Lessons Learned from Bitch Magazine

Bitch Magazine is saved! The organization made over $46,000 last week – in under three days. At the time of this writing the magazine’s made $55,000. It’s an amazing feat, especially in light of the current toilet our country’s financial stability is swirling down, and especially considering the sad fate of many similar independent magazines in the past five years: Clamor, Punk Planet, LiP, Stay Free.

But more importantly, I think there are lessons to be learned for grassroots groups and organizations who are looking for a model on how to get the word out and galvanize their support base using social media. Full disclosure: I regularly write for Bitch, but I have no clue about their marketing or fundraising strategy. But from an outsiders perspective I still saw a clear strategy that allowed Bitch to succeed in their efforts and really use social media to the greatest possible advantage. How? First off…

1. Bitch knows where their supporters live online

Bitch does not have a huge circulation compared to most mainstream publications, but as a feminist publication and media organization, its part of a large, active and connected social network of feminist bloggers, webzines and online communities ready to support (or in Jezebel’s case, criticize) their efforts.

Either way, as soon as the news went out that Bitch needed help, the word spread like wildfire on Feministing, Feministe, Women’s e-news, Jezebel, etc, From there, the spread the word via e-mail, Facebook and other social networks. I originally found out the first thing last Monday morning from a Facebook friend who posted the initial You Tube video plea for help.

And speaking of that video..

2. Bitch’s YouTube video got the message across in a dynamic, original way; an approach that was tailor-made for the audience they were trying to reach

We can all bitch (no pun intended) and moan about how we live in a soundbite society that responds to entertainment rather than “just the facts” but, seriously? People need to get over it.

Bitch’s “ask” video was effective in a way that a mere e-mail blast, blog posting or – heavens forbid- letter never would have been, it was especially creative, poignant, creative and passionate. Note that it wasn’t flashy, but it was transparent and honest and real. Even better, it was viral, placed on YouTube, making it easy for supporters share and spread the word on blogs, Facebook, My Space, etc. (Let me say that again. It was placed on You Tube. If your video can’t be shared, it’s NOT viral.)

And even better, it’s the kind of video with content that’s easy and fun to share, rather than glooming and dooming it up, or shaming people into giving (trust me, ya’ll, it’s the approach of far too many non-profits.) Bitch came at us honestly, and with a hopeful rallying cry. And share they did, the video popped up all over the place and went a long way in getting the word out, resulting in over 40,000 page views. And then, to follow up ..

3. Bitch made it easy for supporters to keep the momentum going – and most importantly, to give.

With a clever, cute weiner dog giving thermometer on the Bitch website to monitor progress, and self-updating banners to place on one’s blog. It was a novel way to keep message going throughout the web and giving supporters and easy way to be proactive about spreading the word

And yes, there was some negative attention, some really offensive You Tube comments from some asshats, a snarkily dismissive post on Jezebel, but instead of bellyaching and attempting to silence it, the Bitch crew spent their energies engaging their supporters, who had questions, comments and suggestions about fundraising and a sustaining financial structure to keep Bitch alive, a conversation that seems to be leading to constructive output (it looks like a number of in person fundraisers are occurring across the country in support.) Also important, online giving is a breeze at the Bitch Magazine website. (Seriously, if you’re going to invest in anything, invest in good online giving software! Nothing turns away a potential supporter quicker than a bad online giving experience.)

There’s still struggles ahead for Bitch, but this is still a happy end to what could have been another tale of a great indie publication going under. I don’t think a campaign like this is out of reach for other types of small grassroots groups, I think it helps to know and understand your audience, on social media and in the real world, but the tools to actually do the communicating are free and easy to use. In short, this isn’t just a victory for indie media, it’s a model to learn from, repeat and refine. Hopefully these same strategies will benefit other grassroots organizations that could gain from more awareness.

I know a lot of this sounds like common sense, but many organizations big and small seem to get tripped up by how to use social media in their fundraising/awareness building/ activism, thinking some dude with an IT degree or slick marketing consultant will give them the answers, when really, the answers are really right in front of them all along. Social media is ultimately all about people, and knowing how to communicate to them.

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Comments (1)

There were a few specific things that came to mind, for me personally:

1. I think Bitch created (maybe unknowingly) a model that couldn’t be easier to implement, whether you be a NFP, an intramural sports league, a small fundraising group, etc. It’s implementable for everyone IF they just take the time to (as you said) know the market they’re talking to.

2. Because they took such a high-road and didn’t pander to the asshattery of the naysayers, I became even more engaged–and more willing to give money in the future. I WANT that kind of goodwill in my life and it makes me proud to be a Bitch supporter

3. And though this goes slightly against #2, I think Jez shot themselves in the foot a bit with their readership by being so assish about the whole thing, instead of showing the ‘feminist support’ they tout in word, but obvs not in deed. I, for one, have now opted to have nothing to do with them and I was a daily (and avid) reader for quite some time.

4. This, posted in Jez’s article, is a misnomer “but not having to pay taxes must alleviate at least some of that burden” I’m sure Bitch, as with any magazine, relies on their advertising revenue to make the money that keeps the organization running. Advertising revenue for a NFP is considered an unrelated business income tax (UBIT), which means IF they make over a certain dollar amount then that revenue stream becomes taxable. Now, I don’t know if they’re at that point, but it’s bad journalism and just blatant disregard to for Slutmachine to make such a statement without the knowledge to back it up.

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