John Haydon is the founder of Inbound Zombie, a social media marketing firm based in Cambridge, MA. He is also a partner at the SocialBrite consulting group, a partner at Charityhowto.com, co-founder of , and the author of Facebook Marketing for Dummies. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of Nonprofit Marketing 360 and a frequent contributor to the MKCREATIVE blog.
MKC: How did you make the leap from for-profit to nonprofit marketing?
JOHN: I’ve always thought that I want to leave a mark on the world somehow, but it really became a stronger motivation with the birth of my son eight years ago. Your whole mindset about the world completely changes. Suddenly you reflect upon “What am I doing? How am I being aexample?” I had a career in selling and marketing at for-profit companies, and I was getting more disillusioned with the model. For-profit really means the bottom line is about the money. I worked for a small software company that started as a private company with about 30 people and it was great. It then went public and had about 600 employees, and I experienced that change, from 30 employees really valuing each other’s families and personal lives, to a size where you are literally just a cell on a spreadsheet. I saw friends with families being let go when the economy started tanking. I started telling myself, “I need to do something to prepare.”
I started work on the side with friends who worked with nonprofits. I found that I had a lot of competencies for marketing to help them with their events, with websites, with stuff they might be doing with social media. At that time Facebook was starting to gain interest. I found that I could fill a gap or niche. People started saying, “My friend told me about you. Can we give you money?” And I thought, “Wow! Maybe I can do this for a living!” I became more serious about putting myself out there. My business was/is built 100% on blogging, and now my income is more than I was making at my last job. I think I did a lot of things right. I also was able to hook up with the right people. I also was sincere about my effort. I really do want to help nonprofits in the cheapest way possible, and still make a living at it.
MKC: Following you on Twitter, one gets the impression you spend the greater part of your day in the coffeehouses of Cambridge. On the other hand, to look at the activities on your website, it appears that you don’t ever sleep. Which is closer to the truth?
JOHN: I work a lot of hours. That’s why I need all the coffee at the coffeehouses! Realistically, I’d say I work 70 hours a week, but the thing is, I’m doing something I love. I try to get some sleep. I do a lot of work, but I love it, so it’s almost as if I can’t stop doing it.
MKC: Has the nature of your consulting for clients evolved as the social-media landscape has evolved?
JOHN: It’s certainly always evolving. For me, in a way it’s easy. I spend most of my time probably on Facebook and blogging, which haven’t really changed too much. Part of my job, and most of what keeps me up at night, is staying current or even ahead-of-the-curve about where Facebook is. When I think of social media or talk with nonprofits about social media, I say, “Yes, there are many social-media sites, but you know what? You need to start with Facebook first because everybody and their mother is on Facebook.” Many of the approaches and strategies that you develop through using Facebook you can apply to other things.
MKC: Is blogging something you recommend to your clients?
JOHN: I do, but they have to have the resources. If it’s a single person and they have no online presence at all, or if their website looks like garbage, you have to start there. You have to fix up the website. You’ve got to start email marketing strategies. Then take on Facebook, and then blogging − in that order. It really depends on the kinds of resources.
It also depends on their goals. If a client comes to me and says, “We really need to get our website found. We need to build up a presence on social media and in search engines,” then usually the most powerful way to do that is blogging. And then we have to build a content strategy. What are you going to blog? How often? How are you different from other blogs that are often blogging about the same exact thing? What are you going to say that’s different and compelling and gets people to share your stuff?
MKC: You mentioned what keeps you awake at night, besides the coffee. What’s keeping your clients awake? What are they concerned about?
JOHN: Many of them are just overwhelmed by the feeling that technology is changing so much. There’s text messaging, there’s mobile devices, there’s the iPad….The effort to prepare their materials for all that keeps them up at night. The thing that I think should keep them up at night is how their messaging works and how they are talking about their organizations. A lot of nonprofits that I deal with think the way to put content out there or engage people in social media is to say, “Here’s the latest news about us… Here’s another bit of news about us… Here’s something we think you need to know about us…” There needs to be shift to focus on who is your audience, and who are you as a nonprofit? Once we have those ideas coming together, let’s talk about messaging. What’s going to resonate with these people based on who you are what they want to hear? Then it all will start to make sense.
It’s fundamental marketing, and many nonprofits don’t get it. It’s not that surprising. Their background is the nonprofit. They really want to do good. They haven’t had a background in marketing. Unfortunately, even a good idea will not spread out on its own.
MKC: I saw on the 501 Mission site that you are co-founder. Is training a big part of your role or business?
JOHN: Training is a big part of my business model, how I make revenue. I make tons of free videos and I put them on my blog. I have a YouTube channel. But I also do webinars for Charity How-To. My philosophy is that I want to show people how to do stuff. It almost seems like people who do similar work to mine withhold information. They don’t want to give away the goods. I don’t mind giving away the goods. I don’t mind showing them exactly what to do practically, but what I do is quite tactical. Even in my free videos I show what to do, but I’ll also explain why you want to do it. What they ultimately hire me for is how to make all that work for their specific organization. It’s really about the strategic piece and how it works for their particular projects.
Frankly, the videos also are a way to demonstrate that I actually know something! When I talk with people, the ones who might hire me, I hope they think, “I like this guy. I like his sensibility. What he’s talking about is straightforward and not using jargon or trying to be elitist about anything. He’s an average guy. Let’s see if I can hire him.” That’s why I use video.
I record my videos for the blog. For the webinars that I do, it’s really about 20% PowerPoint and 80% clicking online, showing how to do something and why they want to do it − especially for Facebook, which is still really confusing for many people.
MKC: What drives you?
JOHN: I think the fundamental issue for me, what makes me me, is being a dad. You want to be a hero for your son. But the truth is, you could be any job − you could be a struggling janitor − and your son will still think of you as The Hero if you have the behavior. The best thing that I am, the thing that makes me happy, is being a dad. Everything else branches off from that. You are a provider. You are a protector. You are a change-maker. You are a leader maybe in your neighborhood or even broader than that.
Being a dad rather dictates your identity. I don’t think of myself as a marketer, as an online consultant for nonprofits. Those are roles, and I love them, but they don’t dictate who you are, how you behave, the ethic and the passion you have. You could be an online marketer for nonprofits and be a total loser! But to be a dad, you have to stand up.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.
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