Sarah Burris knows her way around viral content. Sarah has managed many viral campaigns such as PaulRyanGossling, co-created Class War Kitteh, #HugAThug, #UnionHugs memes, and MotivationalBiden.com, which she calls “hacking pop-culture”.
Over the last 10 years, she has worked on campaigns for candidates across the country. During the intense 2008 Presidential election, she was named one of the five Rock the Vote Rock the Trail Reporters, and reported on the election from a youth perspective. She attended the conventions, debates, and interviewed elected officials on the impact of the youth vote.
Recently, we had the pleasure of reconnecting with Sarah and chatted about social strategy and audience engagement.
How has your strategy / options about Facebook changed over time?
Facebook changes every year, it seems like. Profiles were the start, then Pages, then the power Pages have been diminished, making profiles more important again, so it’s been about being nimble and able to take what curveballs Facebook throws you and switch up your strategy quickly.
How do you use social actions, from ActionSprout, compared to traditional form-based actions on your website?
We don’t do traditional form actions anymore. I’ve done them for places I’ve worked before, but when we started using ActionSprout, there was no reason for us to go back to the old way of doing things when our audience is on social media. Why should we make them leave social to weigh in on something?
What are the top ActionSprout features you use most often?
We use the petition functionality more than anything. We’ve completely replaced the normal petition tool with AS and it works for us!
Tell us about a successful Action. Can you tell us what went into creating the Action?
The best ones are ones that are evergreen. When we can reuse an Action based on what is trending in the news and redo the headline a little or tailor it to the latest issue, it allows us to keep it going. One is our Boycott for Birth Control, another is our Citizens United petition.
What did you learn from this success more broadly? Is there anything you do differently now?
Testing is key. We do this with our articles too. We know our audience pretty well at this point, and we know what they like and don’t like. The trick is to know when to give them something they want—like a digital dessert. While other times they need to know about and take action on something they SHOULD care about, but maybe don’t know about yet. That’s like giving them vegetables. So many organizations just want to farm people for names and emails. We want to enact actual change. We want to help spread the word, get people involved, inform, educate, inspire and more. So we have a delicate balance of the two types of petitions. The other thing is we get our writers involved. We aren’t a huge operation; we only have a handful of staff, so if a writer has an idea, we let them try it. If it doesn’t work, we see how we can change it to learn from what we test and try it again.
What did you learn about your audience from this success?
We learned that our audience loves their pet issues and they respect us for pushing issues they don’t know about. It makes them appreciate us more and builds a stronger more dedicated relationship beyond just a random click or email address where they’re going to unsubscribe in droves. We treat our audience with a lot of respect and appreciation—sadly you don’t see that much from our competitors.
How did you measure the success of this action? What metrics did you focus on?
We don’t just look at an action signer, we look at the quality of the action signer. So, it’s about someone not only signing the action, but getting an email from us and staying involved. If someone signs an action and then unsubscribes and ignores the page and doesn’t care anymore, that’s not a success. A success is a new friend—a real friend—of BNR that appreciates us as much as we appreciate them.
Do you have any advice for other nonprofits based on your learning?
Be creative. Try everything. Don’t be so hardwired that you think the only way to do something is the way you’ve always done it. Try new things, try new formats, try new headlines and buttons and graphics. Test everything. Test it again. Wait a while and test it a third time. Be comfortable in evolving your strategy and perceptions about what works best. Things change so quickly in digital media, and if you don’t evolve with it, you’re dead!