It was 9 a.m., April 8, and the start of the last hour of WBUR’s first-ever “Marathon” fundraiser — a week’s worth of wheedling for contributions boiled down to 26.2 hours of cajoling, infused with a heavy dose of social-media support. The Boston public radio station was still $172,000 shy of its goal of a million bucks.
That’s when Mike Steffon, the station’s director of member relations, turned to general manager Charlie Kravetz and said, “You know, I think we can do this.” Kravetz’ response: “I looked at him cross-eyed and said ‘What?’”
But social-media strategist Adrienne Lavidor-Bermanwas just starting to live-stream “Morning Edition” on Facebook Live. The station had gotten positive feedback from steaming snippets of some shows the day before using its brand new four-camera, high-definition, robotically controlled system. The intent this time was to capture the drama of the final 60 minutes of the drive as Lavidor-Berman strolled around the studio, shooting with her iPhone.
With her eyes darting from host Bob Oakes to the comments section below the image on her screen, “I started to see more and more people watching,” Lavidor-Bermanrecalls, from as far away as Germany and Morocco. “And people were commenting, saying ‘We can do this.’”
Kravetz said hello and started responding to their feedback along with another staff member, even as Twitter followers were urging their own followers to aid the cause. The frenzy built. There were 3,600 people watching on Facebook.
“I just started feeling the energy in the room,” says Lavidor-Berman, as Oakes addressed the camera, acknowledging that the audience “was not just on the air, which I think was huge.”
They still had to raise $55,000 with 11 minutes to go. $5,000 a minute.
As you probably suspected, #teamWBUR succeeded. It was the best hour they’d ever had in 66 years.
Kravetz says social media amplifies the normal momentum that builds as a fundraiser approaches its goals. “People start participating. They start tweeting; they’re on Facebook. And they’re encouraging everybody to join in and help an institution they love and believe in and want to succeed. I think that’s what happened here.”
But it didn’t happen willy-nilly.
“We had to turn this away from us shouting at our listeners to turning it into a conversation about fundraising,” says Leah Davis, the station’s associate director, new media. “We knew that we would empower our listeners to talk about fundraising on our behalf if we provided them with the means to do so.”
A smattering of the results of that empowerment can be seen here.
“In the weeks and months leading up to this campaign, we provided what we call a ‘social toolkit” for people interested in sharing about the WBUR Marathon, Davis explains. “We were really, really interested in making sure our community could come together and identify as a community without exactly telling them what to do,” she says. “We wanted them to be able to put this in their own words.”
A SnapChat Takeover documenting all the things #teamWBUR was doing during the fundraiser also had a tremendous response. “It was a fun, exciting story from inside of WBUR, and I think that was really our watchword for WBUR during this campaign,” Davis says. “Transparency and authenticity.”
Kravetz points out that the social media tactics employed for the Marathon are only part of four-year old strategy WBUR management calls “Futurecast": basically, “a commitment to reaching our audiences on air, online and in person.”
He and his colleagues are very careful to emphasize that all segments of WBUR’s demographics are equally important, as are all three prongs of the ways to reach them. But it’s fair to assume that that the social media efforts may have garnered more contributions from a younger demographic than the station might have gotten in the past, Kravetz allows, although “we can’t prove that yet.”
“Speaking of a younger audience,” Steffon recalls, “we did have a 7-year-old whose mom tweeted about her son not wanting to go to bed and to stayed tuned to the WBUR fundraiser because he was so excited about it.”
It’s truly saying something when you can preempt the Red Sox in the competitive heart of a Boston boy.