A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

The Obama Site Wasn’t Always the Obama Site

Barack Obama’s 2008 web program is widely regarded as the most successful online campaign that has ever been run.  And the campaign site design is probably the most ripped off in history as well. 

People forget that the Obama campaign didn’t nail their site design right out of the gate.  It took them a while to get there.  See the screenshots below of www.barackobama.com in October 2007 and October 2008. 

Obama Site October 2007


Obama Site October 2008


As you’ll see, in October 2007 the Obama website design was kind of mediocre.  It was super cluttered.  There was no photo of the candidate.  The eye has no idea where to go. 

The Obama team took a look at their site and saw some things that weren’t working so they made changes, despite the fact their site had been up for less than a year.  They iterated and improved based on how people were actually using their site.  And eventually they nailed it.

This is a good reminder that a good website is never done.   There are always ways to make it better if you are paying attention.

Nonprofit Benchmarks 2011: Email

imageM+R Strategic Services and the Nonprofit Technology Network recently released its “2011 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study” covering a broad range of digital issues regarding NPOs. The study has a lot of great information that I intend to breakdown and analyze in a few manageable posts. Today, we’ll start with Email.

As many nonprofits know, a large, engaged email list is like gold. Crafting a simple email, sending to your supporters and watching the donations, petitions signatures, and/or website traffic roll in is like hitting an easy button for engagement. But, as most know, that sort of Utopian world exists only for the elite few who have constantly refined, built, and reengaged their supporters over and over.

Lets take a look at some key stats from the study:

13% Average Email Open Rates
One of the most frustrating things about email is the open rate. Having a list of 10,000 and only 1,300 people opening your messages may seem disappointing but keep in mind that these numbers are often underreported. Many email clients use a small embedded .gif file that counts the number of loads to determine opens so users with images turned off will not be counted.

1.9% Average Click Through Rates
Just when you thought you made a breakthrough with your open rates you realize your stuck with a low click through rate. Your 2,000 opens just turned into only 38 clicks. Sorry to say its an unfortunate truth that not everyone is going to want to do what you ask them to – even if what you are asking is really, really great. I’ll touch on it a bit more later but clear consistent messaging and calls to action can help with this one.

18% Email List Churn Rate
Season change and so do email addresses. Through unsubscribers, inactive email addresses, and the like your list will constantly be losing emails. Its important to remember that this is a natural and sometimes good process. Constantly monitoring the health of your email list is a good practice to get into – what’s better 5,000 people that you know exist and will respond to your calls to action or 10,000 that never look at anything you send them?

The Bivings Group suggestions for improved numbers

Numbers are great, but you’ll be hard pressed to find an “average” organization that fits a cookie cutter mold. Here are a few tips on improving these numbers regardless of where you fall:

Analyze the Success of Emails
Every list will be different and no supporter is the same. Track the days your emails were sent, the number of links in the email, etc. Did you use a specific template? What time of day did you send it? How many days since your last email? Take a look at all those factors and how they effect your open rates, click throughs, and shares. Now am I saying just because one email you sent  on a Tuesday was extremely successful that you should send all emails on a Tuesday? Absolutely not. I am saying that tracking and monitoring all of these factors will help you develop a better overall strategy.


10 Sites Every Nonprofit Should Check Out

As a nonprofit its sometimes tough to navigate the ever-changing landscape of the tech world. We've put together 10 sites (in no particular order) every nonprofit should check out to help get you started:

image1. Google Grants

Straight from the mouth of Google: "Google Grants is a unique in-kind donation program awarding free AdWords advertising to select charitable organizations. We support organizations sharing our philosophy of community service to help the world in areas such as science and technology, education, global public health, the environment, youth advocacy, and the arts."

Its a great program but make sure you have someone who can help you optimize your ad program (shameless plug: like our team here at Bivings) so you can take full advantage.

image2. TechSoup

Techsoup is awesome: "TechSoup is a nonprofit with a clear focus: providing other nonprofits and libraries with technology that empowers them to fulfill their missions and serve their communities. As part of that goal, we provide technology products and information geared specifically to the unique challenges faced by nonprofits and libraries."

Basically your organization can browse free or extremely reduced cost hardware and software that TechSoup has put together. This is great for any NPO, but especially for ones just getting of the ground.

image3. Salesforce Foundation

Here is one that I recently stumbled across that is pretty exciting. Most people know about Salesforce in the business world but it can be a hugely powerful tool for a nonprofit as well. The Salesforce Foundation offers up a donation of 10 enterprise licenses of their cloud based product for qualifying organizations and deeply reduced costs for those organization's needing more license seats. 

image4. YouTube for NonProfits

YouTube gives eligible NPOs some pretty nice tools including: Premium branding capabilities and increased uploading capacity, The option to drive fundraising through a Google Checkout "Donate" button, Listing on the Nonprofit channels and the Nonprofit videos pages, Ability to add a Call-to-action overlay on your videos to drive campaigns

If your organization has some content in the form of videos or is planning on creating it in the future, this is the way to go.

image5. Causecast

"Causecast's first mission was to give nonprofit organizations an effective and aesthetically-pleasing forum to promote their ideas, raise money and increase awareness on the internet. It slowly evolved into an inspired community of leaders and individuals, news and media, and tools used to take action like donating, volunteering, petition-signing and creating original content."

This is a great one to just browse around and learn. You can also apply to become one of Causecast's nonprofits and receive some great benefits as well.


Turning Customers into Brand Advocates

Building a great company isn’t just about making great products. It is about working to make every interaction with a customer a positive experience. From  marketing emails to the in-store experience to websites to 1-800 numbers to Facebook, there are more ways than ever for customers to connect with companies. All these touch points define what customers think of a brand.  For companies, they  are opportunities  to turn customers into brand advocates that actively spread the word about the company and its products. 

One brand that is doing a great job of using online interactions to build a cadre of brand advocates is the online clothing retailer Bonobos.  Beyond simply having a great website, Bonobos is using a myriad of tactics to recruit new customers and to deepen its relationship with existing ones.

  • Any new customer can get  $50 off their first order of $100 or more by simply sharing their email address and zip code.  Further, Bonobos allows for all products to be returned at any time and pays for shipping on returns.  These steps make it easy for customers to try the company’s product.  It also shows that Bonobos is confident in the quality of its products.  
  • Bonobos runs a unique referral program that encourages customers to spread the word about the company via word of mouth.  Existing customers can send their friends and family $50 off coupons through the site.  If your friend buys more than $100 in stuff, you get a $50 store credit.   The site includes tools you can use to email friends the discounts and post links about the discounts to Facebook and Twitter.  
  • Bonobos customer service representatives (called “ninjas”) are extremely responsive and encouraged to show actual personality.  I had an order get screwed up one time, and in addition to correcting the problem right away they sent a free shirt for my trouble.  Mistakes happen, and dealing with them proactively and transparently is a great way to build brand loyalty.
  • The company utilizes social media very well.  They have an active Facebook community and encourage employees to interact with customers through their Twitter accounts.  The company frequently posts Twitter or Facebook-specific discounts as a way of incentivizing customers to follow them.   They also write a blog that is much better than what you typically see from clothing companies.
  • Bonobos continually runs games and contests aimed at engaging with brand advocates.  Promotions have ranged from photo caption contests to product naming contests to an NCAA tournament bracket where customers compete against employees. 
  • The company does a great job with their email marketing.  In addition to simply sending out compelling emails (see example email below), they also segment their email list based on the customers engagement with the brand.  Bonobos sends out a weekly email to casual customers, while hard core brand advocates receive daily emails.  This kind of list segmentation is a smart way to satisfy loyalists while not turning off casual fans with too many emails. 

What Bonobos is doing is clearly working.  The company reports that sales tripled in the last six months of 2010.  Obviously having a good product is the most important part of Bonobos success.  But Bonobos proactive efforts to identify and reward brand advocates has also been a critical contributor to the company’s exponential growth.


March Madness: Hey ESPN, Your Facebook's Broken

ESPN Tournament Bracket

I'm a big fan of sports – I'm also a big fan of fantasy sports – kind of a nerd/jock hybrid and I'm completely fine with it. That being said, March is a big month for all fantasy sports nerds due to the NCAA tournament. Fans spend all season watching their favorite team in hopes that they will make the tournament and it all comes down to one day: Selection Sunday. Of course as soon as the teams were chosen, I, like many, rushed to my computer to start filling out my first of countless brackets that I would no doubt end up creating.

I must say, brackets have come a long way since the pen and paper versions of not so long ago. Both ESPN and Yahoo use what looks like a combo of HTML, CSS and JQuery (no doubt staying away from flash for mobile and tablet users) to create a pretty slick user experience. There are even some nice little Facebook sharing features and the option to email your friends. And these things are all great – if they work.

In my love for competition I thought it would be a great idea to invite some of my family and friends to join a group. I logged into ESPN, quickly setup the group and visited the invite screen. The first tab that shows up is a nice little email invite that appears to work fine- but who has the time to look up all those email addresses? I was much more intrigued by the Facebook tab.

At first glance I thought ESPN had created an awesome little tool. You could easily search all your friends, select multiple people and send them a private message including the group name and password. Simple, straightforward and effective – seemed great. Sadly, after I attempted to send my incredibly witty message filled with trash talk and sarcasm, I was brought to another screen with the same tool – only not in the ESPN site wrapper. Frustrated, I again typed my brilliant message, selected the same set of friends and tried to send again only to be greeted the same screen again. Now if my messages were actually sent I would be OK – not how I would redirect the user but hey, if it works it works. But it didn't.

Now its not the end of the world that I can't send my friends a Facebook message, in fact, I used the email tool and got the same desired effect. What bothers me is that its still up as an option. At this point ESPN obviously knows it doesn't work, if you attempt to use the Facebook tool you just get a link to a "#" so they are most likely working on it. But why is the tab still there? Shouldn't the kinks have been worked out beforehand? March Madness rolls around but once a year – shouldn't the platform be tested thoroughly beforehand?

And don't get me started on how the I couldn't post this awesome picture of my nephew as my family's ESPN group pic.

Here at Bivings, one quickly acquires the knowledge that websites must be tested. Tested over and over, and then tested again. We have some very detail oriented members of our staff who enjoy testing forms and pages until they break. These things are bound to happen, to quote one of our programmers: “The internet doesn’t run on magic and unicorns” – but  maybe ESPN could use a few more of the Steve Petersens and Todd Zieglers of the world to test their products so it seems like it.

*Since this post was written, ESPN has fixed the issue with their Facebook tool. Nice job ESPN.