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3 Things Louis C.K. Can Teach Nonprofits & Changemakers About Living Your Brand Online

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I just spent an hour deleting every bit of spam that clogs up my personal email account, most of which I had willingly signed up for at some point. I finally decided, I just don't care how good the sale is or how worthy the cause -- I need to be ruthless about protecting my time ...

But here's someone whose emails I always open: the comedian and producer Louis C.K. They run counter to every rule in the "Email Marketing 101" playbook. They're super-long (over 700 words!), the subject lines are not particularly clever, they meander all over the place -- and I could go on and on. But I open them because Louis writes them himself. And thanks in part to these emails, he has catapulted more than one career into the big leagues (think Tig Notaro).

So what makes Louis C.K. stand out from the pack of other celebrities and pundits sounding off in my inbox? And what can nonprofits learn from that?

I recently attended a remarkably insightful full-day pow-wow on social media for nonprofits, organized by the talented Ritu Sharma. The diverse and super thoughtful speakers included Jay Geneske, head of digital for the Rockefeller Foundation, Farra Trompeter, Vice President of Big Duck (a hugely creative nonprofit branding and marketing agency) and many others. The suggestions and strategies they each emphasized (from varying angles), are the same ones Louis C.K. seems to understand instinctively: 1) Be authentic to who you are and what your brand represents; and 2) Add value for your audience at every touch-point.

With this in mind, here are three ways to fine-tune your marketing and social strategy, to foster a community of champions around your cause:

1. Storytelling: Louis C.K. is a born storyteller. When he promotes another comedian's show, he first describes in detail his relationship with them and shares some anecdotes about him or her. If I thought I'd be getting a typical marketing email, the chance I would open his email would be slim to none.

There's no silver bullet for integrating stories into your social media presence, blog, emails and other online actions, but here are two questions to ask yourself before you post: 1) Is this a story you'd want to listen to over a beer on your night off? and 2) Is this the way you would tell this story to a friend?

Stories can be peppered in throughout a larger narrative explaining your work. Stories can be funny, moving, dramatic, enlightening and/or epic. Make sure yours is at least one of these.

2. Authenticity: Louis C. K. writes his own emails (this is pretty much confirmed by the fact that he forgot to include a link to his website in his last one). This is exactly why I bother to read them. Frankly, I'm not interested in getting spammed by his marketing director.

Is there some way that you can bring greater authenticity to your social media and online presence? Can you convince your Executive Director to write a personal note? Can you get someone in charge of programs to tell their story of working directly in the field? Can you get those who benefit or use your programs and services to tell their stories? If you are a marketing or communications professional, ask yourself at every turn how you can capture and amplify not just the stories (i.e., the content) but also the voices of key stakeholders (leaders, beneficiaries, and others) in your organization.

How often do you ask yourself this vital question: How do we show our audience the real us?

3. Simplicity: It's easy to read a bunch of articles on social media and get absorbed in complex analytics tools and emerging social networks (Rely on free analytics or pay for fancier reporting? Should we be on Reddit? What about Pinterest?). The bottom line though, especially for lean organizations, is that your tools have to support your stories and your strategy -- not the other way around.

What's more, sometimes the best platforms and tools are the simplest. A photo taken with an iPhone, a short blog article about something deeply meaningful, a Facebook post written by a board member or a volunteer -- you get the idea.

For lean organizations, Occam's Razor should be the rule of thumb. If you feel overwhelmed by the big vast world of social media and online marketing, just remember, Louis C.K.'s emails are all plain text, no frills -- and they work. The smartest approach will always leverage your existing assets and strengths.

Perhaps the best summary of what this all boils down to comes from a man who died over 2,000 years before the Internet:

"The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white. Neither need you do anything but be yourself." - Lao Tzu