What Is A Social CEO? Ian Adair Shares What You Need To Know

Welcome to episode 4 of Causes Getting Attention, a digital marketing podcast where we interview nonprofit marketing and industry professionals on how they’re leveraging digital channels like email, social media, and content marketing to reach their organization’s goals.

In this episode, we have the pleasure of speaking with Ian Adair, CEO of the Gracepoint Foundation. As a CEO, Ian is responsible for raising awareness, financial support, and the promotion of programs and services at Gracepoint. During our conversation, Ian explains what a social CEO is and shares helpful tips for other CEOs looking to get more involved in social media.

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Ian Adair - Nonprofits Source

Who Is Ian Adair?

Ian Adair is a fundraising expert and three-time nonprofit CEO who has raised tens of millions of dollars by focusing on one strategy – winning donor attention.

Ian has been fortunate to have success leading corporate and nonprofit teams, volunteer boards, and front-line staff around the country to further program growth and impact.

In 2016, Ian was chosen as one of the Top 100 Must-Follow Giving Influencers on Twitter. Ian is the CEO of the Gracepoint Foundation and also operates a speaking and professional development firm, Strategy 27. LLC.

Connect With Ian:

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What Is Your Role As CEO Of The Gracepoint Foundation?

Jason: So how do you see your role as an executive director for the Gracepoint Foundation. What is your sole objective?

Ian: I mean my sole objective for the foundation really is to bring awareness to what the organization of what Gracepoint is. Gracepoint is the largest Behavioral Health Organization of West Florida. We have 700 employees we service and help them support in some way between 22 and 25000 individuals each year through some aspect of our programs and services. So when you talk about mental health we talk about behavioral health. You just want to make it relatable to people in the community easily understand the importance of it and the impact that you work. And that’s really the objective of what we’re trying to do at the foundation.

Jason: Funny enough, I think today is World Mental Health Awareness Day. So it’s very topical very ingrained in our culture to try and figure out exactly how can we help people who are struggling and there’s also a stigma attached to it as well. So there are some challenges in terms with the communication to bring that to light. You find that as a challenge on your own in your own right trying to get that awareness across to the broader audience?

Ian: We do. And you said it best there is a stigma associated with mental illness and there’s a fear there are also people really look at people who suffer and I guess you can relate to understand that. How are you going to react if you lose a job if you lose a loved one if something traumatic happens to yo?. And that’s what a lot of the folks that are experiencing a lot of things that we talk about the depression anxiety those kind of things of experience. And so we need to make it to where it’s easy to talk about it safe to talk about so we share a lot of stories and we found that in sharing stories instead of just the autistics you open up the lines for communication to where it’s a lot more. Safe to talk about. And you feel comfortable doing.

What Challenges Do Nonprofit Digital Marketers Face?

Jason: What is the single biggest challenge that nonprofit marketers face when trying to tackle digital?

Ian: I think well there’s a couple of problems. One of the things that I see over and over again is you always have somebody in your organization that wants to try things, who wants to do it and I think there’s some pushback either from leadership, the administrative staff whether it’s the CEO or the board or maybe some pushback from the programmatic staff they don’t feel comfortable jumping in social media or digital marketing.

And so I think it is trying to find out you know who can you get what influencers within the organization what influence of a leadership. Who on the programmatic staff that might be willing to step up and show people that it can be done and show people that you can have some fun and success with it. There’s a few things that marketers have to deal with. I think sometimes internally that’s fear.

I think maybe externally. Knowing that what they’re doing is worth the time of your organization and not getting too caught up in it especially what I would call the vanity metrics just the number of views or clicks or likes. But understanding that there’s a long tail return on investment (ROI) to this and that is there’s a lot of people searching your organization or looking you up. Just to see the kind of person and organization you are.

Again it’s a new way of expressing what your mission values are and how you interact with people. It’s good to have that there because if it’s not there there’s a good chance a lot of people are going to move on. So I think a lot of marketers when they’re looking to jump it face a couple of challenges. If you just have to slowly work your way to address those by finding some people who are willing enough to take that first step with you.

How Can Nonprofits Leverage Marketing Technologies Like AR, VR, or Chat Bots?

Jason: Shifting the conversation towards marketing technologies and looking at the future. What are some of your thoughts of how nonprofits can start leveraging AR, VR, voice first Chat Bots, AI, I don’t know how many other acronyms there are, but I’m sure there are.

Ian: It’s funny because, the debate of the importance of Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and AR, VR, Voice. They’re already here and groups are already starting to implement them because they’re starting to see the ROI of having those technologies.

I think within the next five years you’re going to see a pretty full integration at scale because cost are down so much. Before if you wanted to shoot a video 5 of 6 years ago it would cost 5 or 6 thousand dollars. If you wanted to find a platform it would cost money. Now they’re free. There’s no barrier to entry. People are now starting to embrace the technology.

In the nonprofit sector I see VR and voice being the two implemented the fastest. I think virtual reality has an opportunity to share with people, I think if it’s a destination, or an understanding of something a lot better without having to physically be at that destination. I think if you’re thinking of people who don’t have capacity to see the sustainability and development work done on another continent.

Something like mental illness, there’s several virtual reality apps out there right now that can help stimulate what something going through schizophrenia or depression or some of these triggers we talk about, what they experience they can experience through VR and that makes it real for the person. We’re talking about applications now that can make the donor experience feel like the client experience and what greater way to experience empathy for when you’re giving to an organization than to go through that.

The applications for this technology is endless. I know museums and international aid organizations are using them. I think for the future of nonprofit organizations you have to start taking, what I call getting your reps in the batting cages now with things like social and digital because once these other technologies are at scale you’ll be a much better place to jump in and utilize them and have a greater comfortability.

When Did You Get Involved In Social Media?

Jason: When did you start to get involved in social media? I mean I see your post on maybe three or four times a day from my feed and you’re just a brand ambassador for the organization that you start. How did that get started?

Ian: That started like a lot of people I fought it for a long time. You know I was the guy that fought texting for a long time, Jason. So it was it was just one of those things where I finally said You know I’m noticing something here. Notice the evolution in where people want to go to communicate. I’m noticing that more people would rather text than actually pick up a phone call. You know I started noticing that people preferred the quickness and efficiency of social media and I think it took me some time to get to that place but I think it’s realizing that former communication was giving back to people something they valued a lot which was time.

So it was probably around 2010 right before the birth of my son and then obviously I wanted to be that the really cool husband that stayed up and did all the late night feedings. So I stayed. I stood up and I was feeding my son early in the morning or late at night. And I started learning and getting on Twitter on Facebook more and understand looking through LinkedIn and watching the evolution of that platform and just really kind of being a practitioner and you can only learn by getting in there and doing it. You can’t just read about it and make a decision. So I wanted to be a practitioner at social media.

How Long Did It Take To Get Traction On Social Media?

Ian: This is a great question. It takes a while. I tell people it’s a marathon game. It’s something you have to do consistently to get good at.  It’s like health. I could do five push-ups right now it’s not going to do anything for me or I can do them slowly over time and then see a difference. You have to slowly get in there for people that jump in social media and want immediate results they’re not going to find them. A lot of people contact me and say:

I don’t know, Ian social media is not working for me. I post every day on Twitter about our event and nobody showed up from that link. We got no ticket sales.

You’ll go and you’ll review what they did and it was the same thing every day for six months. Same link same content same photo. And it’s kind of humorous that way and so I go you you’re disrespectful to people on that platform with the way you are communicating. People on social see that a mile away and they’ll stop reading you don’t follow you, they’ll block you whatever it is because you’re taking  their time because you’re not putting effort in that communication.

So that’s kind of the way I look at getting traction. I don’t get frustrated when my numbers don’t change after a few weeks or a few months because I see the numbers go up and down. So I see maybe some of the content provided value to somebody and maybe it didn’t provide value to others. And so you keep experimenting with what it is you put out to see what gets the most engagement and then you do that for a while and you’ll see that maybe your audience has become either desensitized to that or seen too much of it.

Prototype a little bit more and you find out what gets engagement. That’s how you get traction. That’s all I did. It took a couple years of being a practitioner and figuring out how to get noticed and how to become involved in conversations to start seeing what value I can add. And then people started picking up and follow me after that.

Stronger Than Stigma Event

Jason: So, I want to shift the conversation a little bit to a recent project that you worked on I believe it was the Stronger Than Stigma event that was held in June. Can you explain what that event was and what steps you took to lead up to it?

Ian: Stronger Than Stigma was a first year event for us and a bit of an experiment. Held in June like you said and the goal was to bring together really for the first time in our agency’s history a diverse group of people whether it’s generational, cultural, or socioeconomic who are all connected with the single issue of mental health.

You know there was a little bit of fear before that maybe our region of the state of Florida Tampa area wasn’t ready for that. And I think the unique thing was that we were able to look at a lot of different ways we could promote it to socialize it first and lay the groundwork for the success of the event.

Leading up to it we told stories to get people excited about it to where when you actually got to the event day itself it was a success and then we had to make sure we use communication tools for what happened afterwards, which is just a ton of momentum for the organization to get involved and get plugged in in some way. And so that took a lot. Of tactical things both socially digitally to make happen.

The Specific Strategies And Tactics

Jason: This wasn’t something that a week before the event and sent out an e-mail blast to your list. There’s actually a lot of commitment that went into creating this campaign. Can you speak a little bit more to the specific strategies and tactics that you eluded to?

Ian: Sure. You know you have to look at a new event a lot of traditional nonprofits special event planning and logistics usually takes four to five months. But I think when you look at trying something new like this in an area that’s still a little bit hard to talk about like we explained. You have to start a lot further down the road.

We made sure that if we’re going to be an agency that talks about issues that are tough to talk about we have to find a way to socialize that and make it comfortable. The first thing we did about 10 11 months before the event was held a photo shoot with our board members and have an opportunity for them to express on those images just quotes about why they’re connected to the mission why they support what we do, why mental health is so important.

Then we pushed those out to the public slowly at first. Then we started to do it at scale on each of our digital and social platforms. And that got people talking. And I think that’s what we wanted to do is to really get people talking and see who’s involved and who’s be comfortable with who’s involved. So by the time we lead up to the event it was one that was a very natural easy transition for a lot of people to come into and have a lot of fun and for it to be a success.

Gracepoint Foundation’s Social Media Experiment

Jason: I think it goes back to what we had mentioned at the beginning of the conversation where being a social CEO or having high level members within the organizations being active. What were some of the results that you saw as you were inviting these board members to take part in more of the social media experiment when promoting this event?

Ian: Well I think you know being a social CEO means you have to get involved and work at it to where you know it’s hard at first and its maybe uncomfortable but it becomes seamless and comfortable throughout your work day and work week and for a lot of people especially when you talk about a board you’re talking about a wide range of comfortability and in technology. Use in social use and who feels comfortable on what platform. I don’t think we have one board member that feels comfortable on all platforms or one that feels comfortable on doing a photo shoot versus maybe doing a live video but we do have a lot of people that have comfort somewhere and so we wanted to just kind of go all in on where that comfort level was and then encourage them to share.

If you’re a big fan of LinkedIn and you enjoy that platform that’s where you feel your social and comfortably on social media. We had pushed out there and bring awareness to what we do. Some people were more Facebook people and some people were more micro content like on Twitter and just learned to share a link and say support and add their quota image. So we just found where everyone is comfortable and spending some time with folks to figure out where that is and encourage them to do it and then have them report back to the group what that success was because that helped encourage and spur others on to get involved.

It Only Takes One Fan

Jason: Yeah it’s funny because it only ever really takes one fan to promote change and get the engagement that you’re looking for. I was watching a video earlier today actually. And they were talking about how people beat themselves down when they’ve only got 70 views on a video or they’ve only you know they only have one or two comments or likes on a post or something.

And in the video the person that was giving a presentation I believe is what it was he was saying you should actually celebrate those wins. I mean one person engaging with you is one more person than you had the day before. And not just kind of becomes a compounding effect.

Ian: It does. I think sometimes when we explore something new like social media and digital marketing we get caught up in the numbers and we have to understand especially the nonprofit sector needs to understand it’s not about width it’s about depth.

You can have 100 true fans true that support your mission they’re going to engage and communicate and share. That’s going to be more impactful to your organization. Whether if you just have a thousand people that were outliers that never really engaged with your content or for that matter shared want to share it with the world.

We get caught up in these metrics. People are just diving into social media now don’t understand how algorithms have changed a lot over the last five to eight years. And so organic reach has become a little bit difficult. So you have to learn tactical things to put yourself in front of people that make yourself searchable to make yourself for lack of a better word findable on social. And I think we’ve seen how the evolution of platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn and Instagram; what tactics you have to start doing to make that possible.

What Were The Outcomes Of Promoting Your Event On Social Media?

Jason: Up to this point we’ve talked about, with relation to the Stronger Than Stigma event, we’ve talked about sharing stories, getting shareholder/boarder member involvement, what were some of the outcomes that you realized as a result of promoting your event on social media?

Ian: For us soon as we started getting a little more in-depth with segmenting. As soon as we started to really have a true focus on being aware of context and each platform and what not to do. We started seeing a lot more engagement and I think we just started when we started on Instagram we just want to get content out there so when people searched us or found us they saw that we just didn’t start the day before.

So we were little just you know you’re a little heavy on let’s build it up a little bit. I was trying to get a lot of stuff out there so when people fall upon us in some way whether it’s search and hashtag or whether it’s somebody that we reached out to that we know and they see that we’re following them and they follow us back. We wanted to make sure that whatever we put on our platform in some way the goal was to provide value whether it is to provide value to somebody searching just to want to learn more about mental health whether it’s just someone wanting more and more about our services.

When I say provide value I think we have to really take a step back and make sure that we provide value to whoever the end user is and not just to the nonprofit. I think we get kind of, maybe stuck in a pattern of just pushing information out that we want to get out whether it’s about an event, or program, a campaign and we need to start looking at what’s valuable to the consumer and so those were kind of the early tactics that we did launch and then we became more specific to the platform and to the audience on that platform as we went on.

How Do You Explain The Value Of A Social CEO?

Jason: How do you explain or persuade that the value and investments into social media marketing are as important as other functions of the organization?

Ian: It’s taking the time. In getting out there and being social again providing value and I think when people start to research you, look up your organization, look up who leadership is. Let’s take a fundraising example. We know from research that 70% to 80% of people before they write a check to your organization thy’re going to look up your website, your social media and see how you communicate to your audience to your donors because they don’t feel comfortable with who they’re giving money to and if you’re in that space and they see that you’re communicating they see that you’re showing recognition expressing gratitude and engaging with your audience they’re going to feel comfortable with who you are.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to engage with you right away. They’re looking to see who it is you are. Social media has done anything. It’s really exposed those, who they care about, how they interact and having an opportunity just to be in that space and for people to see that you’re somebody who is authentic and genuine and really caring about what you do makes a huge difference in their decision whether or not they’re going to give or support your organization or even share information that they find valuable.

Trustworthiness & Thought Leadership Online Matter

Jason: I mean it’s a trust factor when they want to see someone that’s established especially if they’re going to give any amount of money. The whole online space I think inherently has this fear of an unknown. Is this organization really where they say they are? I think some of that has to do with how easy it is to spin up a website these days and how cost effective it is to do so.

But it’s also a thought leadership aspect as well where you’re putting yourself out there as the number one afficionado in your topic or subject and you’re doing deep dive conversations on specific topics within that industry that you can speak to and lend your expertise. Whereas before it might have been confined to a boardroom. Now you’re actually able to create these ideas and transfer them over into an online space.

Ian: There’s just a lot of value and I 100% agree with what you said. When I talk to CEOs whether they’re nonprofit CEOs or small business owners or whoever it is about the benefits of social media and their fear of jumping in. I think people researching how you respond, act. and interact on social and digital is really replaced that tab we all used to have on our websites and still do. Where it talks about our vision mission and values of the organization.

It’s one thing to say something and nice font and bold it on your website. It’s another thing to go out and display that each and every day each and every week with your audience with your customers with your donors and how you actually are. I think that replaces what used to be because people see it each and every day you’re living by example showing what your values are when you interact with somebody who’s upset with your organization or you’re expressing gratitude to an event or a staff a whoever it is you’re really showing who you are social and that that is the authenticity that people want to see.

How Can CEO’s Get Started In Social Media?

Jason: Pretend that I am a CEO or Executive director of a nonprofit, I’ve never touch any digital channels no social media. I have a Website but I’m interested in getting more involved. What would you tell me, where should I invest my resources, and how should I start?

Ian: That’s a good one. I’m assuming you’ve been in a coma for the last 15 years in this scenario, right? That’s a tough one but it’s happening. It’s real. You know usually I like asking people how do you like your information first. Because if you’re going to start something if you’re really truly starting from ground zero; let’s talk about you first. Let’s get self-aware with how you like getting information. Is it in short form? Is it in long form? Is it in audio or video? And let’s put that down on paper.

If we’re going to jump in, let’s jump in with something that you’re comfortable with and you put that on paper. I think you take the opportunity to look at and ask your audience. We don’t survey our audiences enough, we don’t ask them for information enough we don’t let them help dictate how they receive information.

One of the tricks that I started doing to help with segmentation and communication is when you have a donor card or you have an opportunity to fill anything out at an event. Just adding a couple more questions. How do you like to receive your information? Is it text or e-mail? Is it social media? Do you like to be tagged on things? Do you like being recognized by photos on things. Find out what your audience likes and you’ll normally find that you have a lot of similarities. But, when it comes down to just starting out I think you have to say OK this is what I like. What I feel about communication might have a little bias. That’s why I have people do this exercise. But when I hear from my audience I find it’s a little different.

So if you’re just going to start out don’t just start out with what you feel comfortable with. I think you need to start out with when your audience is comfortable with. I think when you do that exercise of you in one column and them in another column you’re going to learn something about communication you’re going to learn something about how it’s evolved and what people are moving towards then maybe you might not have before and that’s why you haven’t started before.

It takes a while to figure out what your biases are. They don’t call it unconscious bias for no reason – you don’t think about it. And I think when you do this type of activity really finding out what biases you have because communication technology and you’re learning at the same time from your audience group and from donor group that OK I need to do something that provides value to them and not just me.
Jump in where you know your audience is and just go on that journey with them. They’re going to see how raw you are and how genuine you are. They’re not going to look for how sharp your posts are your, links are in your photos. They’re going to understand you’re jumping in and they’re going to appreciate the fact that you’re trying to meet them in their space.

What Are Gracepoint Foundation’s Future Digital Goals?

Jason: Looking forward how are you planning to reach Gracepoint Foundation’s digital goals? What are some of the things that you want to start experimenting with, dabbling with, and what’s your take on the future of the organization?

Ian: Well we’re really excited actually the momentum in the success we’ve had laying the foundation was not just getting people to jump in. Educating first, talking about the value of it. Talking about why we’re going to do it this way and then slowly start stepping into the pool and realize that we can have little successes along the way.

Share what those are, so that’s the instant gratification that I want people to see because some people like to wait just a second to see somebody else’s success was or what their experience was and that convinces everyone else to take that next step too so knowing that we’ve taken that first step knowing that we built the foundation.

We got a lot of goals set for us this year and future and all of those things have to do with really jumping in to a more in that video long form and short form video PSA type things to get people’s attention concerning what our mission is and the impact of our organization.

But even longer form video to really share with people why people get involved with our organization. Asking questions like: why is it that you give? What was that moment in time that said you know what this organization something I want to be a part of. Because those stories are extremely powerful to new donors and the general audience.

Keeping them engaged and informed with new people and the excitement around that. I think the other thing we’re looking to do as we start moving into the video is really understand that some things are becoming more and more popular. And we’ve seen how voice has really grown over the last couple of years in terms of the voice equipment community out there with Google home and Alexa and all these things and voice search is on the rise and they’re talking about 30% of all searches will be on Voice by 2020.

So while you do you see things are merging and gaining traction. You want to jump in now really become a practitioner now because when it’s that scale you’ll be there and you’ll be relevant.

Creating Authentic Video Content

Jason: One of the common themes that I see particularly with video but also content in general is focusing on the process. Really talking about the behind the scenes aspect of your organization. Do you see yourself creating content around that aspect as well? And if so how important do you think that is?

Ian: Incredibly important. I think people want to see authentic video. It’s kind of why one of the most searched and viewed sections on Netflix is the documentary section. Surprisingly a lot of people because people like that behind the scenes footage because it’s the most genuine.

I think if you only produce video that’s the way you want to do it and it’s only has what you want to get out then I don’t think it comes off as authentic as you wish it did. I’m much more about sharing the moment. You can do a Facebook Live of your event but that’s not going to be as interesting to somebody as maybe the Facebook Live of your event while you’re setting up while people are running around moving because that’s attention grabbing and that’s genuine and people like to see the behind the scenes stuff.

So it becomes a debate on whether or not you should document or create. And I think when you create video sometimes you’re limiting yourself to the attention you’re going to get for it. I think when you document it people find that raw authenticity something that grabs their attention draws them in and makes them want to be a part of what it is you’re doing

Jason: Document, be authentic, provide value. I think if you can do those three things on all three mediums written, video, and audio you’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.

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  1. November 25, 2018

    I forgot to mention, we just launched a new digital marketing course. You can watch the full webinar here (no email required); https://nonprofitssource.com/digital-marketing-courses/digital-marketing/

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