July 2018
Creative Communications

The $50 Communications Challenge

Editor’s note: In the $50 communications challenge, we asked two communicators how far and how effectively they could stretch $50 to market/communicate/message something in a creative way. We wanted their ideas for using a small amount of money to communicate a message, and more importantly, to learn from what they did in their context. This idea came from Miguel Escobar, a former member of the ECF Vital Practices team. Thanks Miguel!

Communications challenge #1: Kyle Oliver

It all started with a sermon on John 15:1-8 (“I am the vine, you are the branches”) that was part of a liturgy teaching series. I was asked to use the text to teach about Holy Communion generally, and the Eucharistic prayer in particular. The further along I got in my prep, the more I realized that a march through prayer structure does not a sermon make. Moving to a more appropriate medium and venue made sense. What I needed was something like digital flashcards. And they needed to be visually interesting, because without that dimension the whole topic felt a little dry.

Once the sermon was written, I shared the nine digital cards I’d created for it on Facebook. Many of my colleagues were really into the idea. In addition to providing helpful and detailed feedback, some wanted to buy them—enough that it felt like a worthwhile experiment. Since then, I’ve been working my way through the Sunday liturgy to complete the set.

When ECF Vital Practices editor Charis Bhagianathan invited me to take the $50 Communications Challenge, I decided I’d found my ad budget for marketing the set. My goal was threefold:

  • Spread the word that the project was finished.
  • Sell enough cards to pay for some of the time I spent creating them.
  • Collect information about how they were being received and whether there was interest in buying printed decks.

My strategy was similar to the way I’ve promoted past content on my website, Creative Commons Prayer.

Step 1: Preparation When a post has the potential to do well, I spend a little extra time sprucing up the site. Also, in addition to the post, I created the infrastructure that allowed people to purchase and download the cards.

Step 2: Scheduling I knew I wanted to run my three-day promotion Tuesday through Thursday, so the post needed to go live Monday night. Using a “soft launch” window, I notified my Patreon supporters (who make monthly pledges to support the site and receive bonus content) and the people who had encouraged me to develop the cards in that original Facebook post.

The soft launch strategy is one way that tiny sites like mine can overperform. If you have a ‘direct line’ to a highly interested sub-audience (e.g., Patreon notification emails or a long thread of Facebook commentors who will receive a notification about a follow-up comment), make sure you use it.

For this project, about 10% of the page-views and fully a third of the gross revenue came from these tiny pre-steps that did not cost any additional money or a substantial investment in time.

Step 3: Promotion. On Tuesday morning, website subscribers woke up to an automatically generated, full-text email of the post from Mailchimp. Not wanting to annoy people who are double-subscribed, I waited until Thursday to send a single-topic promotional email (my first ever) to everyone who receives my Learning, Faith, & Media newsletter—a much larger audience, but one that I assume is not as interested in Creative Commons Prayer’s approach to digitally mediated spirituality.

I supplemented this email outreach with posts on the website’s social media channels and my own. As always, I catered the text and images for each to the strengths and “native language” of the network, and wrote slightly different copy for my personal posts than for the site’s.

Just one of the ten or so posts received the $50 “boost” from my advertising budget, targeting people who like my page and their friends (a standard ‘friends of fans’ boost), both on Facebook and Instagram. I spread the budget out equally across the three days of my campaign.

Step 4: Evaluation. Besides the insight above about the importance of targeted ‘early outreach’, two key results stand out as I sift through the metrics at the campaign’s end:

(1) Among other engagement results, the $50 boost resulted in 57 link clicks. That accounts for a bit more than 25% of the website traffic I received from Facebook and Instagram. That’s not nothing, but this relative impact is a further testament to the value of personal relationships; the other 75% of the inbound traffic from Facebook and Instagram likely came mostly from my personal accounts.

(2) About 7.5% of pageviews on my website that week resulted in a click on the purchase link, and about 47% of those subsequent clicks resulted in a sale. That means the traffic from my paid ad was worth about two purchases, for a net revenue of about $40.

It’s easy to be a bit bummed that the ad didn’t pay for itself. But the parable of the sower reminds us that it’s difficult to know the fullness of the results that come of our efforts to spread the word.

The point of the website, after all, is not to help me pay the bills — I’d have to do things very differently if that were the case. The point of the website is to help people engage with their faith and to help others do the same.

Kyle Matthew Oliver is an Episcopal priest serving at St. Michael's Church in New York City, EdD student in the Communications, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and 2016 ECF Fellow. You can find more here to read blog posts, sermons, and sign-up for his newsletter. Previously he was digital missioner and instructor in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary. His vocational heart still belongs to the e-Formation Learning Community.

Communications challenge #2: Joanne Fisher

A few days ago, I asked an older friend of mine to lead the charge on collecting “missional stories.” I thought the easiest way would be to have everyone post their story on social media and then add a hashtag.

Faced with yet another technological challenge, her good-humored reply was, “I draw the line at hashtags.”

Somewhere between automation and relationship, between baby boomers, millennials and Gen Z, is a technological happy medium. It wasn’t until the end of my $50 Challenge that I stumbled upon the answer to a question I hadn’t thought of asking before. How can we better bridge the communications gap between young and old?

A one-stop shop for websites

For a little backstory, I discovered a technology gem while listening to a podcast several years ago. It was a commercial for Squarespace. Now I know that there are many one-stop shops for websites, but Squarespace caught my ear first and subsequently earned my business.

The first website I created was for an annual scavenger hunt that I organize. When we launched the hunt three years ago, I needed a landing page to talk about the race, share the rules, get sponsors, post pictures and register teams. Remembering the Squarespace commercial, I took to the web and managed to do exactly what they promised. I learned the platform and created a live webpage in a single morning. Seriously!

Kids helping kids

But back to the Challenge. For the past 20 weeks, I have had the honor of helping lead a Confirmation class of nine amazing high schoolers. Tasked with creating a service project from start to finish they decided to address “Health Equality.” Their fundraising event, a July kickball tournament, will raise money for scholarships to help kids get active.

By April, there was still one hang-up to their plan. They needed a website, and they needed it quickly. The kids wanted to have a website in place when they presented their plan at the next vestry meeting, and that meeting was only a few weeks away.

I sat down at our planning meeting with cash in hand and spent $20 on the domain name and $16 for the first month of hosting. (Spoiler alert: The vestry loved the group’s plan and is sponsoring the next two months of hosting.)

Bridging the generation gap

So how did I spend the last $14?

On relationship! We didn’t have time at the meeting to really flesh out the website content. So I met up after school with Sarah, the confirmand who had taken on the role of web manager, and we spent the $14 on edibles. We began work and created a website that looked professional and polished in under two hours. If you hurry, you can see our homepage.

Technology can be an amazing tool for reaching across the generation gap. It’s not about asking someone to do something because they’re young — or thinking that another person will never get it, because they’re old. Technology can offer a perfect excuse to sit down together to enjoy a few laughs, some good eats and create a polished website.

Joanne Fisher is the Youth Missioner and Director of Communications for the Diocese of Easton on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. A lifelong Episcopalian, she served as Events Coordinator at St. James by-the-Sea in La Jolla, CA, after graduating from UC San Diego, and then moved to Easton, MD, to begin her career in Youth Ministry. She served as the Children’s, Youth & Family Minister at Christ Church Easton for 14 years and has served at the Diocesan level for four. She and her husband, Travis, enjoy curling and geocaching with their daughter, Reilly.


This article is part of the July 2018 Vestry Papers issue on Creative Communications