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Web Marketing Case Study: Foursquare

Earthjustice, headquartered in San Francisco, is the nation’s leading nonprofit environmental law firm. Because all its work is done pro bono (free!), Earthjustice relies on marketing and fundraising. Ray Wan, manager of marketing and design, notes that the firm's interactive website remains the central hub for public communications and interaction.

Earthjustice rolled out its innovative Foursquare ad campaign in San Francisco in the summer of 2010 for three to four months. Wan says, “We know that the average Foursquare user is much younger than our traditional donor base, but we wanted to broaden our appeal to a younger audience ― [they] will be our future supporters!”

The campaign had two other explicit goals: raise money for legal work and raise brand awareness through media exposure from publicity about the campaign itself.

“Checking in on Foursquare is fast and simple — something you can do in minutes while you’re waiting for the train,” explains Wan, “whereas providing a regular web URL requires the user to complete a lot more online steps before they can take the desired action. The longer the process, the more people you lose at every step.”

The most important metric was the number of check-ins at each ad. The more check-ins received, the more money their major donor would give. Earthjustice used Foursquare itself to track campaign performance because that data is built in.

To promote the campaign, Wan included the Foursquare chicklet to convey immediately which social media tool to use. He points to the catchy headlines and visuals used to attract people’s attention. “It’s not every day that you see a giant hamster-like animal (the endangered pika) staring at you during your morning commute.” Earthjustice also had a minimal presence for the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

“Aside from the prominent ad placements in some of San Francisco’s heaviest trafficked Metro stations, and the press release that we pitched to reporters and social media blogs, we did not advertise the ads in any other way. We knew that the concept’s novelty (the first creative use of Foursquare for nonprofit fundraising) would attract some media attention, so we just let the ads speak for themselves.”

“Outdoor advertising is not cheap!” Wan cautions. “From the cost of the advertising space to the production of the actual physical ads, the costs can be prohibitive for small or medium-size businesses.

Luckily, Earthjustice was able to get many of the services donated or at reduced rates.” He suggests that other nonprofits consider partnering with socially responsible businesses that already have physical storefronts to eliminate the cost of having to buy physical advertising space.

Wan is forthright about the benefits and limitations of Foursquare. “For example, there is no way for a person who checks in to leave an e-mail address. “You can individually message them on Foursquare, but if you get thousands of check-ins, it’s very labor intensive. Since this was a stand-alone, experimental campaign, we decided it was worth it.

But if a future campaign required . . . e-mail [captures], we would consider a different . . . platform.”

Look for Earthjustice at www.earthjustice.org, www.facebook.com/earthjustice, or www.twitter.com/earthjustice.

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