E-Commerce with an emphasis on Social Technologies
No doubt about it, it’s been entirely too long between posts.
Rationale: Since the last post about PIMA in mid-February, I’ve been spending literally every spare minute on #AgapeToday, a 24-Hour Social Media-based Fundraiser for Agape Home, the orphanage for children with HIV in Northern Thailand. “In for a penny, in for a pound.”
Three purposes of this post:
Yes, I really want your POV. This is complicated. Different perspectives would be helpful. Thanks!
If you’re new to the blog, about a year ago, a successful businessman I know from church, asked me to lunch and said, “I like what you’re doing. I don’t do Social Media myself, but everything I’m reading says it’s the future. I’ve been helping an orphanage in Thailand for children with HIV for about 10 years. Could you talk to the founder? She needs help.” Within 5 minutes on Skype with Avis Rideout, I knew I would be helping her. Learn more about Avis on this video: Leave Her To Die
So I developed a game plan to leverage Social Tech and the Web for the benefit of Nikki’s Place Agape Home and my friend funded the initiative. (I’m not in a position to do pro-bono work, but it’s at a greatly reduced rate.) At that time, their Digital Properties and Digital Plumbing were insufficient for their needs and, just like the bathrooms, ceilings, and water system there, the Web properties desperately needed some attention.
Avis & Roy Rideout are simply amazing. Avis Rideout. She will probably never be recognized for the awesomeness that she is, but Avis is just IN-credible. From Newfoundland, Avis and Roy have been in Thailand 30 years, the last 20 having founded Nikki’s Place Agape Home, the last 10 at the current location, now serving 100 orphans or abandoned children, either HIV+ or at risk. The only government support they get is for the ARV drugs that keep the virus at bay. Everything else is privately funded.
Before I go much further, let me just say that if you ever find yourself at the point where you want to experience God, and you only have a week to do it, and you need a sure thing, book a trip to Agape Home. Tell them Mike Wise sent you. These children, yeah they are infected with HIV, but for the most part you’d never know it. The ARV drugs keep the virus contained. The orphan part, the abandoned part, now that’s a different story. Avis told me the story of one girl who finally smiled last month after being at Agape Home for three years. There are tons of stories like that there. One teenaged boy came out of his shell the week I was there – brilliant. I saw it with my own eyes. Here’s the before and after picture. The Spirit of God is SO strong here. God DOES care for the widows and orphans. And he uses people like you and me. “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
This process started last June with a 6 week project to upgrade their Web site from a flash site to WordPress. Thanks to Telezent for the 6-week, spot-on process on that. Once that was done, I traveled to train the staff on how to use the blog. Of course, it was all new to them, so I subsequently ended up doing most of the blogging to prime the pump. But it’s taken off now, thanks to some deeply committed volunteers. We also took the time to train on Facebook and YouTube, their primary Social outposts. So that was September ‘14.
In November, following the LONG flights across the PLANET, we tackled Digital Plumbing, in this case FastFund by Araize, a cloud-based Donor Management System, very simple and suitable for the orphanage. We also gathered more Social Media, did more Blog training, more Facebook training, and started discussing the 2015 24-Hour Fundraising event. On a personal note, this was a most difficult trip. My shrunken “pleasure spectrum” was on FULL display as I took a week of cold showers in a studio apartment near the orphanage with two gecko’s sharing the room with me. Incidentally, I later found out that all I had to do was flip a switch on the wall by the front door to get warm water in the shower. DOH!!! Oh, the irony.
Separately, I finally got used to working in bare feet in the office. It was cool to be there for the Loy Krathong Festival. People take to the evening streets and light lanterns that float up in the night, literally thousands of them, as a Buddhist expression of repentance. It’s interesting how religions around the world attempt to deal with the problem of sin.
In March, I had to make a Go-NoGo decision on #AgapeToday, the 24 Hour Fundraising Event and decided that the conditions would always be sub-optimal, never perfect. Meanwhile, a few potential insurance consulting jobs in South Asia surfaced that might add additional justification for the trip. So it seemed like a good decision to proceed.
Fast forward 4 months to April and there I was again, at the same apartment near the orphanage. In the intervening 4 months, a huge amount of evening hours were spent conceiving and planning #AgapeToday.
The good news was that the team at the orphanage was generally responsive and executed everything I asked for. Everything runs a bit slower in Thailand, so things took longer to execute. But the must-do’s eventually got done.
So I arrived in Chiang Mai 7 days before the event. Unfortunately, the insurance jobs had postponed at the last minute. So clearly the focus was to be #AgapeToday, both in the week leading up to the event, and the week after the event. My desk had been cleared, so to speak.
In the ensuing days, I collaborated with Avis and Roy, as well as Volunteers Kelly, Peter, & Zac, to determine the essential needs, develop a do-able strategy for communicating the needs via video, gather the media assets, develop the finished media, and finally deploy the media on an organized schedule throughout the 24 Hours of #AgapeToday. In the end, we really had only fours days to get all this done.
The 24 Hour Event itself launched with a lot of stress. The Instagram video upload process never worked, but more importantly, we got immediate feedback that the Donate page was hard to follow for the people in Australia. A quick redesign of the page to use national flags as pointers seemed to take care of the problem. The rest of the 24 Hours was spent finalizing and uploading the remaining fundraising video’s using Facebook’s Scheduled Update feature.
An interesting side note was the global nature of the event. Primary pockets of donors and sponsors include Australia, Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Thailand in the eastern hemisphere. In the western hemisphere, funding nations include the USA, Canada, and Europe. Therefore, the first 12 Hours reached the first group, and the second 12 Hours reached the second group. So there was some thought to running all the media in the first 12 Hours, and then re-Sharing it all in the 2nd 12 Hours. But in the end it was all we could do to simply get one round of media out over the total 24 hours.
Again, going back to the Go-NoGo decision in March, I had an idea that this would be a likely scenario. But again, nothing is ever perfect and if you wait until the conditions are just right, chances are you’ll never launch. So we had to push through and let the chips fall where they may.
Results: We ended up raising about $17,000. We “Reached” almost 40,000 people on Facebook, and acquired around 100 new Likes – all organic. We drove 300 visits to the site, about 200 visits to the Donate page, and we’re still waiting on the conversion stats from the eCommerce page. One note about the dollars: Since a lot of the donors chose to support the children on a monthly basis, which was the goal, we accounted for that by multiplying the monthly donation by 24 months. The justification for that is that the average monthly donor donates for five years. So taking two years seemed reasonable.
An un-scrubbed email list of all current and previous donors and sponsors became available two days before the event. I actually stumbled upon it quite serendipitously via the new donor management system while working on another issue that came up.
Fortunately, a former USA volunteer who had stayed connected via Facebook volunteered via Facebook message to help with Social Media. She also had experience with ConstantContact, so that helped a great deal. We also had a couple other former volunteers help with video’s. But in the end, I had to subcontract with a couple professionals for two of the key video’s. To their credit, they gave us a really good deal on the opening and closing videos.
Creativity is always an issue when you’re trying to capture media and make shareable video’s all at once, with a hard deadline in a few days. Like anything else, we also had some governance rules to follow, like not associating images and clips with names of children. And so we didn’t end up with anything super creative. Of course a viral video would have been a game-changer. This video was the most viewed, besides the opening and closing videos. Good to know for next year.
Of course budgets are always tight. So we didn’t have GoPro’s. We didn’t have high-end video equipment. We just had myself with the basics. We DID have a steady-cam, which I used for the closing video. I did contract with a couple remote video professionals as well as a few volunteers in the crowd of sponsors and donors.
Probably the biggest barrier, Thailand is a country with bandwidth issues. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the nicest hotel in Bangkok or in an apartment building for volunteers at an orphanage, bandwidth will always be an issue. So uploading video assets to Google Drive for video editing took forever. Uploading finished video’s for promoting via YouTube and Facebook was like the old dial-up. In fact, in the middle of the event, a massive thunderstorm hit with intermittent blackouts, obviously effecting uploads in progress. Instagram video’s were a total No-Go. I never did figure if it was a Samsung issue with my phone or Wi-Fi. That was SO frustrating. I had worked hard on that piece.
To Facebook’s credit, the savior in terms of overcoming bandwidth issues was Facebook’s Scheduled Post feature. In the week leading up to the event, I was able to upload about 10 “filler” video’s. During the event, I was also able to upload real-time video clips for release a few hours later. We even had some of the helpers upload video’s via the USA. Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. I’ll never forget watching the upload status bar move oh-so-slowly.
Here are 5 take-aways for next time, if there is a next time:
What suggestions do YOU have? Yes, I definitely want to know. Others probably do as well.
On the way home, I stopped in Phnom Penh to see my daughter. Riding on the back of my daughter’s moto through the streets of Phnom Penh at night – Remarkable.
One more thing: Stretching my legs in the back of the plane from Qatar to Philly, I noticed a guy around my age, an American, with a T-Shirt that said Everest Base Camp. Wait. What? “Excuse me, but I see Everest Base Camp on your shirt. Were you there during the earthquake?” “Yep.” This is the guy - a doctor from Indy. He said his group was one day from Basecamp hiking the trail at 16,600” when they couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. As soon as they realized the ground was shaking, they heard and saw a massive earth avalanche near them. He said the worst part was the constant after-shocks in the five days is took to get out. He finished by saying that the disaster would be devastating financially because it happened during a time when they make most of their money. The whole climbing season has been cancelled. Now all will be lost for this year. He said the Juniper Fund as a legit channel to give to Sherpa’s and their families, many of whom will have to rebuild their homes with only minor aid from the [hopelessly corrupt] government.
What do you think of all this? I’m certainly not doing this to make money. In fact, it’s costing me dearly and is exhausting.
Thanks so much,