Fall 2015 Winning Essay

by: Bradley Lewis 

         Every summer, I am fortunate enough to volunteer at a summer camp in Portland, Oregon called “Bike First!”. I assist in the effort to help kids with mental and/or physical disabilities learn how to ride bikes. With each passing year, I am reminded of just how awesome it is to be a part of something that promotes tolerance and acceptance, and wish that, somehow, more people are able to know about what we do. I worked on a political campaign as a social media coordinator for a District Attorney candidate in Los Angeles for two years, and learned about the strategies and tools needed to run and utilize social media to the fullest potential possible. If I used these skills to run the social media for Bike First!, I’d work to maximize exposure across all forms of media while maintaining the exclusivity of the content on each one. I would use a combination of pictures, videos, and text to create unique and interesting content, and work to acquire followers by associating with people/organizations that hold similar beliefs to those of Bike First!.

                Despite the multitude of social media, I’d stay relatively particular in choosing which platforms to best represent Bike First!. Facebook is the most obvious and top choice because of its universality—everyone (even your grandmother) has a Facebook and it would help to provide Bike First with the broadest range of followers. Facebook is geared for pictures (or albums of pictures), videos, tagging people and text posts, all of which are vital to provide a mixed amount of content and connect specific people with the organization. Instagram provides a great place for single photos or videos, and would target more of the younger followers who dominate that user base. Twitter provides a great place for short text blurbs, whether that be a link to an article/video about Bike First, or posting words from proud parents. YouTube works wonderfully for posting longer videos that are more in-depth than one on Instagram or Facebook and allows more creative freedom with the videos they post. A website is a no-brainer to serve as the “home base” of the organization. Lastly, I’d use a mass email generator such as MailChimp to pump out emails to our follower database about specific upcoming events, fundraising effort, or other reminders. Besides all of these having a very specific and unique purpose, they are also the most popular forms of social media worldwide.

                One strategy I’ve used is to vary what I post from platform to platform. For example, it makes no sense to post the exact same photo on Facebook or Twitter, and also on Instagram. For one, it makes your social media seem like it lacks any exclusivity. Followers will be annoyed to look on Facebook, see the photo, then look on Instagram and see the exact same one; it will lead to a higher likelihood that they’ll just scroll past because they have come to expect redundancy. Essentially, I would use the different platforms for their specific purposes, and in doing so would establish varying content that would give potential followers a reason to follow Bike First! on all of its available social media.

                It’s also very important to maintain your posts without oversaturation; too little posting and people would start to forget about Bike First, and too many could cause them to unfollow because they’re tired of seeing so much. It’s a very fine line to walk. For a nonprofit like Bike First, being purposeful in why I post is key. Instagram has developed acronyms for certain days of the week such as TBT (throwback Thursday) or FBF (flashback Friday); these are great guidelines to use when posting here, and I’d use them with a hashtag for more guaranteed exposure. I’d post the most often on Facebook because of the universality of the platform. Twitter is another place where hashtags are very important; hashtags get more attention from more people because they list everything tagged with that specific hashtag. YouTube is less important for posting regularly but I would make sure there is a strong base of videos for anyone who might want a closer look at Bike First and the way things work there.

Like Facebook, email is an ever present form of mass communication, and is a great way to keep track of people who support Bike First!. Email’s ability to be more personal (i.e. using programs that can begin salutations of emails with the recipient’s first name) than Facebook or Twitter’s mass announcements could also help to bring out loyalty in our supporters who enjoy feeling personally connected to Bike First. With a program like MailChimp, I’d collect all of the supporters’ email addresses, design templates, and customize the email’s look in one place. I’d  put a great deal of thought into the look and feel of Bike First’s emails; an email that catches the viewer’s eye is one that they will likely continue to read. Through email, I’d send out a newsletter that highlights the month/year’s achievements, send inquiries for donations, and deliver student and volunteer confirmations as well as camp itineraries, etc.

                Most important to any organization or product is the website; it serves as the main point of access for information, immediately gives the viewer a sense of what the organization/products is, and most importantly lists the other forms of social media where the viewer can go to follow it. For Bike First’s site, it would be important to take aesthetics into consideration, much like the visual design of the emails. The website would connect the viewer and have profiles on the founders, volunteers, and past graduates of the camp. Bike First is an affiliate of the Northwest Down Syndrome Association, so it would be important to keep up that association on the website to increase reputability. Also present would be videos and photos from Facebook/YouTube to offer a glimpse into the program. The website is the hub of social media for Bike First and would have links to other forms of media on every page of the website for easier accessibility.

                Of course, setting up all of these platforms is all well and good in and of itself, but why not partner with people who have similar values to gain exposure, too? Bike First already has a good deal of sponsors, all with their own forms of social media. Collaborating with these local businesses on social media (such as announcing a fundraiser at a sponsor’s restaurant) is mutually beneficial for both parties involved. Following people and organizations that believe in the same ideals as Bike First! on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. would be a critical part of my plan. First, it displays solidarity between organizations with similar interests, but it also could lead to shout-outs from those people or organizations that exposes Bike First to a whole new set of followers with similar interests. Eventually, this could lead to endorsements from politicians, celebrities, and other important figures who bring a sense of legitimacy as well as heightened exposure. For example, I was able to set up a meeting with the founder of Bike First and a producer for a commercial for Kleenex. If all turns out well, this could be the headline of Kleenex’s new campaign, Kleenex Cares that showcases acts of kindness around the country and will be on Kleenex’s forms of social media. Little connections like this help to increase the likelihood of more recognition.

Social media is a virtual community, and using that to bolster an organization’s presence on social media is the key to success. For my organization, Bike First, I plan to use the website as the motherboard, linking the viewer to all other forms of media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram). I would set up a mass-email network that would create a personal touch to the other larger platforms. From there, following like-minded people and organizations on different media will help to spread Bike First across the various platforms, lead to collaborations, and in turn generate increased exposure to an extensive array of followers. Social media is the future, and anyone who understands this can use it to its full potential for promotion.