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Getting Social in Detroit

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As a nonprofit leader, I drool over the potential to leverage social media to let the world know about Citizen Effect and Detroit4Detroit. We have a five-person team and the help of tireless interns and volunteers. I surely don't have $3.5 million to spend on a 30-second Super Bowl ad. But I don't need to, right? Only 111.3 million people watched the Super Bowl, but 845 million people waste time on Facebook every month. Even Twitter has over 100 million active monthly users, and since everyone has Gmail, one can only image what Google+ will become! And it seems like there are new free social media platforms popping up every day (Pinterest seems to be the flavor of the month). If I could just get $1 from every person on Facebook and Twitter to give to Detroit4Detroit...

And then I wake up from my social media daydream. The reality is that social media marketing is tough. Because social media is free you have to put in the time and effort in order to make it work. Citizen Effect has tried several social media campaigns, but honestly, most have failed. Not because of lack of effort, but because to rock the social media world, you can't just broadcast a message on Facebook and Twitter; you need to actively engage your networks. In other words, you have to be social and that takes time. In Detroit, we dedicated the time to engage, and I want to share with you what I thought worked.

Never forget that a major goal of social media is to get traditional media. Since Citizen Effect cannot pay an expensive PR firm to get us on Channel 7's Detroit 2020 or land us an article in the Free Press, we have to create some noise on social media to get people's attention. The easiest way to do that is on Twitter, so we anchored our strategy on there. The first thing we did was set up a Detroit4Detroit Twitter account (click the link and follow us). We started by following and engaging the most influential tweeters in Detroit. And then we searched for and followed people tweeting from Detroit (search "near:Detroit within:30mi" on Twitter). We also searched "Detroit" on Twitter and followed anyone who mentioned Detroit in a Tweet or in their bio, picking up passionate Detroit ex-pats like @garlin (@DetroitDiaspora) and @DetroitNation. Our goal is to have the best list of Detroit Tweeters on the planet. If we have left you off, tweet your dissatisfaction and we will add you right away.

Ok, so what? A great Detroit Twitter list is one thing. Engagement it is another. We got lucky because our first trip to Detroit coincided with TEDxDetroit. We followed the Twitter hash tag #TEDxDetroit and began engaging people we wanted to meet. We followed what they were saying and then asked to meet them at the event. I met over a dozen people in the flesh, including @mojodean, @HubertGAM, and @DCisnotDetroit. @mojodean and @HubertGam gave me critical local wisdom over coffee, and @DCisnotDetroit is now a Citizen Philanthropist for Detroit4Detroit and one of our biggest cheerleaders.

Twitter is also the easiest way to engage with the press and bloggers. We followed and began engaging @Freepopinion and @DoGoodDetroit of the Detroit Free Press, and @BLACMagazine. We reached out to influential Detroit bloggers like @PostiveDetroit, @DetroitMoxie, @DetroitBlog, @MommyIsInTimeOut, and @DetroitUnspun. While not all respond, many do. Every writer likes to see their material re-Tweeted and if you do it sincerely, dialogue will follow. We have since appeared in the Free Press and Positive Detroit.

And then there were our allies and friends on Twitter. We got very lucky early on and befriended Margarita Barry of I Am Young Detroit, and Claire Nelson at Model D. We also had Rishi Jaitly and Knight Foundation tweeting our material, and many others. All of these people tweeted about us and pushed our messages when we asked them to. The biggest mistake people make on Twitter is using it as a broadcast tool. Twitter is for engaging and relationship building. Sure, if you have something to say or share, tweet it. But remember that you are limited by the number of people who are following you, which in our case was a few hundred when we started. You may put out something amazingly engaging and light up the tweetosphere. But more likely, you need to engineer the re-tweet. When you send out a tweet, direct message your allies asking them to retweet it. If you have a great piece of news, tag @Freep in the tweet. Tag @positivedetroit and ask her what she thinks. Bottom line is you need to give people a reason to respond and engage with you. If you are not mentioning, replying or direct messaging people, you are not being social, and social media will not work. And remember, it all starts with being unselfish and tweeting other peoples material all the time.

The last thing that is critical is that you have to be on Twitter real time. When someone retweets you, respond immediately if you can. Why? Because they may Tweet you back a question. Then you can DM them an answer, ask for their email and phone number and set up meeting in the real world. That is what it is all about. The Internet is not about creating an all-pervasive virtual world. It is about sharing content and driving engagement so we can create a better physical world. Ask @Wello (Jerry Pattendorf). He isn't just selling virtual inches of Detroit. Every virtual inch represents a real inch of Detroit for a reason. How do I know that? I hit up Jerry on Twitter. Sure, he will never let me live down that I referred to him as "Jeff" in that tweet, but we are still friends, right?

So what did all this work on Twitter get us? A good but not ridiculous list of 831 Twitter followers? Actually, a hell of a lot more than that. First, a launch week that made it feel like we were a much larger operation than we are (which has its ups and downs). We had two articles in the Detroit Free Press, air time on WDET, a feature on Model D, two invitations to blog on Huffington Post Detroit, blog posts on Positive Detroit, Xconomy, Detroit Half Full, The Detroit Hub, and others. Most important, social media allowed us to get physical. Over 200 people came out for our happy hour and nearly 200 people inquired about how to be a Citizen Philanthropist for Detroit4Detroit. Not bad for a few social media hacks.

What about Facebook? That will have to wait till we demystify success on Facebook ourselves. Until then, rock Twitter and join the Detroit4Detroit movement at www.Detroit4Detroit.org.