once we know who they are from them entering their email address), and where they’re located geographically (if they’ve entered their postcode). This allows visitors to your campaign to be presented with content tailored specifically for them, so regular activists can receive different asks from you than first-time contacts. This functionality seemed to excite everyone and was chatted about throughout the day.

Paul Gill‘s talk on mobile was excellent, and touched on some elements which may have been a surprise to many. Firstly, I wholeheartedly agreed with his somewhat disparaging comments about native mobile apps. So many organisations get excited by the prospect of having their own iPhone app, money gets wasted on a flashy toy with little real value, because the purpose of the app hasn’t been fully thought out. Native apps are expensive to produce, especially if you make different versions to work on different mobile platforms, people get bored of them quickly, you don’t get very good statistics on use after download, and there’s really high competition for download in the first place. On the other hand, if you’ve got really good content e.g. regular news feeds or video, an app can be useful, or if your app provides a useful offline service. There was also an interesting case study of iBreastCheck app, which also pointed to the PR value of creating a native app.

iBreastCheck app got lots of mainstream TV and newspaper coverage, and I wondered how the value of this was perceived by the charity, Breakthough. Was the value seen in the app use (driven by PR), or was the value seen more in the PR about the charity (driven by the creation of the app)?

A consideration of where people are coming from when they come to your site on their mobile phones is important, for example, people are less likely to be using bookmarks, but more likely to use search and email.

A browser app is in between a native mobile app and a website built for mobiles – when a user visits your website on their mobile, they’re sent to a browser app, run by a user agent such as Mobify.

But the most important and simplest thing you can do is ‘responsive web design‘ – create custom CSS style sheets of your website, for mobile visitors. Using @media in the CSS allows bespoke styles to be used reactively, depending on the width of the screen viewing the site. And since email is so important to communicating with people via mobile, it’s REALLY important to make sure your emails are designed to display properly on mobile devices – keeping in mind where calls to action are in relation to thumb position, and repeating them where appropriate.

The good news is that Engaging Networks widgets are apparently compatible with mobiles.

The rest of the day was a variety of feedback sessions and ideas sharing, and reports from earlier group workshops.

By far the most popular ‘ignite’ session was by Greenpeace UK – everyone loved their chainsaw Barbie campaign against Mattel regarding their use of unethically sourced packaging for Barbie dolls.

In summary, this was a fantastic event for me because it didn’t shy away from getting technical where necessary (code on the screen! woo!) and still had a charity focus. There aren’t many digital charity events which don’t just cover the basics of digital, so well done Engaging Networks for getting into the nitty gritty. And we even got to meet Barbie. Let’s hope she changes her ways…

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