Jonathon Coleman's Twitter Avatar
Jonathon Colman is the Associate Director of Digital Marketing for The Nature Conservancy, where he works on a team that is charged with the strategic marketing and promotion of The Conservancy's primary web site, nature.org. His team includes writers, designers, and web producers.
Tell me a little bit about you
I’m a product of the Great Lakes and have a degree in technical writing from Michigan Technological University. I’m also a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Burkina Faso, West Africa), and am even now preparing to move from Washington, DC to Seattle immediately following a two-month fellowship in Australia. I've packed everything except for my laptop, the wireless router, all seven Avett Brothers CDs, and the beloved coffeemaker.
You've experimented with quite a few Web 2.0/Social Media tools during your time with The Nature Conservancy. I'd like to know how you convinced your executive directors/senior staff to go for it? What were the concerns? What type of case did you make?
I was (and still am) so convinced that social media and web 2.0 sites were the right way to grow our constituency and awareness online that I dedicated a lot of personal time to pursuing them both before- and after-hours. My wife and the aforementioned coffeemaker can both attest to that. So the case I made in the beginning was one of personal commitment.
But I’m also blessed with entrepreneurial leadership who aren’t so risk-averse that they can’t see the value of investing in the future. And they challenged me and my colleagues to prove the value of our web strategy through constant testing and the presentation of hard-core data. Or, in another way of speaking: data talks and bull sh!t walks. The Conservancy, as a science-based organization, places a lot of value in numbers and data-driven arguments. Luckily enough, one of the most interesting parts of engaging in social media is how you can measure just about everything that you do. The real challenge, of course, is to determine the meaning behind those numbers.
It’s taken us a long time to build up credible, authoritative profiles and groups on sites like Care2, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, and StumbleUpon – a lot of our initial efforts weren’t exactly home runs – but now that we’ve laid the foundation, we can get a huge response from these networks for our campaigns. So each time we complete a major effort on these social media venues, we measure our results and report back on our progress. The case I’m making now is not one about how good we can do if we get involved with social media, but how much better we can do if we get even more involved.
Tell me about some of the strategies you've used to integrate social media into your communications campaigns -- and tell me how you measure success? What metrics?
We have two main guiding strategies that help us direct our efforts. The first is to get people off the mouse and onto the keyboard. This means that we see a lot of value in commenting, linking, tagging, and the like; sometimes more so than just an empty visit to our site. I feel that someone who’s engaged enough to write a sentence or two or to participate in a conversation or to upload a photo with a caption is a person who’s inspired and compelled enough by our mission and success to take the next step.
Here’s an example of a comment that I feel really illustrates this point. In response to a post on Digg about the Conservancy’s efforts to help preserve Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, a user wrote: “This is one of the most breathtaking places I have ever seen. The photos are amazing, and the craziest thing is that 20 minutes ago I never knew it existed. Amazing job by the conservancy.” Even though this comment was made on digg.com and not on our nature.org web site, I’d still say that we succeeded in getting this person engaged in our conservation efforts.
…which is a good segue into another principle strategy of ours: connecting with people where they are rather than making find us. Like many organizations, we used to be under the false impression that “if you build it, they will come.” But nowadays, we’ve come to think different about how we conduct outreach. Rather than force people to come to our site and remember another username and password, we’re happy to find them where they’re already engaged and introduce them to the Conservancy in venues of their choice.
Our Flickr photo contest is a good example of this philosophy in action; we could have held the contest behind closed doors and made people sign up in order to submit and view photos... but wouldn’t that have just upset people and driven them away? Rather than build our own photo-sharing application, why don’t we just use Flickr’s awesome toolset and leverage the strength of their community? That way, we let Flickr and Yahoo worry about developing the technology while we’re left to focus on what we do best: get people involved with nature and their share their passion for our planet with each other.
In terms of metrics, I like to look at measures of activity that involve more engagement than simply viewing a page or joining a group; the ones that get me all hot and bothered are when people participate in a discussion or upload a video or comment on a story. I think that you’re doing something right whenever you can inspire people to create new meaning that didn’t previously exist.
Okay, let's fondle the hammer ... I'm going reel off the names of some tools that I've observed you using and would love your best piece of advice or tell me a story about how you've used it in your org.
I routinely bookmark and comment on environmental news, green blogs, and stories about sustainability and alternative energy technology. One of our foremost social media strategies is to try to link to and promote as many stories as possible outside of our own site. This helps us be good community members and avoid issues of spamming. But for the Conservancy’s big-ticket stories, online applications (like our carbon calculator), or priority social media presences, I’ll send the link for our landing page to all of my contacts and ask them to give it a positive review.
StumbleUpon referred nearly 17,000 people to nature.org this past January, and what most marketers don’t know about StumbleUpon is that the traffic performs in a manner that’s nearly identical to organic search traffic – these visitors stay on your site, travel to pages beyond just your landing page, engage with your media, and click your calls-to-action. For free.
We just had (and are still reeling from) our best results ever from Digg: 76,000 visitors in a single day, including more than 18,000 visitors in a single hour (300+ people/second, if you can but dig it). All this traffic came to our brand-spanking new Everyday Environmentalist feature, which helps people learn simple ways that they can be more green.
Now, in keeping with Digg visitors, these folks just viewed the landing page and most of them immediately left without viewing any other pages. But that’s OK, because our popularity on Digg drove in 50+ links from blogs, including a few elite sources like The Huffington Post and Cisco.com, and also caused “spillover” popularity into other social news networks. The real value from this particular success on Digg wasn’t so much the initial spike in traffic, but the increased SEO positioning and second wave of visitors coming from blogs and other sites.
The Nature Conservancy’s Cause is now growing stably at around 1,000 people per week. We’ve also earned over $3,000 in the past month. The secret to our success is to reach out to the brilliant folks developing applications like (Lil) Green Patch and I Am Green, who are already donating a portion of their ad revenue to the Conservancy.
We’ve asked these application developers to make that donation of earnings directly to our Cause on Facebook – this has the benefit of allowing them to report back to their users in a way that makes them highly accountable. Why? Because those visitors can go straight to the Conservancy’s Cause and see the donation for themselves without ever leaving Facebook. And while they’re there, a lot of these visitors are deciding to join up and donate. So the developers are happy because they have proven legitimacy and we’re happy because we’ve gained all of these application users as an engaged audience.
Honestly: I’m far too unfocused to blog, so I turn to Twitter to publicize my social media campaigns, usually the ones on Digg. I have anecdotal evidence that a handful of friends following these tweets (all of them nptech pros) actually click through and vote on the stories. Twitter, Pownce, even IM can be used to draw people into your campaigns, but most folks never think to leverage these common, everyday tools for that purpose. But quite frankly, I think that there’s nothing more fun than using social media to promote social media.
Beyond posting my snapshots of dogs, monuments, and my wedding in New Zealand, I don’t use Flickr very much. That said, my colleagues Sue Citro and Evan Parker have had great success running the Conservancy’s annual digital photo contest on Flickr: the 6,400 members and 64,000 images posted to date only tell part of the story; the real success has been in those photographer’s engagement with the Conservancy.
So, what are you going to do in Australia?
I’ll be leading a series of workshops for the Conservancy and our nonprofit conservation partners throughout the continent on how we can achieve more online. We’ll be covering all sorts of exciting things like how to build a web strategy that works, measuring ROI from our efforts online, conducting testing, getting started with search engine marketing and SEO, and even a little bit about blogging and social media marketing.
Our ultimate goal is to increase web marketing capacity and infrastructure for conservation NGOs in Australia so that they can continue to learn from each other, achieve more online, and make measurable progress toward building a conservation ethic. Deborah Elizabeth Finn, the Cyber-Yenta, recently gave me a few ideas about how to help these folks develop a Community of Practice that can survive and continue to develop after I leave the country.
Okay, can you share with me some of your latest slideshows?
You bet – I love public speaking because it allows me to inflict upon an unsuspecting public my unique brand of humor, mostly gleaned from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and my 8-year semi-pro foray into improv comedy during college and up until 2003. I dance around a lot and use broad sweeping gestures alongside quotes from “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica”.
You can always find my latest presentations on SlideShare – the next one will be launched on February 26, the day I speak at the National Press Club. It will be an exciting case study involving Digg with some keen recommendations on when and how nonprofits can best take advantage of social news sites. For folks in Washington, DC, you can still register for the event, “Social Sites for Social Good,” hosted by Forum One Communications.
Who is that doggy in your twitter avatar?
Hey, here’s a little secret: that’s not even my dog! It’s my mother’s pup who goes by the name of Yooper – I grew up in Michigan and folks from the Upper Peninsula are called “Da Yoopers”. And if you ever get a chance to hear the band by the same name, I highly recommend staying around for their song, “The Second Week of Deer Camp”. If it doesn’t put a smile on your face, then nothing will.
Like any good marketer, I tested a large series of photos as profile pictures to see which ones would perform the best. That’s one of the beautiful things about participating in all of these social networks and Web 2.0 sites: with enough time, patience, and Excel files, you can measure and test just about everything!
The photo of me kissing the puppy always attracted the most links and friend requests – including this rather, ummm, interesting paean – so I decided to standardize it on all my profiles across every platform. Is there anything that the Web can’t tell us?