We've all heard and lived the 80-20 gospel: 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. In the consumer products world, it's the 10-50 rule: in any product category, 10% of consumers account for more than 50% of profits. In the online advocacy and politics world, many of us have internalized the "Power Law" thanks to Clay Shirky and other leading thinkers in our space. But there's a gap between knowing the Power Law and putting it to use as an engagement ladder to identify and cultivate those superstars that might make up 20% of your list.
We can start to bridge the gap by getting a handle on three things:
1. What's the ideal profile of a superstar for your organization? Is it a monthly donor? Someone who signs up and then shows up for offline events? Someone who organizes those events? Do your superstars submit content for your website, emails or direct mail? Do they forward, post, and retweet your content? If I told you I could bring you 1000 people who would consistently deliver on three things - what would those things be? What contributions made well and consistently would move the ball furthest for your organization?
Being clear about what you need from the most active 20% of your supporters, activists, readers, or volunteers is the first step to ensuring you're building structures to find, cultivate, and support those critical folks.
2. How will you know who your potential superstars are? With a clear profile of an ideal superstar in mind, you can set up the analytics tools and reporting to help you identify them - the first step toward learning more about your superstars and cultivating them. If you're all about content and ideas (i.e. Mother Jones or the New Republic) then you should set up analytics tools to help you identify the people who both read and share your content most. If your focus is advocacy, then you need analytics to surface the people on your list who are taking action (maybe online, maybe offline, maybe both). If your superstars are donors, then craft a clear definition of a superstar donor (i.e someone who gives at least the average donations once per month) and embark on a quest through your data to find them.
3. What is your capacity for supporting your superstars? So you know what your ideal superstars do, you've figured out how you're going to find them, now how are you going to build your organization's relationship with those superstars? Is your operations structured to conduct meaningful, personal outreach? Do you have an organizational culture that can grow from the meaningful feedback you'll get in return? Do you have a list of high level asks to make of your superstars, and the capacity and materials to support them in delivering on those asks? Knowing who your superstars are isn't enough. To truly make the most of your relationship with your superstar donors, activists, readers, and volunteers you'll need to have the structure, plan, and capacity to encourage, support, and integrate their efforts.
And perhaps a 3a: Establish mechanisms to discover what makes your superstars tick and how you can apply that information to the rest of your list. On the consumer side, marketing firms have found that learning what drives "super consumers" doesn't help cultivate more super consumers, but it does help drive effective messaging and asks for the rest of us. While there's not a ton of research on this point on the donor or advocacy side, it stands to reason that the same principles apply. Surveys, focus groups, and even informal conversations should be integral to engagement ladder planning.
*Shayna Englin is founder of Englin Consulting, a strategic communications and advocacy firm that develops and implements strategies as well as recruits, organizes and mobilizes friends and donors for nonprofits, associations and causes