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Cause Blogging

REDU: Social Media and Corporate Outreach for a Cause


… by Betsy Aoki

When I first joined Microsoft seven years ago, I had a long history of keeping any community activism separate from my work life. My prior career as a journalist mandated absolute silence/discretion about any political leanings, and while a post-journalistic career in tech enabled me finally to work on causes (I went on to found Webgrrls and Linuxchix chapters in Seattle for example), these activities continued to be completely separate from my work life. Work was work, and while my Internet work certainly had an impact on the world, influencing societal problems remained carefully partitioned to my non-copious “other life” time.


Then last year my boss Stefan Weitz set our team on a new trajectory by putting Bing and our team more front and center in the national education discourse with the REDU project. It was something Aya Zook and I also believed was important, but would take us out of our tech industry comfort zone and into the realm of advocacy, which again, I’d only done in my non-work life prior to this.

Doing something that unusual for Microsoft while still keeping our jobs took a bit of finessing. For us on the team, it meant a lot of internal communications work – Microsoft is a big place, there are folks already working on government/education/community issues from whom we could learn and get a sanity check on what we were doing while being “synergistic”. There was also a lot of external communications work to be done with partners and agencies who were creating the Web site and various programs around REDU. Some folks inside and outside the company got the importance of REDU right away; others were “are you sure?” skeptics we fended off all summer while we prepared to launch the site.

(Incidentally, it helps me that any time I do a v 1.0 or some weirdo community outreach project like REDU, I ask myself: would you still do it if it failed? Usually the answer is yes. After that, I find I’m much freer to do the right and more effective thing as a result. Live like the samurai, fight like you are already dead, and often oddly enough those will be the times that you will win.)

The cause behind REDU is “rethink, reform, rebuild” US education. We decided early on to go out slow and grassroots, do a few arts projects in New York (Yosi Sergant’s Reform: School, Jeff Staple’s:REDU Homeroom), build our rep with good content from Good and outside contributors like  Jacob Soboroff of School Pride and Steve Hargadon, founder of Classroom 2.0. We decided consciously to obscure the Bing brand as much as we could without losing transparency, because the social media and real-world outreach we wanted to do really wasn’t about Bing as the mainstay of the story, but as part of the story.

I can’t talk specifics (sorry), but REDU was done with the corporate equivalent of money scrounged from under the couch cushions (another reason to go slow and build grassroots – no money to burn on traditional media blitzes or dramatic Superbowl animations). People donated time and discounted fees to help us out because they believed in what we were doing. We aren’t blowing smoke thanking our partners – their support has been more critical than ever.

What’s been interesting – and again, sorry I can only give you the shape of things here, not actual numbers – is that the folks we’ve attracted to REDU show a similar level of Bing brand recognition with other more directly Bing-branded marketing campaigns. That is, when marketing programs send someone to bing.com, those customers would indicate via survey the name of the program from which they first heard of Bing. In our case, they say they’ve heard of Bing from REDU). Half of these folks, sometimes more, have opted-in for email information about Bing and other education efforts the team supports, which is separate from REDU information and info about education reform topics. Furthermore, when we do Bing-related email outreach to those REDU-recruited folks, they are more likely to be responsive.

Which if you think about it, turns traditional marketing on its ear. Traditional PR and marketing insists on consistency and ubiquitous brand mentions and logos. More impressions! More mentions! Plant both feet and stay on message! Even if you use social media means, never deviate, stay on message.

Instead let people help craft the message assigned to your brand. Don’t insert a call to action related to your project – give them options about what they can do to make it their’s and change the world. We aren’t dumb – if they want to research more Web information about education reform, they can use the Bing search box on the REDU site. But we created REDU knowing we had to work with folks on what we both thought were important issues, and meet them on their terms. We’d rather the education system got fixed than the alternative.

Numbers I CAN point to that describe this phenomenon are those in the Edelman Good Purpose study where they looked at consumer expectation of companies’ roles in making the world a better place. Sixty-four percent of those interviewed said that a company with fair prices who did good, would get their business over a deep discounter with no cause integration.  This, in the middle of a recession, fascinated me because it runs counter to my cynical expectations of human nature.

Another set of cause marketing surveys that fascinated me are the ones that came out by Cone. In 2007, just as the recession was beginning to break out Cone came out with a study (often quoted on the Internet) that showed how 87% of those surveyed  were likely to switch brands, all things being equal, if the new company was associated with a good cause. In 2010 the Cone study went on to say that in a competitive marketplace, 19% of consumers would purchase more expensive brands to support a cause, and 61% would try a brand they never heard of.

I’ll be completely honest with you guys and say: I hadn’t read any of these surveys until three months after we launched REDU, while I was trying to figure out why REDU stats were the way they were. We had agreed to instrument the REDU site and related programs as best we could, in ways similar to other marketing campaigns, so that we’d be able to justify what we spent on it.

And REDU is honestly not the full-time job of our team – it’s just a successful side project that we hope will do some good for as long as we can keep it going. But the next time you think about how to position your product, yourself, or your company, I think it makes sense to consider what you really stand for in terms of creating social good and put that marker of your product, yourself, or your company in the forefront.

Betsy Aoki is a 15-year veteran of Web technology and online community applications.  Recently Mary Jo Foley of CNET called her  a “Microsoft Woman to Watch” for her work in launching Microsoft’s corporate blogging platforms, the Live QnA consumer question-and-answer site, and the Xbox Live Indie Games platform.  Lured to the marketing side for Bing, she has devised its social media strategies and recently launched the education reform platform, http://bing.com/redu .

5 Ways to PWN the Cause Blog


… by Jessica Kirkwood, VP Interactive Strategy & Michael Nealis, Interactive Strategy Coordinator
Points of Light Institute & HandsOn Network

Most of us have a cause that is dear to us.

We are driven to feed the hungry, or house the homeless, or just love the heck out of all of the animals that don’t have a loving home.
But sometimes it is challenging to blog about what we hold dear.

[That blinking cursor can be so intimidating!]

As curators of HandsOn Blog, we’re charged with publishing fresh content on volunteerism on a daily basis.

We compared notes and came up with a list of five strategies we share for creating cause related blog content:

  • Listen First – We’ve found that the best way to know how to contribute to the conversation about our cause is to listen first. We both use Google Reader to follow online conversations about volunteerism and stay on top of new developments, news, trends and politics. This gives us ideas and helps us add to the larger conversation via our blog posts.
  • Share a Lesson – Over the last year we’ve found that some of our most popular posts are simple “How To” posts. Like 33 Ways to Make a Difference in Schools or 4 Tips for Using Social Media to Mobilize People. Luckily, this kind of post is easy enough for us to create as we can pull and repurpose content from our organizations publications, training materials, speeches, and training toolkits.
  • Tell a Story – We love to profile an individual project, volunteer or person whose life has been changed through volunteerism. It’s easy to find the universally compelling center of each story and draw that out, letting each single story represent the larger whole of the cause itself.
  • Connect your cause to something unexpected – We’ll often link volunteering to an editorial trend – like New Year’s resolutions – which is, admittedly, expected. But we also look for connections in unlikely places. Recently a cell phone commercial inspired a post about whether or not flash mobs could change the world.
  • Use every day experiences so simplify the message– We’re always looking for more resonant ways to talk about volunteering. We try talking about program evaluation (kind of boring) as if it were like eating cookies (kind of awesome). And when we need to write about the intersection of social media and volunteer recruitment we might say, “Did you ever see that commercial for Faberge Organics Shampoo (and Wayne’s World) – where they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on… well ideally, volunteer recruitment via social media is… like THAT.”

Don’t let the cursor blinking against the blank page intimidate you.

Trust us, that cursor is a punk.

To learn more about volunteering, please follow @HandsOnNetwork and visit HandsOn Blog. You can learn more about Jessica and Michael via Twitter @HeyJK and @MikeNealis.

10 Mom Bloggers To Meet With Congress Next Week


Amy Lupold Bair was one of our amazing speakers during the 2010 BlogWorld conference, a part of the Mom Bloggers: Blog for Money, Not Swag! session. I recently had the chance to chat with her about another topic of interest to Mom Bloggers (and any United States Citizen for that matter) – the national debt. Amy is working with Intellectual Takeout and their project, MomThink.org, which is sending ten Mom Bloggers to meet with Congress next week about this issue – the first of many the organization plans to tackle. Amy explained further:

How did MomThink.org come to exist?
MomThink.org is a project of Intellectual Takeout, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank. It came about as a public awareness campaign designed to educate mothers about important issues that will impact their children today as well as in the future. While the first topic of focus is the national debt, MomThink.org will continue to develop to cover a variety of topics ranging from education to health care reform.

What is your role in the website/organization?
I am an independent blogger who is working as a strategic advisor to Intellectual Takeout’s communications team.

How were the ambassadors chosen for the position? Was their blogging background a requirement?
The bloggers were chosen for a variety of reasons, including how they would impact the overall make-up of the group. We are proud to have engaged bloggers who bring a diverse skill set, blogging background, and audience. Some ambassadors write regularly for traditionally conservative collective blogs, while others write for sites known to lean strongly towards liberal. Some bloggers have an educational background that fits nicely with the national debt topic, while others blog about fiscal responsibility on a regular basis. Together they nicely represent the moms of this country; diverse in interest and lifestyle yet all invested in creating the best life for our children.

Why was the national debt chosen as the first issue of focus?
The national debt is on the minds of many Americans as we continue to recover from an economic crisis and watch hopefully as a new Congress is sworn into office. The debt currently stands at nearly 14 trillion dollars. That means every taxpayer would have to come up with $125,000 to pay it off. As moms, we could use that money to pay for 12 years of groceries for a family of four, 7 years of health care, or 7 years of public education. While the national debt is on the minds of many Americans, we think that it specifically should be on the minds of moms.

What will be the format for making others aware of the issues? The blog? Social networking? The media?
MomThink.org is currently sharing information through videos on the site as well as YouTube that can be shared throughout social networks and embedded on blogs. The MomThink.org bloggers have also helped to make others aware of this first issue through posts on their own sites and networks as well as through interviews with the traditional media. Outreach will expand as MomThink.org continues to develop future public awareness campaigns.

What is the goal of the upcoming trip to Washington DC?
The goal of the upcoming trip to Washington, DC is to bring awareness to the issue, allow prominent members of the online mom media to gather information from Members of Congress about the national debt, and at the same time demonstrate to Members of Congress and the traditional media that Thinking Moms are deeply concerned about the issues that affect our children’s futures.

Where can we follow the interviews and dialogues taking place?
Watch MomThink.org for updates.

What have the bloggers been doing to prepare for the trip?
The bloggers have been learning more about the national debt and what it means to each individual taxpayer both today and in the future.

What is the message you hope everyone takes away from MomThink.org?
Socrates said that “Knowledge is power.” I hope that readers visiting MomThink.org take away a deeper understanding of the issues that our nation faces. Once the audience understands the impact of public policies on them and their loved ones, they will likely want to learn more and spread the word about the resources provided by MomThink.org.

How can other bloggers (Moms and non-Moms alike!) participate and help?
Bloggers can participate and help by sharing the MomThink.org videos and key points with their own audiences as well as by signing up to learn more here.

Thanks Amy! And I look forward to seeing how the bloggers at MomThink.org interact with Congress, and learn about the future issues they plan to tackle.

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