If you build it, they will… not necessarily come

, Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Here’s the sad hard truth: the internet is a busy, crowded place, and no one is sitting around waiting for the cool new thing you just built.

This should be self-evident, but in the heat of the moment, when you’ve just launched your darling new website or campaign, it’s easy to forget that the rest of the world isn’t as excited about it as you are. They probably don’t know it exists. Most of them will never stumble across it on their own; and if they do, most of them won’t help promote it for you.

Of course I'll spend 8 minutes of my life watching your branded conten

I don’t mean to discourage you from taking on bold projects! Certainly, plenty of nonprofits struggle to get buy-in on ambitious web projects, even ones that will have major benefits for the organization, and you don’t need another obstacle in your way. But if you’re going to build it, you should make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

There are few things sadder than building a cool site or campaign launch, and then watching it sit there, and eventually be forgotten about. It’s always disappointing for the project team to see the potential of a great project go to waste, and it doesn’t make a good argument for doing similar projects in the future. If you’ve put in lots of time and energy on a project, you should expect to see some results.

There’s a financial argument for doing good marketing on your projects, too. On its own, marketing adds to your budget, and it takes extra time. But it usually takes far less time and money than building your website or campaign in the first place, and it’s essential for driving new audiences to it.  If your goals for the project require an audience beyond your staff and your email list, the only sure way to get it is through well-planned marketing. If one of your goals is, for example, to acquire new supporters, then if you don’t follow through on marketing the campaign, it’s a wasted effort.

Consider how much money and energy you’ve already invested in your project, whatever it is. Is it worth spending 10% or 20% more (time, or money, or possibly both) to make sure people see it, and that it accomplishes its goals? In almost every case, the answer should be “yes”.

Yet, still, marketing often gets left by the wayside. There are a few common reasons this happens.

1. You’re too busy:

You know you need to market your site, and you may even have a marketing plan, but you never got around to it. Or, you’re short-staffed and other priorities got in the way.

This is probably the most common reason that a new project doesn’t get properly promoted. It can be avoided, but it requires active planning to make sure you’ll have the staff resources available at the right time.  It also requires that your organization prioritize the marketing just as it prioritizes the project itself. Make sure your leadership is behind you and gives you the tools and time to do the job right.

Consider this: it’s rarely too late to start promoting a new project. Unless it’s tied to a current event or legislative issue, it’ll be new to your visitors no matter when they first see it.  Of course it’s best to do marketing while your own enthusiasm is still strong. However, if you’ve got a neglected marketing plan for a site that launched a couple of months ago, dust off the plan and call your earlier launch a “soft launch” – then get busy bringing in new visitors.

2. Lack of planning:

You’re caught up in the moment, you launch your site, and then you’re so relieved that you don’t even think about a marketing plan. In the back of your mind, maybe you thought that word of mouth alone would be enough, or that someone else was taking care of it. Months later, you realize that traffic to your new site is a tiny trickle compared to what you hoped for.

This is a more challenging situation than if you’d had a marketing plan ready to go, because you’ll need to do some planning before you start promoting. But, again, it’s probably not to late. Start with any of the obvious channels that you haven’t hit yet: your email list, Facebook, Twitter. Ask your supporters to share the site with their own networks. Next, figure out what budget (if any) you have to promote the project.  If the answer is “none”, try using your Google Grant, if you have one, and reach out to partners and bloggers who might be interested in what you’re doing.

3. Misplaced faith in Viral

You believe that your new campaign is so wonderful that it will inevitably go viral, all on its own. That people can’t wait to share your content.

I can only refer 5 friends? But the rest will be so upset!

We’ve all seen examples of things that go viral on their own, to the great surprise of their creators. But they’re in the extreme minority. For every YouTube video of a dancing child that spreads like wildfire across your social networks, there are literally millions of videos that no one ever sees. And of the ones you do see, especially if they were created by a company (instead of an individual), you can bet that most had a solid marketing plan to help them on their way.

If you have serious dreams of your campaign going viral, you need to put in the work to help it happen.  Hard work is no guarantee of success in social media marketing, but it goes a long way. If you believe that everyone (at least, everyone in your audience) should care about your project, then tell them about it! Put in the work it takes to spread the word.

Learn your lessons

Has this happened to you before?  If you recognize these situations, you can confront them head-on when you’re starting a new project:

  • Make sure that you allow enough time, budget, and staff resources to do proper marketing after you launch.
  • Be realistic about how much organic traffic you can expect, and how much you can drive via advertising and word of mouth.
  • Set goals in the planning phase. Make sure those goals are specific (for example, how many visits, and how many conversions) and realistic, and that you create a plan to help you meet them.

When you plan and follow through on promoting your newly-launched campaigns and sites, you can make sure that they not only look and work great, but also accomplish your goals.

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