If You Film It, Will They Come?

by Ephraim Gopin

Background: This past Sunday, Bank Leumi, Israel’s second largest bank, cancelled their 2 million Shekel YouTube/Facebook contest for nonprofits in Israel – in mid-contest.

The basic rules were the same as last year: NPOs were encouraged to sign up and submit a promotional video. Over 15 days, people could “Like” their favorite video/s on the Bank Leumi YouTube channel. At the end of the contest, the top vote-getters would receive a monetary prize from Bank Leumi.

The entire premise of the contest was challenged already last year by many and the debacle of cancelling the contest in the middle this year may spell the end of this type of contest here.

I’d like to look at this contest from the view of nonprofits; specifically, what were they thinking by entering the contest? Do they understand how online promotional videos work?

Two mind-boggling statistics:

This means that the odds of someone seeing your video are miniscule – and the odds of a video going “viral” smaller than that. Just because you film and upload a promotional video is not a guarantee that millions will see it. In fact, the most likely scenario is that your hard core supporters, volunteers and donors will watch it and some will pass it along to their friends via Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets. But to assume that thousands will see it and will want to donate to your NPO based on the video is sheer folly.

Let’s look at the Leumi contest for a second:

The contest’s foundation was based on popularity; the more people who “Like” your video, the more your NPO moves up and will receive money. But with over 150 NPOs entering the contest, what are the odds anyone will see your video? Yes, the people on your mailing list will vote. And they will encourage their friends and maybe SOME of them will vote. But for the general public, they do not want to watch 150 promotional videos and decide who to vote for. So the odds of your video making the top 20 if you don’t have thousands of hard-core supporters? It’s not worth the investment your NPO made to produce the video.

I watched last year’s contest closely. The winner not only had an excellent video but an “army” of thousands of volunteers throughout Israel who made sure to vote every day. After the first three days of voting, the Top 10 pretty much stabilized – except for one video. I saw this video on Day 2 of the contest (yes – I watched all 100+ entries last year) and as soon as I started showing it around, everyone ‘Liked it’ immediately.

Guess what? The video started in the fifties but after a few days, it shot up into the Top 10. This video started flying around Facebook and Twitter – and anyone who saw it voted DAILY for this NPO. I believe in the end his video came in fourth place.

The video above is a good example of how I think NPOs should approach promotional videos and how, if you hit the right chord, the video will make its way around the Web. Put simply: Tell a story! How? A few tips:

  • Think narrow – this is not a Hollywood production for the mass market. Speak to your hard core supporters and use it as a platform to entice others to join.
  • It’s not about showcasing your amazing work, it’s not about facts or statistics. Tell a story and the rest is “background decoration”.
  • The story of one; There are many people in Israel who suffer from ALS – but one person’s story tells you everything you need to know about the organization.
  • Emotional or funny videos work well – dry videos generally do not.
  • Film what PEOPLE like – not what YOU like! Why do cat videos go viral? Because people like cats!
  • The “Ask” – if you don’t tell people what to do, they won’t do anything! Ask people to donate, volunteer, spread the word etc.

NPO’s should know in advance: even the best videos are not seen by the majority. So maybe it’s time to think a little differently about the videos they produce.

Bonus: Here’s one expert’s opinion on creating funny videos which have the potential to go viral.

Ephraim Gopin is a Social Media and Fundraising consultant. He works with nonprofits to get them started using social media to engage, cultivate relationships and, ultimately, fundraise. Read Ephraim’s blog to learn more about using social media for fundraising.