My post from this month’s Convio Connection

A Twitter experiment with a smile!
by Renee Hamilton, Social Media Strategist, Operation Smile

It seems you can’t turn on the television, open a magazine or newspaper or even walk around a grocery store without hearing about Twitter. What is tweeting, who’s tweeting, and what is being tweeted is inundating everything from popular culture to Congress. It was this pending craze that got our team at Operation Smile excited and intrigued about the possibilities of Twitter.

Start with the story
Operation Smile is an international children’s medical charity. Volunteer medical teams travel to developing countries and provide cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries free of charge. At our core, we are about the stories of these children’s new lives — the “Smile Stories” of lives, families, communities transformed by this simple surgery. Having worked in donor relations to help share this story with our devoted donors and supporters, I have seen the true engagement potential for telling the Operation Smile story and engaging our supporters in sharing the story as well. In early 2009, I took on the role of social media strategist joining our dynamic web team in an effort to use social media channels as a microphone to tell the story to an increasingly “wired” community.

Pick a channel, any channel
The first thing we did once we started focusing on social media was to audit our presence and determine where there was the most activity and the most potential. We found an incredible amount of support on Facebook, so we created a plan to nurture those currently supporting us there. We also launched some tests to see what actual fundraising and acquisition potential Facebook had for us. We did fairly well considering the all too well known statistic that folks just aren’t raising funds through Facebook. Our use of Facebook is constantly evolving, as is the platform itself.

Our real intrigue however was with Twitter. We started listening to the tone of “Tweople” and testing message styles and content. We also found some great opportunities for customer service, addressing people’s tweets about our direct mail and other aspects of our direct marketing efforts. It was this constant listening that led us to an incredible opportunity to launch a full-scale Twitter-based campaign as an experiment in the giving potential of this still young channel.

When in doubt, just tweet it out!
140 Smiles is the Twitter-based fundraising campaign that was devised as a result of a Twitter “perfect storm”. After Stef Michaels AKA @adventuregirl — a 500k + Twitter user — tweeted about us, we responded with a thank you and began a real conversation with her. This is key — Twitter should be a conversation starter; it is an excellent “lead” generator if you are constantly starting conversations! Stef had a speaking engagement scheduled with TWTRCON, the first Twitter for business conference. We ended up partnering with TWTRCON and literally tweeted our needs to launch the campaign and received almost everything we needed for promotion, prizes and services through Twitter.

Common Knowledge, a nonprofit specific consultancy firm, offered the design and strategy for the website. After Tweeting a need for t-shirts, @Threadless offered up their new Twitter t-shirts for the launch party. We tweeted the need for prizes and @VirginAmerica provided a pair of airline tickets and our first 10 smiles, @EntirelyKiwi offered our grand prize of a trip for two to New Zealand.  @Twooting also offered 10 smiles and free promotion through their Twitter Podcasts. The entire campaign was created, planned and implemented within 30 days.

Be Flexible
To date, we have raised $11,520 or 48 smiles. As the 140 Smiles campaign started as an experiment we are currently considering our second push to reach our final goal. In true Twitter form, some exciting opportunities for the second push and campaign finale are coming through Twitter. We are working with Common Knowledge on a white paper case study of the campaign which will be available at the culmination of the campaign this fall.

The bottom line is that anything with social media is uncertain so you must be prepared for any outcome and decide early on what you can investment in terms of time, funds and resources. Ultimately 140 Smiles has been an exciting and positive campaign for Operation Smile. We have raised awareness of our brand and are helping bring smiles to children in the process. The New Zealand trip is still up for grabs so visit www.140smiles.org to take part and maybe you could be the one with the biggest smile!

To see the original post in Convio Connection