A narrative storytelling organization that publishes, teaches and promotes storytelling as an essential tool to transform lives, organizations, and society at large
DoR (Decât o Revistă)
30 to 40 percent
As the Romanian narrative storytelling organization Decat o Revista (DoR) headed into 2020, they were midway through their transition from a quarterly print magazine to a digital member-driven newsroom and events organizer. (Today, DoR still publishes the magazine, but it is no longer their core product.) The pandemic swiftly eliminated many of DoR’s other revenue streams, such as large, live events. As a result, they realized they had to accelerate the slow but steady membership growth that began in 2019.
Inspired by Zetland’s “members-getting-members campaign,” which MPP also documented in the Membership Guide, they launched an ambassador campaign, appealing to their existing members and “endorsers” – public figures with large social media followings who already read DoR’s journalism – with the goal of doubling their membership, from 2,250 people to 4,500.
By the end of the six-week campaign, DoR exceeded their goal, bringing in 2,500 new members. At the end of 2020, they had 4,920 members. This case study will share how they planned, staffed, and executed their campaign.
Why this is important
When newsrooms make their membership growth plans, many of them forget about one of the most powerful acquisition tools they have: the enthusiasm of their members. Membership is, among other things, an opportunity to enlist your core supporters in your quest for impact and sustainability.
From a process and tech perspective, DoR’s campaign wasn’t that difficult. They did this with a simple set of digital tools. They didn’t offer ambassadors a bunch of swag – just the opportunity to be a part of a positive story in a year where there weren’t many.
The success of the campaign can be attributed to three things:
- Meticulous planning
- The formation of a team to own the campaign tasks
- The strength of DoR’s community
MPP will detail the first two below. If you don’t yet have a strong community gathered around your work, you should work on that first, beginning with MPP’s research, “Developing memberful routines.” But if you do, then a successful ambassador campaign is completely achievable.
What they did
DoR first began discussing an ambassador campaign in summer 2020, when they realized the impact that the pandemic would have on their business. Community manager Carla Lunguți led the planning process, which featured these key steps:
They created pop-up teams. They began by assembling a five-person exploratory team to establish the mission, targets, and technological needs of the campaign. The team included Lunguți, plus their visual editor, newsletter editor, product manager, and coach.
In September, they replaced the exploratory team with a campaign execution team, led once again by Lunguți and including the product manager and visual editor. To accommodate the different needs of campaign mode, they added the newsroom manager (to handle customer service), their communications manager, and their developer. Founding editor Cristian Lupsa also periodically joined the meetings to review their plans with fresh eyes.
They identified their campaign schedule. Although most campaigns are three to four weeks, they decided on six weeks. They were worried about the aggressiveness of a shorter campaign during the pandemic and originally planned eight weeks, with plans to end on DoR’s 11th anniversary on Nov. 15, but they were not ready to launch on Sept. 15, so they shifted to a six-week campaign that began Oct. 1.
The campaign had three distinct phases:
- Weeks 1 and 2: Launch and introduce the central campaign message: that stories heal. The DoR team wrote on Medium, “The healing potential of journalism and storytelling is the thread that runs through many of our editorial decisions: the stories we publish are human-centred, following experiences that transform people as well as communities.”
- Weeks 3 and 4: They stopped sharing campaign updates and asking people to join, instead focusing on the impact of their work and inviting community members to share stories of how DoR’s storytelling has had an effect on their lives.
- Weeks 5 and 6: DoR refocused the message on their progress toward their goal, including a daily countdown.
DoR stopped pushing the campaign during the third and fourth weeks because they knew from studying other campaigns that there is usually a mid-campaign slump. They didn’t want to exhaust their readers, or their team, instead saving their energy for the final push.
“One idea that was important in the meetings was ‘let’s not sell.’ If we sell for six weeks, that will be annoying. We know there’s a slump. If people like the stories and enjoy how people talk about the work they do, they will buy,” Lupsa said.
They broke their membership goal down into daily targets. This helped the big goal of 2,500 new members feel more attainable and helped them monitor their progress.
- First three days: 85 new members/day
- Rest of week 1: 75 members/day (40/day on the weekend)
- Weeks 2 through 4: 50 members/day (30/day on the weekend)
- Week 5: 60 members/day (30/day on the weekend)
- Week 6: 100 members/day (85/day on the weekend)
They recruited ambassadors. Their campaign partners fell into one of two groups: existing members, who they called ambassadors, and endorsers, public figures who appreciated DoR’s journalism and had large follower counts.
About 665 ambassadors joined the campaign. DoR recruited about 100 ambassadors in an email to their existing members. The rest of the 565 ambassadors joined in response to callouts during the launch week. The DoR team emailed all of the ambassadors an ambassador kit that included a set of visual assets they could post to their own social media accounts with messages such as “I am an ambassador for the DoR campaign,” as well as instructions on how to get their personalized URL so they could keep track of how many people they recruited.
Ambassadors who recruited 5, 10, 15, or more members received surprises from the DoR team, such as illustrations, the most recent issue of the print magazine or a workshop with someone from the DoR team. DoR sent a weekly newsletter to ambassadors updating them on the campaign’s progress.
In Romanian, the word “member” has a political connotation, so they use the term “subscriber” in external communications.
They also recruited 14 endorsers, most of whom had previously worked with DoR in some way, such as writing a story, appearing at one of its events, or joining a podcast. DoR made a kit of visuals, similar to the one they made for the ambassadors, for them and gave each of them a free membership as a thank you.
They planned all their content ahead of launch. That included things like video testimonials from their ambassadors about why they supported DoR and staff testimonials about their work, both on video and via personal essays about why they write for DoR. They publicized the campaign on their site, in their newsletters, and on their Instagram and Facebook accounts. They also took out Facebook and Google ads to promote it.
They set up an easy-to-use referral system. They used AutomateWoo, a WooCommerce plug-in, to create unique links for each ambassador. They already used WooCommerce to manage their e-commerce, including membership purchases and merchandise, so the team and their existing members were familiar with it. All a member had to do was log in to their account to receive their unique link.
DoR exceeded their goal, reaching 2,550 new members in six weeks.
A few other numbers:
- Their strongest day brought them 208 new members.
- Their weakest day brought 13 new members.
- 30 ambassadors recruited 5 new members each, six ambassadors recruited 10 members each, and three ambassadors recruited 15 new members each
- 1,386 new members signed up as annual members, and 1,164 signed up as monthly members.
- About 25 percent of the new members came through ambassadors’ unique URLs, but DoR knows that some ambassadors did not use their codes, so the number recruited by existing members is likely higher.
- About 1,000 of the 2,500 new members came from social media, mostly via posts made by community members, not DoR’s own posts on social media.
They brought in 300 new members in the last two days of the campaign via a simple message that shared that they were two days from the end of the campaign and hadn’t yet reached their goal. This bump put them way over the top of their 2,250-member goal.
But “the messages we had no control over worked best,” editor Cristian Lupșa said, referring to posts by community members promoting the campaign such as one from an illustrator who shared that DoR gave them their first break (see below), or sources who said that DoR changed their lives by telling their story. Once a couple people posted, dozens of people who worked with DoR over the years followed suit, and DoR shared these messages from their own channels. This was particularly helpful during the mid-campaign period, when DoR stopped making explicit calls to action. These community calls to action kept them in line with their daily targets, even without doing any marketing themselves.
“These are things we were hoping would happen, but we didn’t engineer them,” Albeanu said.
The momentum continued even after the campaign officially ended. By the end of 2020, DoR was just shy of 5,000 members.
What they learned
Don’t hammer the daily targets too hard. The daily targets were useful for keeping track of whether they were on target to hit their goal, but it was important to not let them demoralize the team if there was a day they didn’t reach their target, said Lunguti, who led the campaign. “It’s very important to have a project manager, [but it’s also] very important to be a cheerleader on days in which people are bored, they have problems, they have questions,” she said.
Create messaging and assets for each new milestone you hit. Lupsa said that the success of the individual social media assets for ambassadors, plus the excitement and bump in conversions they saw each time they posted that they had reached a campaign milestone made them realize – a little too late – that they should have given ambassadors assets with messages such as, “I’m one of the 1,000 people who made this happen” even though it felt “presumptuous” to do so. Each time they reached a milestone and shared it publicly, it was a huge driver of likes, shares, and new members.
This is a full team effort, but only part of the time. Everyone on staff pitched in at some point, writing emails to newsletter subscribers asking them to become ambassadors, writing about their work for the mid-campaign message, or suggesting people who could serve as endorsers. But the entire newsroom couldn’t – and didn’t – stop their normal work. “Two to three years ago it would have been all hands on deck. It was good for morale that we didn’t pause everything,” Lupsa said, explaining that it was a sign of how much DoR has matured as an organization that most of the team could continue doing the core journalism work and that they didn’t burn the whole team out in order to achieve their goals for the campaign.
Key takeaways and cautionary notes
Limit the types of asks you make. When the campaign was in full swing, DoR paused all other marketing and focused just on asking people to become or recruit members. When the campaign ended, they quickly shifted to asking people to buy the next issue of the magazine and other products in their online store so that people didn’t get tired of hearing about membership, but DoR also didn’t stop bringing in new revenue.
You have to build the community long before you ask them to help you. The campaign’s success came down to two things: careful planning, and the strength of support DoR already had in the community. As Albeanu noted, a lot of the support that DoR received during the campaign was unplanned. There was no way to engineer the outpouring of enthusiasm for the campaign, which resulted from a decade of DoR building relationships.
“The moment you publish the story, you should reach out to people who might be interested. We built this habit of reaching out to people, sometimes even famous people, then we were sort of tracking who reads our stuff, who shared it, who has talked about it,” Lupsa said. All that painstaking work put them in a strong position to ask their community to show up for them during the campaign. “We were overwhelmed by how much our work has meant to people… That’s why there was no midway slump,” Lupsa said.
An outsider’s perspective is helpful. Having Lupsa, who wasn’t involved in the day-to-day planning, weigh in on the plans every two weeks helped them spot flaws in their plans and bring in fresh ideas that those who were working on the campaign every day might not have spotted.
A successful campaign means even more change. The DoR team is busy figuring out how to support the customer service needs that 5,000 members bring with them. Previously they staffed the e-commerce parts of membership on a rotating basis, moving different journalists into the role as needed. But that won’t cut it any more. “Doubling is a great success, but… the infrastructure we previously worked with can’t handle it,” Lupsa said. “If you want to [support your members] strategically, you can’t just move a reporter into a customer service representative role for two months.”
- Medium, article: “How DoR doubled its community in six weeks”
- Dropbox, resource: Ambassador kit
- Medium, article: “All roads lead to membership: DoR’s journey” (Part 1)