Refreshing: Lessons from Pepsi Refresh grantees in New York

Two weeks ago, I had the delightful pleasure of heading to Cohoes, N.Y. to train Pepsi Refresh grantees about social media.

When the Pepsi Refresh first contacted me, I thought, “These grantees are social media geniuses! They’ve rallied their communities to help them win big grants from Pepsi, in $5,000 to $250,000 increments. What in the world can Small Act teach them?” Obviously, we at Small Act could wax poetic about social media all day. But I knew I was going to learn something great from these grantees to pass on to our other awesome nonprofit clients.

(Sidebar: In case you’re not familiar with the Pepsi Refresh Project, Pepsi decided in 2010 to redirect millions they’d spend on a Super Bowl ad – production, placement, etc. Instead, they concocted a plan to reach out to communities with the question, “How can Pepsi help you refresh your communities?” Nonprofits, companies, and individuals post project ideas, the community votes, and Pepsi awards grants. And it all comes out of Pepsi’s marketing budget. And they’re doing it again in 2011. Sweet!)

The thing is, while the Pepsi Refresh grant recipients were awesome at rallying support for an online competition (hello, they won!), very few of them did so through social media. So I had a few things to teach them, but as expected, they taught me even more. Here’s what I think social media expert practitioners could learn from tried and true grassroots methods:

  • Help each other. You might be asking (as I did), why was Pepsi descending onto Cohoes, N.Y. for this day of training? Turns out, there is a serious concentration of grantees in the little town, just outside of Albany. Why? When one nonprofit had success as a grantee, others wanted in. So they’ve helped each other, and the greater community has owned it. Proof? The mayor of Cohoes declared Oct. 7 Pepsi Day.
  • Put a face on that org. These Refresh grantees hit the streets… literally. One nonprofit went door-to-door in their community, asking people to vote for them. Another mobilized the teen participants in their programs to reach out to their friends and share why they loved being a part of the organization, and asked them to vote, and if they were willing, to then ask their friends’ friends to vote. These organizations used the resources they had, but made sure to make asks personal.
  • Make giving or participating easy and fun. I was super impressed by one organization that sent out daily emails to their list. Rather than boring, text-heavy emails, each one was a fun image, embedded with either a story or a funny message about voting. All the participants had to do was click through to vote, but rather than reporting being worn out with asks, their email list reported looking forward to the daily ask, wondering what was going to come next.

So while these grant recipients needed a little assistance with Twitter lingo, they are gurus of some of the most important social media principles: personal, fun, and cooperative.

Pepsi Refresh grantees, I can’t wait to see you take your awesome tactics to the social media streets.