Mad Science: Facebook’s Mood Experiment

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Save for the World Cup, news stories this summer have been sort of slow. Yet, social media giant Facebook has already made news twice.

First, in mid-June, The New York Times reported that the social media giant would allow users to alter their ad profiles to give all 1.3 billion of them greater control over their privacy.

Then in late-June, news of a so-called “Facebook experiment,” which already sounds creepy, proved to capture the public’s attention as it became a news story for several days. In case you missed it,  here’s the skinny:

  • The psychological experiment was conducted in 2012.
  • 700,000 Facebook users served as the experiment “subjects.”
  • The experiment sought to alter the subject’s mood by manipulating their News Feed with posts that were either disproportionately positive or negative.
  • As hypothesized, users who saw positive news were more likely to write their own positive posts, and vice versa.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was forced to apologize for what she thought was routine and benign yet “poorly communicated.” Days later, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent an open letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair — Los Angeles-native — Edith Ramirez to “fully explore the potential ramifications of the behavioral experiment performed by Facebook.” See the letter here.

To many who follow social media, this wasn’t news. Facebook, with servers around the world in facilities twice the size of football fields that process 500 terabytes of data on a daily basis, rakes in billions by packing all that user-generated data into hyper-targeted ads for retailers and consumer goods companies and anyone else trying to reach a narrowly defined audience. (In Q1 2014, $FB reported $2.5B in revenue.)

Is your perfect customer college-educated women, between the ages of 29 and 44, with one child who is pre-K or younger, speaks Spanish, uses an iPad, and lives in zip code 91316? No prob. For the cost of dinner at CPK, you can reach them on Facebook.

Looking for Baby Boomers who are divorced, into guns, commute more than 20 miles for work, have grandchildren out-of-state, use an old computer, and live within 5 miles from the Rose Bowl? Yep, Facebook has got you covered.

Presumably, this scary-accurate demographic data coupled with the manipulation of moods would be a means to selling more home security systems and flower bouquets. Here’s our advice: Don’t freak out.  Rather, use this information to make wiser decisions about what you share and don’t share on social media.

1 Billion: Social Fundraising’s First Big Milestone


Industry leader Network for Good made a big announcement yesterday: It just processed its one billionth dollar in charitable donations. Since its founding in 2001, Network for Good has been the go-to online donation processor for tens of thousands of nonprofits in the United States, and serves as the backend for sites that collect donations for nonprofits, such as

Undoubtedly, it will take less than 13 years to process the next $1 billion. As the public’s comfort with social fundraising grows, so does the technology that accelerates it. While Network for Good is not the only kid on the block (leading competitors include Razoo and Fundly), they are, in many ways, leading the pack.

Take, for instance, the integration in 2013 of a mobile-friendly interface that includes mobile pledges. “Many people wanted to give, but weren’t sure about making a donation on their mobile phone. The new Pledge button relieves new donors of that concern,” said Network for Good’s Noah Griesbach, Senior Fundraising Sales Consultant. Griesbach added: “We’ve seen a spike in conversions since introducing the Pledge button.”

Smart move. As we’ve shared many times by now, mobile has now overtaken desktop as the primary way people in the U.S. access the Internet. This means most of the people who’ll see your Call to Action email will probably do so on their mobile. Bottom line: A mobile-ready donation page is no longer an added value – it’s a necessity.

4 Tips to Consider Before Your Last End-of-Year Fundraising Appeal

The time of year all nonprofit fundraisers eagerly await is finally here. If past trends hold, more than 15% of all charitable donations in December will take place during the last two days of the year, the some of which will produce more than $2.5 billion for the U.S.’ nonprofit organizations.

Whether your organization will make an end-of-year appeal by email or social media, consider these four fundraising tips first.


#4: Names Matter
Yes, your nonprofit’s name is a source of pride and something very meaningful to its board members and employees. That said, you should never use it as the Sender in your end-of-year fundraising email. Keep in mind a truth brand managers begrudgingly acknowledge: People do not want to connect with brands; people want to connect with….people.

When formatting your last email appeal, let’s say in MailChimp as in the example below, you will have the option of changing the Sender’s name. As such, make sure to always use the name of your organization’s most recognized and/or respect person as the From name to increase open rates.

Let’s say your nonprofit has a formal relationship with a celebrity or public figure, as is true with MALDEF, which counts among its board members actor and philanthropist Eva Longoria, then, of course, you’d want to use that person’s name as Sender to increase the chance of catching the reader’s eye. Even if you don’t know a celebrity (most don’t), your nonprofit should use its founder, CEO, or board chair as the From name.


#3: Tell Me More
Aside from the Sender’s name, the subject line is the next thing your prospective donors will see. Most – if you’re like me or most of you – are expecting end-of-year email appeals, but that doesn’t mean you have to hit them over the head with it.

When it comes to email subject lines, 1.3 million nonprofits in the U.S. should look no further than the “click bate” that the Obama campaign perfected in 2012. Following their lead, use 3-5 word subject lines that personalize the message and is upbeat, such as “We can do this” or “You do it.”


#2: Shorter Is Better
I can’t help but cringe when opening some of the emails from nonprofits during the holiday season. It’s as if they sat down to write War and Peace.  Don’t do that. Simply put: keep it short.

An analysis of 700 million emails sent through MailChimp produced a treasure trove of data on what works and what doesn’t. Nonprofits enjoy one of the highest open rates of all industries, 47%.

SIC_MailChimp Table (2013)


Yet, the open rate is only half the battle. Your objective is to get the reader to respond to your Call to Action (e.g. end-of-year fundraiser) by clicking on your link.

As the MailChimp analysis found, the effect of content to click ratio on click rates matters: the shorter the content, the higher the click through rate (CTR).

As the graphic below illustrates, emails that began with eight words then link produced the highest open rate of all, 14%. If eight words seems too brief or dire (e.g. Give us money now or we’re closing tomorrow), I’d suggest going with a 33-word or less Call to Action then link, which averaged a 12% open rate. You could always write more after that, then add your link again.



#1: Just Do It
We already know that many people give to charities at the end of the year. What you may not have known is that, in my cases, to whom they give is immaterial. Indeed, I call these people Opportunity Donors. They wake up on December 31 and ask, “What do I absolutely have to do today before the year ends?” For millions of Americans, particularly those who itemize their tax returns, and, as such, want as many tax write-offs as possible, the answer includes lowering their tax exposure by donating more to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The Opportunity Donors then fires up their web browser, not knowing where to give, and thus, does a Google search for “charitable donation.” As Google Trends clearly illustrates, there is a huge spike throughout the United States of people searching “charitable donation” or “charitable tax deduction” on December 31.

In fact, as Network for Good has reported, this annual practice produces what is literally a golden window of opportunity – the vast majority of donations on December 31 are between 11 AM and 6 PM. The first good-looking site they see is probably where they’ll give.

While you probably don’t have enough time to change your website to capture Opportunity Donors who don’t know where to give, you’re are likely to find them in your email database and among your social media followers.

If you plan on making an ask by social media on December 31, keep it as soft as possible. As many community managers can attest, the unfriend/unfollow rate jumps every time there’s an urgent appeal – particularly for money – on social media. Instead, share a ‘Year In Review’ or ‘Thank Your For Making 2013 Memorable’ blog post from your website that ends with a donation appeal.

To those in your email database, send your last email sometime between 9 AM and 12 noon. As appose to appealing to their giving hearts, go for the brass tax. In your brief appeal, simply tell them a variation of, “…tomorrow is too late to lower their tax exposure – give now.” The appeal if followed by a link to your donation page, which is stripped down to the minimum number of required fields (90% of people never complete forms online). The entire donation process shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to complete. For some, this approach is too heavy handed; but keep in mind, the Opportunity Donor already wants to give – you’re simply showing up at the right place (their inbox) at the right time (December 31). Everyone else won’t begrudge you for doing your job; the worse that will happen is that they’ll ignore your email.

Pro Tip: Create a list of everyone who has opened your last six to ten emails. Consider these folks your super fans. Take out the names of those who have already given to earlier appeals this month. Now you have a list of super fans who are the lowest hanging fruiting on your Giving Tree. Do not include them in your mass appeal via Constant Contact or MailChimp; instead, send them a personal email, include their name in the subject line, share with them how meaningful it would be to see them give in any amount before midnight. If they do give, and many will, your organization is likely to count on them as a donor for years to come.