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A Social Media Strategy for Community Centres

on Mon, 01/09/2012 - 11:29

Proposal for a Complete Social Media Monetization Strategy for a Select Set of Community Centres in Vancouver

by Lloyd Baron

Section 1: The target organizations for the design of a strategic Monetization Campaign:

Introduction: A community centre (CC) is a particular non-profit organization that would gain greatly from a social media monetization strategy. But before we begin to craft a strategy, we need to define what exactly defines a CC in the context of this paper and how the disparate definitions and objectives of these centres change the nature and focus of an on-line monetization strategy.

For the sake of this study, we will focus on Vancouver and a particular sub-set of CCs that are found in the city. The CCs we will focus on all have a combination of sport facilities and space/programs for other social, educational and cultural activities and can be found in most urban areas. The CCs we will analyze are a distinct sub-set of non-profit organizations whose mandate is to provide community and recreational based activities. At one extreme of total inclusion and no membership, we have the CCs supported by the civic government. These centres are primarily targeted for those who live in close geographic proximity and are supported mostly out of public funds, supplemented to some degree by user fees. Although these organizations are, at the service level, much like other community-based CCs, they differ in that their governance is within the Parks Board and more importantly, as it relates to this study, they do not have separate web presences. At the other extreme of CCs are those non-profits which are based on member exclusivity; referring to themselves as “clubs” so as to distinguish themselves from CCs. Once admitted to these clubs (Vancouver Lawn and Tennis club, Arbutus club, Jericho Tennis club, etc...) members not only participate in the physical activities offered, but use their club as a focus for social and, to a limited extent, educational and cultural activity.  A third category of CCs are the YMCA, YWCA and JCCGV and these three will be the target of this study. Although membership based, these non-profit community organizations take as their mandate a greater community commitment. Their mandate is inclusiveness and therefore has no waitlists and much lower fees for membership and initiation fees and In addition, these CCs organize or host cultural and educational activities that attract the greater non-member community.[1]

Though the mission statements of all three of these CCs (see below) differ, their mode of operation and need for a particular monetization strategy are very similar and therefore can be analyzed as one group.

 Section 2: The core monetization building blocks that are most important to the customers of these three CCs:

Introduction: If these CCs wish to have a successful marketing program, their plans must satisfy specific needs of their present and future potential members. Listed below are the various needs organized in no particular hierarchy, but presented as a general guideline for the development of an appropriate strategy that will gain some traction and present the organizations with real value for their investment.

Time: Convenience, Efficiency, And Immediacy: Any on-line monetization strategy must be based on saving time since, universally, it is in short supply for these CCs. There is also an inverse relationship to time. The more time they spend on the site the greater the monetization (defined here as greater participation). It is as if the CC gains currency (negotiable with its donor community) when measured both as number of visits and time spent per visit by members of the community on-line. The internet is like another physical campus and/or an outreach program.

Scarcity: The CC is always in search of accentuating its uniqueness for its members. It tries to be the monopolist to the extent possible in the provision of recreational, health related and specific cultural moments. To the extent it is successful, it can not only up-sell its members additional services but can demonstrate to the donors that the potential social impact is not maximized and warrants additional support. Recall that sweat factories are easily replicated, particularly in Vancouver; CCs are multifaceted.

Comfort: The more the CC can increase the attractiveness and breadth of offerings on its website, the more comfort members will experience. Visiting the website will be like a fireplace in the foyer: a fully functional, multidimensional, interactive, and real-time bulletin board will be like a comfortable easy chair into which members will want to sink. Belonging (as explained below) and comfort are very much interrelated in a CC. The greater your sense of belonging, the more your comfort factor increases, the more your comfort factor increases, the greater your sense of belonging is fed.

Esteem: Id, Desirability, Self-Image, Ego; Members identify with their CC. A part of their identity is integrated with the building, the other members and the programs they participate in their CC.  To an extent, the profile of their chosen CC represents a proxy for their own self image.  If the CC has a large membership, the larger one’s ego involvement; thus, bigger is better. To the extent the physical presence is an impressive building, a member is prideful in belonging. If the website reflects cutting edge technology and includes robust monetization campaigns (both in real and notional terms), members gain confidence in the CC. To the extent that the CC impacts society and presents an image of beneficence, a member’s ego is stroked. If a CC shines in the light of community assistance, a member shares in its glow.

Survival: Health, Safety, Wellbeing:  All CC s have as their central mandate the physical well being  of  their members; there is an accepted credo that the improvement in their well being is directly related to greater participation. Although members cannot directly improve health metrics by lingering on the web, in fact, there may be an inverse relationship; excessive time on the web may be accountable (in the extreme) for a loss of health.  However, occasional visits may provide vital health related information to supplement the exercise regime; as well, web- based health metrics may help improve well-being.

 Financial Security: Wealth, Success, And A Career: Membership in CCs has no direct relationship with wealth creation unless provided indirectly through specific programs that offer members instructive coaching on money matters. The CC is effective in the financial sphere to the extent that it can convince members they are getting the best value for their dollar. A robust on-line monetization campaign can open avenues for greater savings in the market place and thus convince members that the possibilities for financial wealth are increased not only by membership, but by actual visits to the website.

Entertainment: Emotion, Experiences:  Entertainment is part of the CC offering. Membership is not to be seen as a chore. Staying healthy and participating in various cultural activities are part of the value proposition of a CC. If these activities are pleasurable, then the adhesion factor increases. If visits to the website can increase this entertainment factor, then the desire to remain a member is augmented.  Your CC has to be more than a sweat factory; it has to be a pivotal component of members’ disparate emotional experiences and an important source of certain types of entertainment.  The more pleasure a CC relates to its members, then the more members will have a feeling of belonging. 

Intellectual Stimulation: Creativity, Learning, Expression: The learning function of the CC must be real and focused.  The CC is not a key source of intellectual stimulation, but where there is a nexus of health and intelligence, the CC must be an important player. To the extent that proactive health is the goal, the CC must become pivotal in providing pertinent information on how to be an active agent in the maintenance and improvement of one’s health.  As the CC provides learning opportunities in general, the greater its social function and, as a result, the greater the participation of its members.

Section 3: the advertising channels that meet the multiplicity of the CCs clients’ Needs:

Introduction: In relation to our target CCs, there is a vast divergence between the optimum advertising channels that should be employed and those that are operationally executable and financially feasible.  It is ironic that CCs, who have as their mandate to build community, are for a variety of reasons among the weakest in terms of implementation. In normative terms a full blown strategy is not just one media. It is a network of interrelated operations, incorporating many options and tailored to its particular community. The campaigns guidelines would have to be as highlighted below:.

Ah yes, such lofty ambitions and such modest means.

In the first instance, these CCs have never been at the bleeding edge of technology adoption. The executive directors and senior managers are not hired for their marketing skills or for their IT brilliance. Most of the staff are not very computer literate; certainly, they are behind their private sector counterparts. Comparable private sector corporations operating comparable budgets would definitely have more aggressive on-line marketing strategies. Secondly, there are limited budgets dedicated to on-line community building and because of their non-profit status and their constant need for donor support to break even, there is rarely enough budget for training sufficient staff in the art of on-line marketing. Consequently, these CCs are restricted to the most modest of initiatives and the most basic of marketing strategies. The break-through for innovative on-line marketing will happen when a business argument can be made for introducing initiatives that can be supported by their staff and are potentially revenue generators (as will be discussed below in section 4).

At present the CCS are restricted to the following modalities:

Word of mouth: The front line of all marketing channels. Creating a consistently wonderful member experience is the best selling tool for a CC.

Email blasts: The expectation of many members above 20 is that regular emails will keep them abreast of what is happening and they are free to jump in where and when they wish.

On-line/ paper seasonal program guides: Once again, a legacy marketing channel, but one that is well entrenched in this sector. The only variation is real-time web program guides which allow unlimited queries and provide notice of programmatic changes in real-time.

Electronic streaming billboards: Keeping members abreast of the full range of activities while visiting is a fertile channel.  Strategically placed and appropriately programmed, these media notices will educate members and, in conjunction with word of mouth marketing, these boards will have an immediate and leveraged penetration.

Facebook (FB) fan pages: Allowing all program managers to create their own communities will increase the penetration of the CC into the life of targeted members, especially those who are spending their time within the social networking universe. Each CC will have to develop their own governance model to control abuse. See “A Social Media Policy for a Non-Profit Society."

Twitter accounts:  As with FB, Twitter will allow niche communities to be created under the CC general umbrella. Also as with FB, a governance model will have to be developed (see above link).

Fundraising events: These events not only generate revenue for operational and capital campaigns, but the actual moments and their success increase the community leaders’ and opinion makers’ adhesion to the mission statement, as well as the profile within the general community.

Freebies: There is a symbiotic relationship between the general media and CCs. Free advertising not only earns a tax credit for private companies, but increases their social credibility and, indirectly, their sales within the community.

Section 4: Transactional strategies that will generate benefits for the CCs:

For CCs there is very interrelated relationship between drawing eyeballs to the site and generating revenue, but also increased community adhesion and participation even if no revenues are earned directly. Site visit metrics are both proxy and direct measures of community involvement. Does it really matter if members/subscribers/participants are swimming in the pool or surfing on the internet site? As long as community members are engaged, the centre fulfills its mandate and thus can “earn” additional notional and/or monetary support. What follows is a compilation of possible strategies. Given the time and length constraints of this paper, there will be no attempt to provide details to operationalize these strategies. Nor is the list exhaustive.

1. Turn Fundraising events into streams of involvement from key supporters. Successful CCs organize and execute extremely successful annual fundraising events that generate enormous community excitement and support both in attendance and in financial contribution from the major donors. Unfortunately, there is no follow up on this enormous ground swell of community support. A CC can develop an on-line community in FB (and via email blasts for late adopters) that will focus on the theme (clearly attractive) of the event and not the organization itself (disparately attractive; some donors only have an episodic connection; and the annual event may be the moment). For example, the JCCGV has created an annual franchise fundraiser that honours sports and its heroes ( The attendees are clearly sport fans and could be interested in a community that has constant sports-related stories and, more strategically, invites attendees to help select the next years’ honourees and the keynote speaker(s)[2] An outside marketing company will need to be contracted to implement.

2. Create on-line photo album of participants/members. At the CC, every day many participants (particularly the young) are spending many hours in educational, recreational and cultural activities. Parents and family members (read; doting grandparents) cannot share these moments. That is, until a photographer is used strategically to record moments featuring their loved ones and up-load these photos to a restricted (registration required) webpage. Access will be free, but downloads would have a fee associated with them. This program would increase participation (community adhesion) from non-members and would be (at least) cost neutral. Once again, a contractual arrangement would have to be made with on-line commercial photo distribution company for partnership. Examples of possible partners: is already running a photo sales program for a summer camp.

3. Promote on-line membership coupons:  The YMCA Houston has introduced a wide number of membership coupons that will attract families to the site, encourage membership, and possibly provide additional revenue from sponsors (if not directly, then possibly from additional tax deductable donations for referrals But Houston is not alone; for example; the YWCA in Chicago has gone even further. Its site combines the old fashion cut-out coupons with job searches and tips for staying healthy only for members. You cannot even see what is available until you become a member. Talk about the tantalizing temptations of a black box: There is a clear win-win when the corporate sponsor is also a member. A great way to promote local small businesses of both services and products; professional services (dentists, dog walkers, hair stylists, accountants and realtors) can create a particular win-win scenario where service differentiation is difficult to advertise. Why not try a member? Care must be taken that the coupons are crafted in such a way so that they do not contravene professional associations advertizing norms.

4. Produce video on-line reproductions of in-house educational, cultural and theatrical events.  CCs produce a wide range of educational, cultural and theatrical moments that can be recorded and broadcast to a much larger on-line audience.  Both the range and potential is enormous. Take, for example, a documentary filming and discussion at the YWCA. If this could go on-line it would win a larger audience; to get the message there is no need to be there at a specific time: Likewise and annual festival of the JCCGV ( could get much larger audiences for some of the performers if put on-line. Care would have to be taken, however, that rights are respected and compensation worked out for performers if requested.  Book festivals would be easier to put on-line. In 2005, the YMCA put on a global education program for the local high schools ( You can just imagine the reach of such a program if it was made available on-line. Instead of just involving 300 students who attended at the YMCA, it could have penetrated all the schools so that more students could learn more about how to create a more peaceful world and build hope right at home.

5. Run on-line streaming/periodic silent auctions: There is nothing more tedious than having to go to fundraising events and being induced to face yet another commercial exchange for things you don’t necessarily want, but feel compelled to buy and thereby do your ‘bit’ to help the organization.  Notwithstanding the fact that the events are supposed to be social moments and not another market experience, these auctions do not win their economic rent. It would be better to have a larger exposure to potential clients as well as more time on the market.  For a more detailed argument in favour of on-line auctions, see: CCs may worry about their ability to manage the extra work; however, there are many outsourcing possibilities.;jsessionid=Bf3cKZlf45JCWNoCpPfe9Q**.app3-i: and

as well as:

[1]  As Vice President in JCCGV, I am presently designing a  “Sports Dinner” on-line community.

[2]I have been a member of all these 3 CCs. It is interesting that as a member of the YWCA, I had no real reason to belong except that I worked nearby. I was not Christian, I certainly am not a woman and I was, at the time of membership, anything but young. However, given its commitment to the general community inclusiveness, I was allowed to join without any reservation. I had a great run at the YWCA.