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Jan 17, 2008
Case Study

How to Use Widgets to Spread Your Message & Lift Donations 20.1%

SUMMARY: Notice all the MySpace folks and their widgets? They represent a new wave of viral marketing with an explosive reach, a cool Web 2.0 advocacy factor and an ROI that can’t be overlooked.

See how a nonprofit added a widget to get thousands of consumers to spread the word about its fundraising efforts. Thanks to the widget, donations increased 20.1%.
Whitney Showler, VP, Music for Relief, was heading an organization founded last year to help California wildfire victims. From the start, she used search engine optimization and banner advertising to promote the cause, as well as guerilla marketing tactics like message boards and chat room postings in relevant Web 2.0 communities.

But the efforts of her skeleton crew’s fundraising weren’t getting the attention they had hoped for. They needed to raise a large sum of money in a short amount of time.

“Young people who couldn’t donate money to the cause online simply gave up on the effort,” Showler says. “We didn’t have anything in place that was doing the job in concerns of encouraging them to spread the word to people who could afford to contribute.”

Spreading the word was especially important since Music For Life was co-founded by members of the band Linkin Park, and they were putting together an eBay auction of items donated by pop-star friends, including Jay-Z and Dave Matthews.

Showler and her team wondered if they could create a viral marketing push to accomplish three goals: expand awareness for the cause, promote a celebrity auction and drive donations at the organization’s website.

Good fortune came along. A widget vendor (see hotlink below) offered to work pro bono and add a widget poll. Showler jumped on the offer, hoping to create a Web 2.0-style street team -- akin to the tradition of volunteers handing out fliers in parks and plazas.

They addded the widget to the Music For Relief site, at its MySpace page and on the Linkin Park MySpace page. Here are the four steps they took to get the Flash-enhanced poll widget up and running:

-> Step #1. Choose widget size

Showler and her team had three choices from the vendor’s templates in terms of how big they wanted their poll widget to be:
o 180 by 375 pixels (skyscraper style)
o 250 by 375 pixels (medium)
o 450 by 450 pixels (jumbo)

MySpace was the primary target among Web 2.0 communities, so they spent an afternoon scouring the pages of “friends” in their account to find the most-used widget and ad size. Research determined that a 250 by 375 pixel size was best.

-> Step #2. Eye-catching content

With the size established, they turned their attention to writing the survey copy. “We probably spent the most time on writing the poll question. It had to be something that grabbed their attention.”

Because the audience was going to be heavily skewed toward ardent music fans and they wanted to plug some of the auction goodies being put up on eBay, they chose this poll question: “What item from your favorite band/artist would you like to win?”

Choices were:
o Tickets + VIP passes
o Signed instrument
o Flyaway to a live show
o I want to win a … (please comment)
o Signed poster
o Merchandise package

They used 12-point Verdana font for the copy. Meanwhile, the Flash poll offered chances to click through to the auction site, as well as Music For Relief’s website.

-> Step #3. Encourage viral forwards

Next, the team coded the poll widget so end users could easily add it to their Web 2.0 pages. In the bottom left-hand corner, they implemented a button labeled “Share.”

Viewers who clicked on the button had two options:
- Linking the poll to their page by copying and pasting the URL into their browser and pushing the ‘Enter’ key.
- Embedding the widget with these instructions: “Embed widget: This embed code has been copied into your clipboard. Just paste into a Webpage.”

-> Step #4. Comments pages

They also wanted to create ‘stickiness’ to optimize the awareness and reach. So, they added a website section that chiefly let poll registrants add comments and read what other fans wrote about the auction and the cause.


The poll widget produced numbers beyond Showler’s wildest dreams. By adding it to the Music For Relief site, MySpace page and Linkin Park MySpace page, the widget was picked up by hundreds of MySpace users and bloggers. The effort raised tens of thousands of dollars more for the cause.

Other results:
- An impressive 20.1% of their donations were connected to people who registered with it.

- 4.6% of the people served by the poll registered and voted -- or a total of 18,423 participants, many of whom became virtual foot soldiers for the cause by it being placed on the hundreds of individual MySpace pages.

- The eBay auction raised several tens of thousands of dollars. “Honestly, my expectations were not very high,” Showler says. “I went in thinking we’d get about 5,000 votes on the poll. I was thrilled with the awareness we got and how there seems to be a positive reaction in [peer-to-peer advertising] where it doesn’t feel like there is someone marketing to them. We are certainly going to use widgets in our next fundraising effort.”

In addition, ‘stickiness’ was accomplished: 13,095 comments totaling more than 900 pages were made. The ROI would have been superb even if they didn’t get the widget pro bono, Showler says.

“The more people you get on networking sites that are on your side, the better off you are,” she says. “The widget finds its way to people that your staff cannot find by themselves. They are excellent tools to get young people involved in your [brand]. They don’t even have to go out and start an online dialogue on their own -- they can just click and embed to get it going.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Music For Relief: - widgets technology provider that also helped with creative and kicked in a generous donation:

Music For Relief:

See Also:

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