Great Events: Promoting Membership

by Jeremy Nash of Prairie Food Co-op
Prairie Food Co-op logo sm
The staff at FCI loves hearing about the great events that startup co-ops offer. They build membership, teach people about co-ops, and bring the communities together over food, and local food systems. FCI wants to share some of these with you in our blog stories on Great Events.
Prairie Food Co-op in Lombard, IL has been successful in building membership by using one-month promotions, and keeping the interest high on social media. Our thanks to Jeremy Nash, co-founder and outreach coordinator of this startup food cooperative, for sharing this Great Event with us. For more information on these promotions, email Jeremy at jerry@prairiefood.coop. Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

At Prairie Food Co-op, we have been very successful at running promotions. They are an effective way of increasing membership numbers, but require thoughtful planning and interaction. The following is a list of the basics we have found to be most helpful.

Identify a realistic goal
The Facts PRairie Food PromosOur standard is the month-long promotion with the aim of getting around new 30 member/owners, but you can successfully use other time frames and goals. The more urgent the timeframe, the more chance of success is promised. If you want potential owners to be engaged, they’ve got to “see” the goal. A two week or month-long goal is easy to see, while a multi-month goal may be too long to maintain focus.

Choose an appropriate enticement
Knowing your community and potential member base is important. Consider how much you are willing to spend. Anything you can get for free or a deal is a plus. Often, a farmer or business will be happy to provide the prize for free or reduced cost, knowing the value the promotion will bring them. Or ask your owners for freebies. People welcome a chance to help the co-op if they’re too busy to help by volunteering. One or our owners donated four Cubs tickets, which we changed to two pairs to use as an incentive and we signed up 23 new member/owners in less than a week.

A few ideas for enticements:
CSA share (fruit, veggie, meat, fish), Arboretum/Museum Membership, gift card at local restaurant, theater, sports and local event tickets, locally made art, spa pass, etc. The sky’s the limit!

Messaging
Before announcing your promo, thoughtful planning of messaging is key to keeping your community engaged while the promo is going on. Name your promo something catchy, but simple, like “30 in 30” or “25 to Thrive”. You’ll be writing this a lot so make sure it’s not too complicated and can be incorporated into more specific messaging and easily hashtagged (#30in30!).

An effective medium to communicate your promo is your newsletter. Make sure the newsletter is to the point and doesn’t contain too much information. The promo doesn’t have to be the only topic in the newsletter, but it should be just one of a few topics. Make sure you have a link inside the newsletter that takes the receiver to your owner signup page.

Facebook
Prairie Food Coop screen shot FBSocial media can be a very valuable tool. We use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but Facebook has proven to be most effective. Understanding it’s pacing and algorithms will help produce results. Check out the Prairie Food Facebook page for a real life example.

Post at least three times a day if you can. Around 10 am, 2 pm, and early evening are the best times. Posting too early, too late, around commute times, or around mealtimes will limit your views. When running a promo, two of these posts should be related to the promo. They can be new member/owner announcements, the promo itself, or the website of the prize you are raffling* off.

A graphic that lists all of the details of the promo so you don’t have to write the details of the promo every time you post is very helpful. When the pic is clicked, it should send them to your member/owner signup page on your website. Countdown (15 to Go!, 10 to Go!, 5 to Go!) graphics are effective too.

Welcome your new owners as they come in. Some co-ops welcome four or five new members at a time in a post, which is necessary sometimes, but I believe it’s more effective to post owner welcomes one at a time to maintain an appearance of steady growth.

Make sure that as many people as possible see your posts, or at least the important ones. Here are a few tips on getting more eyes on your promo posts.

• Tell your audience to “like”, comment, and share the post within the post itself.
• Share the post in as many appropriate community Facebook groups and pages as possible.
• “Like” your own posts! Each “like” you receive increases your views. I “like” each post we make as myself, our co-op page, and two other pages that I am admin for.
• Boosting your post can be very effective, especially if you use Facebook’s targeting tool where you can target your preferred audience for your post by criteria such as city, gender, age, and what pages they like. Be aware that after you boost a post, the organic numbers you achieved before you boosted will dramatically sink for a period of time.

If your ongoing membership drive seems to be stuck and you are not getting any traction, consider a mini-promo that will get you rebooted. This has worked for us on multiple occasions. Our recent Cubs tickets promo was a mini-promo. We found that we got a large majority of our goal in the last 24 hours of our promo.

Prairie Food CUBS tix winnersAnd the Winner Is!
If you don’t meet your goal you don’t have to post about it. Most people won’t notice. However, if your promo was a success, shout it to the world.

If you’ve got the time, have fun with it. You can write all the names down on a piece of paper and make a video of a cute kid drawing the name from a hat, but wait to announce the winner until you have contacted them and they are interested in the prize. Some people, especially in cases where you mix promotions or the prize is time sensitive, may not want the prize or be able to use it. Alternately you can use whatever online random generator you want. No one has to know that you didn’t go to all the trouble of pulling a name out of a hat. In this case you can just announce the winning member in a post with a link to the prize they’ll be winning.

This example is by no means exhaustive, but I am confident that if you follow most of the advice listed, you will have a successful member/owner promotion. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at jerry@prairieood.coop.

Good luck!

FCI: Why We Like This:  A series of promotions like these shared by Prairie Food Co-op can successfully build and maintain excitement around membership, as well as keep the co-op active in the public eye. Getting enticing prizes is a key that may require a great negotiator from the co-op group, but also can build community relationships. Your group can decide on prizes based on available donations and your own budget. This is a great example of effective use of social media to reach new and existing member/owners. The fact that it can be repeated with minimum effort is a big plus.

*A note on Raffles: Some states and municipalities have laws regarding the use of raffles. Be sure to check in your area.

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