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Social Media Case Study: ReForest London’s ‘Amazing Tree Quest’

Posted: May 31st, 2010   |   Category: Blog | Case Studies | Planning | Reporting | Search | Social | Strategy

ReForest London Amazing Tree Quest BottreeSmall Not-For-Profit, Big Exposure

Last fall when ReForest London’s ‘Amazing Tree Quest’ wrapped up, I still couldn’t believe the range of success that we had with the contest.  More importantly, the entire team was delighted with the site ‘renovation’ and response from the community at large.  As the first contest came to a close, I also realized that there are much broader opportunities, as noted towards the end of this blog article.

Concept

The goal of ReForest London’s ‘Amazing Tree Quest’ was to get the people of London, Ontario to recognize that trees play an important role in their lives.  After all, the city’s motto is ‘The Forest City’.

More importantly, we wanted people to share stories about specific trees that had an impact on their lives.

In the early stages of planning, we did our best to understand and abide by the mandates of ReForest London and help them apply these principles to the online world.  That’s a challenge when they’re all about planting trees!

Of course, there were other approaches.  We coached Julie Ryan, the Executive Director of ReForest London and other members of the Executive on how to accept that allowing full access to the site via the ‘Amazing Tree Quest’ contest and story contribution page would go a great way to demonstrating this non-profit’s commitment to openness, story-telling, trust, innovation and of course, encouraging all Londoners to learn to love their trees just a little more.

Building The Site

Once we had buy-in, we helped the Executive develop a request for proposal (RFP) for the contest page.  Local web-programming company rtraction responded with a proposal that was hard to refuse:

  • A new site using Drupal as the Content Management System (CMS)
  • Customization to reflect the contest
  • A ‘hard to refuse’ pricing scheme, ie. free.

From a timing perspective, the new site was built very quickly and we at Bottree supported the effort by going through the new site from a QA standpoint, including a number of recommendations geared towards making the contest more social, including the following:

  • A unique URL for every story, making it easy to copy/paste the URL and add it to promotional items like email signature files (“Vote for me here …”)
  • The voting mechanism (ie. we wanted to give all users the ability to shamelessly self-promote their own submissions) that also had limitations (voting was limited to one vote per submission per registered user)
  • Commenting

Several elements were put aside for the initial launch, mainly due to timing considerations, but also because of very understandable resource constraints with rtraction.  Examples include simplifying the login process and adding a mapping feature.  As it turns out, these are new features for this year.

The original site looked like this:

ReForest London Original Site

The new ReForest London site is still up and running and can be seen here.

Promoting the Contest

When the contest went live, there were three angles to the promotion of the contest:

  1. Launch
  2. Sustain
  3. Social

Because this was a unique effort, we received a reasonable amount of exposure for the launch.  There was local TV and radio coverage, along with several print stories and a couple of Amazing Tree Quest press releases issued to Media In Canada that we wrote and submitted for ReForest London.  We also mentioned the Tree Quest in a 2008 interview about cool things we saw and what we anticipated more of in 2009.

The ‘sustain’ phase was through the summer and, to be honest, it’s hard to compete with other organizations and summer distractions, but we’re happy to say that the level of interest continued.  The marketing committee with ReForest London allocated most of their budget to ongoing print reminders about the contest.

Another key aspect of the ‘sustain’ part was the Google Grant that we helped ReForest London earn.  The value of this grant delivers a significant amount of the residual traffic for ReForest London on an ongoing basis, including in the off-season when we’re not promoting the Amazing Tree Quest contest.

Social Examples ReForest London Bottree

Finally, we were all very hopeful that after leveraging social tools to the full extent (Facebook posts, Twitter Tweets, blog articles and LinkedIn updates), we would generate a lot of extra traffic.  However, we felt that didn’t get what we wanted for two reasons:

  • Adoption of social tools in London seem to be lower than average
  • Inadequate tracking tactics

The first is impossible to quantify and I admit it’s an extremely subjective comment.  It’s also a little contentious, so I’ll retract the statement if my peers demonstrate this year that they are promoting the contest through their social networks and we see a significant uplift in the volume of references to #ATQ or bit.ly/AmazingTrees.

The second element exposes the greatest issue facing a not-for-profit, something that Beth Kanter and others discuss quite frequently.  The ‘powerful’ and robust tracking platforms are expensive and can eat up the budget of a small not-for-profit very quickly.  We were using Google Analytics to identify source activity and our leading keywords from the Grants campaign, but after that we felt limited.

In 2010, we have turned to a few simple and free monitoring tools, but we’re still open to suggestions as to how we can monitor the Amazing Tree Quest without breaking the bank.

Results

As far as we’re concerned, the most important result was that we took this idea from the conceptual stage and made it work.  While there were perceptions that the community might not be ready for a full-on social media platform that was independent of most mainstream networks, we got an enormous volume of response.ReForest London Amazing Tree Quest Results

At its peak, the site traffic (in terms of page-views, see chart above) was more than 5 times what the previous average.  We saw the biggest spike in activity mid-way through the contest and we suspect that this is a combination of people engaging in shameless self-promotion, some free publicity from people interested in the effort and our paid marketing.

What’s most important is that the volume of regular visitors has remained much higher than it did prior to the contest.  We’re confident that we’ve attracted and retained a larger audience, something we’re very proud of as a result of the contest.

As a ‘volunteer consultant’, I found it enormous fun to be part of this and see it evolve from a basic site to a robust online social platform for ReForest London.  I’m also proud of the fact that we were able to encourage even this small and local not-for-profit to embrace the essence of social and share it with their fans.

Whether they were stories about where couples had their first kiss or tales of memorial trees that were planted for lost loved ones or even a brief history of meeting points for the Underground Railroad, we got it all.

2010 Activities and Plans

In 2010, ReForest London will continue with the Amazing Tree Quest and they have very ambitious plans:

  • We want to triple the number of stories that are added
  • We’re asking all contributors to expand on their stories and submit more than one picture of their favourite tree(s)
  • We’ll have a wider array of social media options (particularly the ‘Share’ widget from AddThis)
  • Better tracking (ReForest London is now using bit.ly URLs and a single Facebook page)
  • A new mapping feature that identifies trees by category on an interactive Google map (courtesy of rtraction)

ReForest London plans to leverage all of this activity in 2010 to attempt to get to these greater objectives:

  • Submit
  • Promote
  • Donate

In order to reach these goals, Katie Van Den Berg and I presented this case study at PodCamp 2010 London.  We had an enthusiastic crowd and after doing a brief review, we turned it over to them (in true social form) and asked the audience what they felt we were missing and how we could improve on the volume of activity.

Here’s a quick list of the feedback that we received:

  1. Approach families re stories about memorial trees
  2. Pull in classes (eg. English lit at high school, Fanshawe agricultural programs, etc) and encourage them to submit a tree story as a project
  3. Seasonal element: my favourite ‘holiday’ (OK … Christmas) tree
  4. Pool ‘wooffie’ with other local groups
  5. Foursquare tagging
  6. Get specific organization in London to act as sponsors, such as London employees
  7. Crowdsource donations – ‘best money tree’
  8. Dog parks – one-day in-person promotion with handouts to people in dog parks
  9. Go to Gibbon’s Park (a local park) on a Saturday and hand out brochures
  10. Celebrity stories
  11. Social ‘101’ for specific groups (ie. walk people through the registration process and voting, etc)
  12. ‘Have you seen this tree’
  13. Better sharing integration (eg. Facebook ‘Like’)

We will certainly do our best to follow up on at least a few of these great ideas.

We Need Your Stories & More Sponsors

In summary, we wanted to extend a big thanks to all of those who made last year and this an exciting project and for letting us pull ReForest London into the social age!

Of course, this contest is nothing without local excitement and loads of people voting and promoting their own trees!

One of the areas I think we could get the greatest benefit from would be the category of ‘celebrity stories’.  Last year, we didn’t receive any stories from local politicians, businesses, other not-for-profits or our schools (with the exception of some stories from some Montessori students).

It’d be great to have a story from the Mayor, our councilors or local business leaders.

That said, I’m reluctant to appear frustrated with this apparent lack of interest, but these are clearly the biggest groups in the city of London and we desperately need them to embrace this contest if it’s going to make it another year.

So … consider this a challenge to all London ‘officials':  please enter your favourite tree as soon as possible and enjoy a unique level of public exposure for having been the first to do so.  And when you do, challenge your competitors and peers to do the same!

Oh yeah … and ask others to sign up and vote as well :)

With respect to sponsors, we understand that there are a lot of reasons why you may not be able to fund this local charity.  We remain surprised at how many companies like Tim Horton’s, Home Depot or other large organizations don’t ‘invest’ in local campaigns like this because they’re not consistent with national requirements.

It’s certainly a challenge that we’re hoping to get past.  Of course, if you’re from a large company and would like to support this initiative, there’s still lots of time to get visibility but to also generate some good will with this local community.

Post-Script:  Opportunity for a Broader Approach?

It’s conceivable that this project could take on a much broader role as a ‘vertical social network’ committed to trees, stories about their impact on our lives and national or international efforts to draw attention to major environmental issues related to deforestation and forest management.

Such a ‘portal’ could become a directory as well and build on the experience that we’ve enjoyed with ReForest London’s Amazing Tree Quest.  It’s conceivable that if we were able to generate enough traffic and unique activity, we’d be able to monetize this interest, either with donations, advertising or attracting large sponsors.

I booked the URLs ‘AmazingTreeQuest.ca’ and ‘AmazingTreeQuest.com’ for exactly these reasons.

If you’re interested in making these concepts more of a reality, please contact me to discuss next steps.

Bill Wittur
Bottree Digital Services
Google Certified Partner

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