I'm the first to admit that the title of this post is a bit flippant, but I couldn't help but think about Beyoncé's record breaking album release last week with a "how can non-profits learn from this?" lens. And before you write me off as having lost my mind by drawing comparisons between the reigning monarch of pop music and typically underfunded non-profit organizations, let me explain.
There are two main take-aways for anyone running in the business of connecting with a community:
- Context is everything.
- Your strength lies in the community you build.
Context is Everything
Let's start by tackling the first lesson. It was this reaction that first got me thinking about how non-profits can learn from her epic success:
Or, in summary: if you're Beyoncé marketing is beside the point. For others? A fullscale marketing strategy would have been advised.
All too often, I hear stories of non-profits trying to copy a strategy used elsewhere without stopping to adjust it for their context. Whether that's a strategy for Facebook engagement, a petition, or a donor development campaign, just copying what someone else did before you without considering how it fits into the context of your goals and your community will not generate the kind of success it brought to the original effort. Is anyone else going to be able to replicate Beyoncé's 800,000 album sales in one weekend with zero promotion? Likely not. Why? Because no one else is Beyonce. Fun fact: David Bowie, arguably a sizeable name in music, sold only 94,000 copies in the first week when his album was released earlier this year with no advance notice.
Ok, so Beyoncé is talented. She can sing. She can dance. But just how did she manage to trigger an iTunes server crash and a reported 800,000 album sales in the first weekend?
Your Strength Lies in the Community You Build
Beyoncé has done an incredible job of creating an active and devoted community of fans. Her live performances are routinely praised as spectacles to which she gives her all. Her albums are consistently excellent (if you're into that sort of thing). She works really, really hard to be at the top of her class as a singer, dancer and all around performer. And, she's known for being generous with her time and energy when it comes to her fans. It has served her well throughout her career, but with this recent event it is evident to just what degree.
It's this second lesson, the work of community building that I often work with clients on when looking at their digital strategy. Communities take time, effort and passion to build. It's only once you have them in place that they can be activated for their support. For a non-profit this activation could be a direct action, an appeal for donations or some other form of engagement that helps support the overall mission of the organization. It's difficult, if not impossible to backward engineer a communitywhen a good campaign or opportunity arises. This is why we advise clients to start thinking about the longer term, and to start building communities before they even know exactly how they're going to leverage them.
Now, go forth and think about how you will reach out and engage your community to strengthen it over time, and feel no guilt about chair dancing to a little Bey while you do it.