East Harlem Tutorial Program: The small nonprofit
Content is now the focus
For more than 50 years, The East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) has been giving kids the opportunities they would have if they were born 20 blocks south of Harlem. The program teaches reading and math, provides one-to-one tutoring, prepares kids for college, helps them get accepted, and builds the social skills they'll need to succeed. It also gets kids through college and ready for the real world. The small nonprofit is a living testament to the fact that you don't have to be big in order to get real value out of content. (Quick disclosure: I worked on this project with EHTP with its web agency, imagistic -- but it was a pro bono effort.)
The main lesson in content for EHTP really came in January 2010, when the organization was named one of the top 100 in the Chase Community Giving program. This contest was a two-round program in which, out of more than 500,000 charities, EHTP earned a top 100 spot. The first round award earned $25,000 for EHTP and qualifying it for Round 2, in which the nonprofit stood to win up to $1 million.
With only two weeks to get votes -- and no national brand recognition, no marketing budget, and an extraordinarily small staff -- the nonprofit had no misconception that it could win what was ostensibly a popularity contest on Facebook. It knew that it would be near impossible for it to win the $1 million. However, the organization decided to use the idea of the contest to generate a content strategy that would build support and a growing community of people to engage. So, instead of focusing on the result of the contest, it focused purely on engaging people around the idea of the contest -- and thus, what EHTP cared about more deeply: its mission.
This turned out to be wonderful strategy for EHTP, as it produced video content, blog content, and social media content (Twitter and Facebook) to share. As expected, the organization didn't win the $1 million prize -- but its efforts paid off in a big way. The nonprofit exponentially increased its online community engagement, leading to thousands of new fans and followers who the organization can now engage for volunteers and donations. The blogging content strategy was such a success that the organization replaced its static website with this new conversation-based platform. And, maybe most importantly, through its grassroots effort, EHTP was recognized by the Chase Advisory Board. And out of the top 100, EHTP was picked as one of 17 organizations to receive additional recognition -- as well as an additional $37,000 for the organization. Content is now the single focus of the organization's online strategy.
As the social graph and sharing of content start to become more important than just SEO, quality over quantity will, no doubt, become a more critical part of the content marketing handbook. It won't be enough to just produce blog post after blog post or article after article; success will be about providing thought-provoking, entertaining, informative, and valuable content that merits sharing.
And, maybe even more importantly, is the recognition that content marketing isn't just a marketing tactic. It's not just another column for the marketer to budget in the same way that a media spend is budgeted. Rather, it's a strategy that lies over the top of our entire business. It involves our marketing and our brand to be sure -- but also our sales, our CRM, and even our product and service development strategies.
In short -- per the lesson learned from William Goldman -- with content marketing, the easiest thing to do is to not write. But as these three brands clearly illustrate, writing can actually be incredibly rewarding.
Rob Rose is chief troublemaker at Big Blue Moose.
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