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Understanding Your Problem Areas: An Interview With Ryan Vaillancourt

Ryan Vaillancourt, Director of Advocacy and Brands at NationBuilder.

Developing a good understanding of your limitations and seeking to overcome them can be crucial when trying to take your brand to the next level. This is something that Ryan Vaillancourt knows only too well as he deals with it on a daily basis, working to give his clients the power to grow their outreach.

First of all, thanks for agreeing to share some of your wisdom with us at Ecanvasser. Can you tell us what a typical day at your job looks like?

I spend most of my days conducting what we call 'problem meetings' with potential customers. Organizations that come to NationBuilder tend to be eager to find some magical software that will boost their engagement, fundraising, and advocacy with a few clicks. Instead of showing the platform right away, I find that it's most effective to start with a thorough and sometimes painfully honest exploration of an organization's problems. We need to know what the real problems are so we can be candid about whether our solution is going to be the best fit.

NationBuilder is community-based and we figure this is why it is a success. How do you communicate to clients that a personal touch can sometimes trump data?

It's not so much that a personal touch trumps data - I think everyone in our space agrees that if you can provide a personal touch, you're going to get better results. The problem is that you can't actually do personalization well if you have bad data, at least for any organization operating at scale. So, what we emphasize is that data is really just about people. If you have your donor data in the donor management system, a separate email list, a pile of event RSVP spreadsheets and Facebook all disconnected, you can't effectively target or personalize your communications. Integrating the data is fundamentally about giving yourself the ability to treat your people like humans.

There are many ways to reach out to your target audience these days thanks to social media. Can you offer any advice on what may be considered the best practice for this?

The best road to more supporters is through your existing supporters, who are your potential evangelists. There are so many neat tools for targeting and amplification out there, but when it comes to strategy, I believe that the best practice is empowering known supporters to be effective recruiters. For example, we tell folks to match their email list to social data via NationBuilder, identify the most engaged and influential supporters, then ask those supporters to share a special ask on social media. We enable organizations to provide ambassadors with a unique recruiter link so that if their friends take action, those friends are logged in the database as having been 'recruited' by the ambassador.

What are the biggest problems brands are experiencing in communicating with their customers/communities?

Fragmented data. There's so much data, and it's in too many places. This makes personalization impossible and results in poor email engagement, list stagnation, and churn.

10 years ago, Brand and Advocacy groups may not have been able to build an online community due to the tools not being around, how do you see this changing over the next 10 years?

Well, first it's worth noting that much of the world doesn't have access to some of the basic advocacy tools that we're so lucky to take for granted in the US. My hope is that we as an industry find better ways to get these tools into the hands of activists in the developing world. In the US, I think we're headed down a road where lazy mass email marketing will no longer be tolerated. Too many organizations are in this rut of sending un-targeted, periodic blast emails, and they're dying a slow death. I think this will require organizations to get smarter about targeting and personalization, but also, it's going to lead to more variable mass communication methods.

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