Earlier this year, the World Wildlife Fund faced a strange promotional paradox: On March 25th from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, the group honored Earth Hour Day, a campaign asking people and companies around the world turn off their lights at the same time in support of actions against climate change. When photographed from above, the effect of entire cities going dim is remarkable, but people on the ground don’t see that: They’re just sitting in darkness.
That’s not a great way to emotionally stir someone into long-term engagement, so the group’s Australia chapter tried something different. It exempted camera flashes and smartphone screens, asking people to upload photos of what they were doing when the lights went off alongside the hashtags #EarthHour, #JoinTheFuture, and #EH17.
The group shared some of the best gems on its own social channels and created a website to automatically capture and share more through an interactive montage that lived on after the event. In all, WWF-Australia aggregated 150,000 posts, boosting site traffic by 72% and adding 30% more Twitter followers. Many visitors to the website joined mailing lists for future action or donation chances.
Behind the scenes, making it all possible was a user-generated content platform from Stackla, which made its name doing similar grassroots and viral campaigns for commercial companies like Disney, Virgin Holidays, Ford, and Absolut Vodka.
In recent years, however, the company has found that more nonprofits are seeking it out. After all, making hashtags go viral isn’t an accident–it’s a science (or so the company claims), something that if planned right can generate serious revenue and support, something charitable organizations are always fighting to attract.
To make it all work, Stackla uses custom aggregating technology–basically its own web-crawling search engine that scours Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for a collection of hashtags or keywords. It can also search through content put up by specific users or by some specific geography. “If there is a particular area where there may be a protest or some sort of activist movement, we can collect content [sent out] from that specific area,” says CEO and cofounder Damien Mahoney.
What’s collected is then run through an in-house curating program, which uses its own algorithms to weigh the relevance of the content to recommend publishable options to a campaign moderator. That math includes things like how much current users are engaging with a post already, whether those within the content creator’s own network are responding more or less than they usually do, and whether it all fits the current tone of the campaign and what’s doing well already.
Overall, more than 30 nonprofits, including Greenpeace, No Kid Hungry, and the ACLU have worked with Stackla since it launched in 2012, which the company accommodated in an ad hoc way by offering various kinds of discounts based on the size and scope of the work. In August, Mahoney decided to formalize (and advertise) Stackla’s ability to create viral social good, by announcing a new division, Stackla for Good.
This should let Stackla focus on expanding that nonprofit work while creating a more formal reduced rate structure, the details of which the company won’t publicly disclose. But examples of what the return on investment for nonprofits really is are pretty easy to come by.
Take the 2015 “Poverty is Sexist” campaign by ONE, a nonprofit cofounded by U2’s Bono, which battles poverty and disease largely in Africa. To raise awareness, thousands of women including Malala Yousafzai, Shonda Rhimes, and Mary J. Blige posted photos on social media of them flexing, or mention women who taught them strength (hash tags #Strengthie and #WithStrongGirls, respectively). More than 1 million people ultimately signed a petition to ensure eliminating gender inequality became one of the UN’s sustainable development goals for 2030.
On a smaller scale, No Kid Hungry‘s 2016 Maryland Breakfast Challenge, which encouraged people to post photos of things they accomplished throughout the day that were #PoweredByBreakfast, increased donations by 30% year over year, allowing the organization to provide for 10,000 more beneficiaries statewide.
Numerous surveys have shown that people don’t generally trust charitable organizations to handle their money wisely. In a way, Stackla builds grassroots support, a chorus of online champions signaling to others that the cause and related group may be worth alliance and investment. “The way that we think about user-generated content is that it’s the most authentic and realistic sort of content that that marketers can tap into and push out to their customers,” says Mahoney. “It is highly trusted, it resonates with other customers, and it drives engagement. For [nonprofits], that’s really enhanced by people who are passionate about the cause.”
In addition to being recirculated on a charity-related newsfeed or website, other users’ content can be funneled into ads that might run on the same social networks, or, say, scrolling near real-time content that could appear in Times Square, as it did with the Better Make Room campaign, a part of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative to empower student achievement.
For cash-strapped nonprofits, Stackla is offering one more small incentive: 10% of the all service fees collected from philanthropic groups will be set aside and awarded annually to whatever group the company decides has run the most innovative user-generated, content-driven campaign. The more charitable groups engage with the company, the more it’ll boost its own learning curve about how to make things even more catchy for the greater good.