06/23/2011 02:31 pm ET | Updated Aug 23, 2011

Biscuit Marketing: What Nonprofits Can Learn About Building Relationships From Popeyes

Brent Leary, social media expert and man about town, was seated at an award dinner for CRM Magazine with friend and work-partner Michael Thomas. Paul "PJ" Johnston, the founder of Entellium, a competitor in the Customer Relationship Management industry, was also seated at the same table. All got along well, sharing stories.

A few weeks later, Michael came across an article in CRM Magazine where Brent was quoted from the dinner.

Michael sent Brent the following tweet: "@brentleary saw where you were quoted...remember the conversations with Entellium?"

Brent tweets back "@mwthomasNA I knew there was something crooked about him [PJ] when I found out he stole a biscuit off my plate at the CRM mag award dinner! ☺"

So Michael, trying to out-funny Brent, tweets "Uh...I confess, it was me...I love biscuits!"

Here's where Popeyes Chicken (and the lesson) comes in. Popeyes, monitoring Twitter for buzzwords, humorously adds to the conversation:

@Brentleary I can testify that @mwthomasNA is a biscuit fanatic. He can wolf them down. It would make quite a YouTube video.

No hard sell, no product push. Just a little fun. The outcome? Brent started following Popeyes on Twitter, blogged about the tweet on his heavily-trafficked site, interviewed Popeyes Vice President of Communications and Marketing on his webinar, and went to Popeyes himself the next to buy a biscuit. All this out of 140 characters.

Social media has changed the face of communications today. Gone is the power found in the faceless corporation -- private or public -- that relies on putting walls between itself and customers to create a feeling of credibility and importance. Taking its place is power based on genuine relationships with people, relationships that inspire loyalty and Word of Mouth marketing.

Rohit Bhargava discusses this trend as it applies to for-profit ventures, explaining that "every element of your business, from your interactions with your customers to the packaging of your product, is an element of your brand personality, and these are the elements that inspire delight or indifference among your customers." Personality Not Included, 2008

Nonprofit organizations are not exempt from these new marketing waves, being exposed to the same conditions resulting from the prolific use of the Internet and social media. Over 79% of all Americans use the Internet averaging 2,750 web page views per month. What does this mean for nonprofit organizations? Nonprofits need to inspire delight or suffer the indifference of donors who have an unprecedented choice of agencies to support, many sharing the same mission and goals.

All nonprofits should have optimized websites that allow them to easily keep content fresh on the home page. Statistically 94% of all first-time visitors to any website are there doing "research," only 6% are ready to purchase or donate. This means fresh content on your home page is likely to inspire a repeat visit.

All nonprofits should have a call to action or CTA on every page. What is the action you want your visitor to take on each page? Leave his email address, donate to the cause, or buy a product?

And most importantly, nonprofits need to be talking to their "people" -- their supporters, volunteers and networks. To do this, agencies should have a social media policy that sets guidelines about frequency, voice and tone. The nonprofit's personality should color all communication efforts from how content is distributed online to impromptu dialogues between donors and volunteers.

If participated in respectfully and with an authentic voice, like Popeyes Chicken, these conversations can become the pathway to new friends who are more likely to get involved because they are being personally invited.

Nonprofits cannot afford to think they are exempt from customer relationship management in cyberspace. Plunking down a "flag" website on the premise that if you build it, then they will come is no longer enough. Internet real estate is plentiful -- strategic use of social media to build open, engaging and easily recognizable platforms may surprise you with the results.