TampaBayHelps: Using Social Media For Good

In 2009, Cadillac asked local marketing executive Ginger Watters to test a revolutionary idea. Use social media exclusively to create a buzz about the new SRX, the "luxury crossover SUV."  The target market: high household income women in their 30s and 40s, as well as baby boomers who are empty nesters.  

Watters handpicked 64 well-connected "women of influence" in the greater Tampa Bay area and put each in a brand new SRX that she drove for a week free of charge.

The caveat – they had to be social media savvy, with an average of 300 friends on Facebook and upwards of 1,000 e-mails in their address books. They had to post a daily blog about their experience.  And they had to invite their contacts to check in frequently. Each week, the driver whose blog had the most unique hits received a $500 check donated to the local charity of her choice.

"These were my Alpha women," says Watters.  "It was a really diverse group. We had executives, soccer moms, real estate agents. Each had a different sphere of influence reaching different audiences."

That was the goal, of course. Reach as many other women of influence as possible in a short period of time. And it worked. In eight weeks the website generated 58,000 hits. 

The campaign's success got Watters thinking, especially about the local charities that had benefitted by receiving a $500 check. She is on the board of the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay and well aware of the impact the economy has had on local nonprofits, as well as on the people who depend on them for services.

She was also inspired by the Red Cross mobile phone campaign that raised more than $32 million for Haiti hurricane relief efforts just by having people send a text message allowing them to donate $10 for the cause.

"I really wanted to do something fun that would bring everyone together and create connections in support of Tampa Bay charities," says Watters.

Partnership marketing is her forte. Watters' extensive marketing experience includes executive positions with Walt Disney Attractions, Hertz, two cruise lines and a Tampa ad agency for which she handled Florida Tourism. She knows the power of creating strategic alliances to benefit everyone.

Birthing A New Idea

Last summer she went live with her new project, TampaBayHelps, whose mission is to "bring individuals and companies together through events, networking and an online exchange to raise the spirit of nonprofit involvement." At that time, a handful of local nonprofits jumped at the chance to be involved and two corporate sponsors – PAR Inc., and the Tradewinds Resort in St. Pete Beach signed on.

There are now 85 charities in seven categories registered on the site, everything from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay to Meals on Wheels, Suncoast Hospice and St. Petersburg Free Clinic. A big public launch and social media blitz is planned in early 2011.

Exactly what's expected to happen? Similar to the SRX Cadillac campaign, Watters plans to ask each nonprofit to designate a team leader who will put together a list of between 20 and 50 "friends of the organization," people who are computer-proficient and comfortable with e-mail blasts and the many social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook, Linkedin and MySpace.  

The idea is for one person with connections to tell all of her friends, and for those friends to tell other friends, and so on.  "We'll be hosting weekly contests that will drive traffic to the TampaBayHelps site and then to the individual nonprofits," says Watters. "The nonprofits that do the best job of reaching out and inviting the most unique hits each week will win cash and prizes."

It's not just about raising funds for the nonprofits, says Watters. "The point is I want this to be interactive. This is about raising visibility and getting people in the community to support nonprofits in many different ways, even through volunteer opportunities."

Nancy Giles, director of business relations for Pinellas Association of Retarded Citizens, was one of the lucky 64 who drove an SRX for a week. To blog about the experience she chose an alter ego – the frogs that PARC clients make as part of ongoing art projects at the center. The frogs traveled to business meetings, lunch appointments, even to the Frog Pond restaurant in St. Pete Beach. Giles made sure to broadcast the news to colleagues around the country. And she won the $500, plus another $500 when a donor matched her winnings. Now she's enthusiastic about participating in TampaBayHelps.

"We'd be crazy not to participate," says Giles. "Ginger is such a ball of fire and has so much marketing savvy.  It's an exciting approach to raising awareness. It's really all about helping everyone in the nonprofit world."

Gaining New Exposure

Tampa Bay & Company, an advocacy group that promotes economic development through tourism, is currently working with TampaBayHelps for its holiday card. Watters, through TampaBayHelps, will send e-cards on the company's behalf, not just for the holidays but also birthdays, anniversaries and other events. The e-card is distributed to the company's list of clients, who can then go to the TampaBayHelps' website to choose which nonprofit should receive a donation in the company's name.  

"When I first heard about TampaBayHelps, I thought the idea was brilliant with the potential to contribute significantly to nonprofits in the area," says Dianne Jacob, senior vice president of marketing for Tampa Bay & Company.

Tampa Bay & Company had budgeted for an animated e-card "with all the bells and whistles for this holiday season," says Jacob. "Instead, we're still doing the card, but with fewer bells and whistles in order to save some money and contribute the savings to one of the four charities that will be decided by the people on our distribution list. It's a much kinder way to say to our clients that we appreciate them.  It also gives them opportunity to participate in the decision about where the money will go."

Carissa Caricato, marketing director of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, and Susanna Martinez Tarokh, a Crisis Center board member,  drove SRX's during the campaign last year and both won $500 for the Crisis Center. As Watters began rolling out her ideas for TampaBayHelps, Caricato was one of the people she turned to for feedback.

"It's a little outside our fundraising model as we focus on one-on-one cultivation for long-term, sustainable funding – we have to raise a million dollars to balance the budget, and not all of our donors are online," says Caricato. "But social media is a wonderful complement to our efforts and there is a lot of potential, especially in reaching a younger market."

As a sponsor, the Tradewinds Resort sees TampaBayHelps as a unique marketing opportunity that is outside the norm.

"The whole social media-viral marketing trend seems to be very much a wave of the future and it's something new and fresh and different for us," says Lynda Waters, vice president of marketing. "We have a chance to experiment with it and get our name out there.  It's not static like a billboard might be. When people click on our logo on the TampaBayHelps home page, they're directed to our website, which gives us another vehicle for marketing promotions."

Janan Talafer is a St. Petersburg-based freelance writer with a passion for swing dancing, tropical gardening and collecting shells.  She shares a home office with her faithful cat Milo and dog Bear. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.
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