A Facebook 10K Race: How the California Arts Council Won
On November 9, 2011, the California Arts Council became the first arts agency in the nation to acquire 10,000 "likes" on Facebook. How did the agency achieve this? And--perhaps more importantly--why?
It's no secret that social media has revolutionized the way people communicate--with each other and with companies, products and organizations. A strong Facebook presence is a valuable tool for direct and immediate public outreach. The California Arts Council has been "Facebooking" since 2009 to an ever-widening circle of fans and followers, becoming something of a model for other agencies in California's state government. But it took an old-fashioned Western showdown to push them over the 10,000 mark.
Craig Watson, the newly-hired Director of the California Arts Council, and Bob Booker, Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, encountered each other at a conference in San Francisco. These two friendly rivals made an almost-ridiculous bet: they challenged each other to a race. A 10K race, no less. Each man vowed that his arts agency would be the first to reach ten thousand "likes" on Facebook--although both were starting at around the 4,500 mark.
The two agencies plunged into the effort with enthusiasm and creativity. As word of the challenge spread, other agencies asked to join the race--and were welcomed in a spirit of "the more, the merrier." The D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities actually started out ahead of both Arizona and California, and was a serious contender despite its small population base.
The National Endowment for the Arts added a new level of excitement to the race when they offered a prize: The agency who won would be given the NEA's Facebook page for a week! This offer kicked the competition into high gear. Taunting posters were created and posted on opponents' Facebook pages. Smackdown videos appeared on Facebook walls. Pleas went out over Twitter and ricocheted around Facebook, as citizens rallied to support their individual state's arts agency. Articles appeared in local media. Taken together, these efforts created the elusive, all-important phenomenon known as "buzz." The race captured the public's imagination--and each participating agency saw a jump in their Facebook numbers.
This, of course, was the real object of the game. When the California Arts Council announced a Facebook event called "The October Like-a-Thon and (virtual) Marshmallow Roast," the point was not to be cute. It was to create something fun enough that people would share it with their friends, raising awareness of the California Arts Council and increasing "likes."
One tool that the California Arts Council used was a modest investment in Facebook ads. Since the race was a competition, the agencies did not share strategies--so other agencies may have run ads as well. But from the California Arts Council's perspective, well-crafted Facebook ads make a difference. Facebook provides its users with a wealth of easily-understood statistics that enable you to judge, in real time, whether an ad is working. It was fascinating to see which approaches resulted in the highest "click-through rate," and have the ability to tweak the ads, discontinue them, replace them with something else, steer traffic to the more-effective ads, etc. as their success (or failure) became clear.
So how did the California Arts Council reach the goalpost ahead of Arizona and D.C? Was it the marshmallows? The posters? The ads? Or simply the fact that California is home to over 38,000,000 Americans--including Mark Zuckerberg? Probably all of these things contributed, but when the dust finally settled one thing was clear: Everyone who raced won. The goal of creating a bigger footprint in cyberspace--and thus increasing awareness of state arts agencies, the work they do and the services they provide--was met by all competitors.
The lessons learned by the California Arts Council in the Facebook 10K Race are being incorporated into a series of YouTube videos called Facebook Fundamentals. These short tutorials are aimed specifically at California's local arts commissions and councils, encouraging them to follow their state partner's lead and increase their Facebook outreach. Because the 10K Race had a welcome, but unexpected, ripple effect--driving traffic not only to the California Arts Council page but also to the pages of some of its county-level partners!
A spirit of fun may not come naturally to governmental entities, but in the brave new world of social media marketing, a little fun can achieve serious results. And Facebook is a serious tool--for reaching, informing, and building a relationship with the citizens we are here to serve.