Shun the Template.
Stay Original

By Gennady Favel

I remember the mid 2000s when Facebook was not yet the social media powerhouse it is today, but some of the people I knew were already on the platform. There were just a few main features back then; you could post photos, write on someone’s wall, write on your own wall, or do the infamous “poke a friend” if you wanted to get their attention but didn’t have anything of substance to say. And so, without much consideration for Likes or comment count, users would post random photos, thoughts, status updates, anything that came to mind. It was interesting, fun, and spontaneous, which is to say, original.

Then a few things changed. First, originality took a back seat to validation as users posted content that they thought would get the most likes and comments, but not necessarily what they themselves found worthwhile. Second, sites made their links Facebook friendly (you know how when you post a link into your feed, Facebook creates a nice preview with the link’s main idea and a photo.) So now instead of writing an opinion about something, all you need to do is post an article that supports your opinion and add a lazy comment such as “couldn’t agree more” or “this sums it up.” No original input needed. Finally, organizations ever-hungry for ways to increase sales, donations, and program participation, flooded social media networks with dull cookie-cutter content that has been filtered through editorial, compliance, management, and marketing departments to the point where whatever reaches the viewer is often a tasteless formless mass, clean, non-offending, and mind-numbingly boring.

The irony is this, while the internet lowers the barrier to entry for getting your message out to an audience, the “templatizing” of content has lowered the quality and value for large volume of content. Some of the biggest offenders are email content platforms. If you’ve noticed that many of the emails you get from different organizations look very similar, then you are not alone. This is because most of the email is created and sent through a few large platforms. These platforms use templates where the sender inputs content. While convenient, the templates are tools of conformity, keeping sections of the email to a certain size and unintentionally pigeonholing the writer. In fact, because these emails are so sanitized and uniform, large email services such as Gmail often send them to the spam folder never to be opened or seen by the intended recipients. This I have already brought to the attention of a few large nonprofit organizations.

So what’s the solution for Jewish organizations that want to stay relevant and grow their reach with online tools? The solution is the age old quality over quantity. Remember, your Federation, Hillel, Chabad House, shul, etc, is not a soda, soap, or consumer goods company that needs to have their brand in the consumer’s face ALL the time. If your organization has resorted to using stock photos (images bought from third party sources that are not from the organization) for your content, you might have received an email from me advising to cut it out. Those are brand destroyers. Instead of following a template to get your message across try the following:

1. Some times it is worth creating content that would be really attractive to a minority percentage of your community or target audience. You can’t appeal to everyone with every message but you can strike at a bullseye with targeted content.

2. Go out on a limb. Nonprofit organizations are there to serve the whole community and the last thing you want to do with your content is be offensive or be perceived as derogatory to anyone. This is why templates and compliance departments are there, to keep things in line. However, for your content to be noticed it has to provide value, and often this means it has to offer something new. If you are planning to post for the 100s time about how many Noble Prize winners are Jewish then it’s time for some serious brainstorming.

3. Before ANY communication goes out through email, social media or in person, know what the goal of this communication is, and then make sure that every word and image of it is aligned with the goal. While it’s okay for some communications to be just “hey we are here” content, too much of that will deplete the audience’s attention and will cause indifference when the important stuff comes. If your open-house, donor engagement, program updates, and message from the leadership content are all starting to look the same then you should be taking a very close look at each of these communication areas.

4. Be interesting. This encompasses the previous three points. Your audience is bombarded by content ALL THE TIME! Your Jewish organization’s message is competing with other organizations, online store ads, with click-bait articles, with WhatsApp messages, with the proverbial pictures of cats doing stuff, with multi-million dollar agencies that strategize 24/7 how to get attention from the same people you are trying to reach. But most of them have a weakness. Their content comes from templates and for the most part adds no value. Your content should add value and your goal is a reaction. If your content can make the viewer smile, you have succeeded. If your content can make the viewer think for a few seconds about what they’ve seen, you have succeeded. If you have presented the viewer with something that they did not previously know, you have succeeded. Shun the templates, find your original voice, and your communication strategy will be a success!

Gennady Favel has led marketing and PR for a number of nonprofit organizations. He is a published author and his articles have appeared in Jewish Week, Jewish Press, Times of Israel, and The Jewish Voice.