Challenge: Communicate an acquisition

A few months ago, I was interviewing with a company that challenged me to come up with a communications strategy for announcing a merger. This post includes all the deliverables I put together for them, which I’m posting publicly thinking they might be helpful to someone else.

They challenged me to communicate an acquisition:

A medium-sized tech company is acquiring a smaller firm in the same industry. As the chief marketer for the company, how do you:

  1. Inform key stakeholders
  2. Maximize benefit for the acquiring company
  3. Explain changes to customers


I decided to focus on a fictional B2B content management company:

  • The acquiring company (ContentBox) is a B2B content management platform focused on local retailers across a wide variety of verticals. The product includes extensive analytics features out-of-the-box and a huge variety of templates.
  • It is acquiring a video player and analytics platform (VidMedia) to integrate into the existing system. VidMedia is primarily used by freelance or smaller production houses to host and share video content, similar to Vimeo or Wistia.
  • One key challenge in this transition is that a high percent of VidMedia customers do not currently also use ContentBox either because they are not interested in a more extensive CMS (40%) or they use a competitor (20%). Due to resource constraints, ContentBox has decided to keep the VidMedia player available but stop providing support or updating the tool after a 12-month transition period. Customers who use VidMedia but not ContentBox will see no changes for 3 months, then move to the ContentBox back-end interface for 6 months before the VidMedia stand-alone product is phased out at the end of 12 months. VidMedia has data on what CMS, if any, its customers use.
  • Within 3 months, ContentBox users will see new video features and analytics within their existing interface. They will not see any further changes.
  • Communication plans have already been determined for internal stakeholders (investors, employees at both companies) and what’s left now is to determine how to communicate to external stakeholders – existing customers of both companies, industry press and other influencers for potential customers.


Here’s what I’d do:

Download (PDF, 4.6MB)


This document includes both the overall marketing strategy and the transition plan, as well as a few work samples created for this challenge.


What do you do when you don’t want to ask for money?

Data visualization: Amplify ATX infographic

In March 2013, Austinites participated in the first-ever Amplify Austin – a citywide day of giving where individuals could participate via a giving portal. For UWATX, the challenge was how to get involved in the conversation without overwhelming our donors, who already gave to us in other ways.


Take part in the community-wide event without overwhelming donors with yet another ask for donations.


Research interesting information on philanthropy & volunteerism in Austin and combine it with UWATX data to create useful, snackable content for social sharing. Use these insights to create a data visualization summary (infographic):

Data visualization: Amplify ATX infographic

Key Insights:

  • Austinites love their city: As always, Austin’s strong brand as a city meant that creating Austin-centric content was an easy route. Austinites love sharing and reading information about the city. This was one of the first examples of this type of content for the organization and started a trend of success with Austin-centric content.
  • Data on philanthropy are not readily available: To find the right data for this project, I drew from seven different data sources, alongside researching many that did not yield useful results. I also relied on internal UWATX sources and historical data that are not typically publicly available. Still, the latest available localized data were from 2008. This research showed that there is a gap in the market for data visualizations on philanthropy in our local community, a space we were well-suited to fill.
  • United Way is uniquely positioned within the philanthropic space because building philanthropy is core to our mission: For most nonprofits, raising money is the means to an end goal of social services. For UWATX, increasing philanthropy overall is a core part of the mission. This unique positioning meant that the organization had a different story to tell, so we could connect our audience to a history and expertise in this arena that other organization did not have.
  • Data are highly snackable and can be highly visual, making them excellent social media content: For the first year, much of the conversation around Amplify was heavily focused on Twitter, using a branded hashtag, so whatever content we chose had to be well-suited for this specific platform. Moreover, any engagement on social channels depends on visual content as platforms evolve to include larger images and we see consistent studies that show photos drive higher engagement than other content types. Data fit both needs: (1) data are essentially bites of information, perfect for a tweet and (2) the infographic formate is a digestible framework for turning data into visual content.


Overall, the campaign was successful in generating retweets and mentions on Twitter well above the averages for the account at that time and the blog post was one of the TOP 10 posts for UWATX in 2013. While it did not generate many likes on Facebook, the number of shares was well above the typical rate for the account, suggesting that infographics are more shareable than they are likeable.

Unexpectedly, the post also generated interest from the local newspaper nonprofit columnist.

Lessons Learned:

The campaign succeeded in engaging in the existing conversation at the time, but because the blog post is primarily a large image, it presents a missed opportunity for search optimization. If I were to do this over, I would split up the one large graphic into several smaller ones (per Rand Fishkin’s recommendation) and have more text on the page, where keywords could be used.

There’s also a missed opportunity here for engaging influencers. At the time, the effort focused on hashtags as a way to extend the lifetime of a tweet, but later experiments have shown that tagging individuals is more effective in gaining reach. Additionally, because the post is foundational, useful and unique content, there is also an opportunity for link building here by reaching out to influencers who may be interested in this content.

Evolution of a hashtag: #unitedcaring

Social media: #unitedcaring

Volunteering is a social activity where every person with a shovel is a person with a shovel. With this in mind, we though UWATX’s large-scale citywide volunteer days would be excellent opportunities to share photos – so we figured out how to incentivize the effort.


Take the social nature of volunteering from the offline world to the online one by incentivizing individuals to share photos.


  • Pick a hashtag and stick to it: We chose #unitedcaring in April 2012 – and that’s still the hashtag used for all UWATX volunteering activities. The consistency makes it more memorable and easier for staff and volunteers alike. It’s also broad enough to be used for both one-time volunteer projects and citywide events AND include the organization’s key messaging (uniting people).
  • Provide feedback during and after events: We utilize FeedMagnet to create a real-time event dashboards so users can see how may others are engaging in the conversation with them. After the event, we report back on what the conversation really looked like.

Original dashboard – April 2012

Original #unitedcaringdashboard

Current dashboard – July 2014

Current #unitedcaringdashboard
  • Volunteer project sign #unitedcaring
    Make the hashtag as visible as possible: 
    We put the hashtag on all event signage – including paper signs on tables during lunch (provided at large events) and yard signs that are used year-round.
  • Add the hashtag when reposting user-generated content: Despite our best efforts, there were times when volunteers or even partners or staff posted event-related photos or quotes without the hashtag. In these cases, users had taken the positive action of posting but were not sharing in the conversation. At times, they may have not included our organization’s handles either. We utilized Storify, Hootsuite, Spredfast and Topsy over the years to seek out and find as many of these instances as possible and reward the poster with a comment or share, but always adding the hashtag to remind them of it.

Key Insights:

  • Everyone’s memory is short: It’s difficult to get a detail like the event hashtag across to hundreds of participants who are thinking about what they need to do to volunteer. Unlike conferences or other large-scale events, citywide volunteer days take place at multiple locations, often outdoors and rarely with available wi-fi. To get results, it’s critical to keep it simple and get creative when thinking about marketing a hashtag. By staying consistent with the hashtag over years, placing it on any available signage and digital communication about events and also adding it to shared user content, we could manage these challenging circumstances and start a conversation.
  • People like seeing themselves on screens – and seeing their friends on screens too: Much like a retweet or share, seeing yourself on a screen at an event is a form of validation – it gives users content positive feedback from the crowd and puts them front and center. Real-time event dashboards encourage audience members to participate by providing social proof that others are engaging as well and the conversation is lively. They also serve as a reminder that an online conversation is taking place as well.


The hashtag saw great growth in the first couple of events and continued a positive trend, but it requires consistent maintenance to continue moving forward. What makes the most significant difference in how much a hashtag is used by participants is the visibility of the event dashboard at events.

Still, it has gained enough use that volunteers have started to use it year-round.

Lessons Learned:

If you use a hashtag, it will end up on Instagram: Given the small staff size, UWATX does not maintain a presence on Instagram – but the visual nature of volunteer events and the prevalence of hashtags on that platform mean that users are sharing the hashtag on the platform. UWATX needs to consider how that will play a factor into future decisions about what platforms to use or how it could engage with users during these bi-annual events. Partners: Real-time dashboard on UWATX site – FeedMagnet

When the people want a list of 90, give ’em what they want (sort of)

Content marketing: 10 lists of 9

When we set out to celebrate 90 years of United Way (UWATX) making Austin greater, we received a lot of suggestions from staff to create lists of 90 – 90 volunteers, 90 philanthropists, 90 people who are 90-years-old, etc. Clearly, there was some organizational synergy around the list concept, but 90 lists of anything seemed daunting, so we set out to reconcile the need for lists with the need for quality content.


Address organization’s desire for lists of 90 while still creating high-quality content.


Re-imagine list as a series – 10 lists of 9 – and focus on topics reflective of Austin (Tech, Volunteering, Music, etc.).

Key Insights:

  • Lists are trendy – and also useful:  Popularized by Buzzfeed, the ‘listicle’ format was particularly trendy during the timeframe of this campaign. This format necessarily makes content immediately scanable – users can look over a longer piece of content and digest it easily and quickly, which is ideal for digital storytelling. Listicles also have the added benefit of de-facto including numbers in the headline, something that’s been shown to draw users attention.  Staff suggestions reflected a love for lists as well, so we knew there was something in the air around the idea of lists and wanted to explore how to make this format work for our story.
  • People share flattering news about themselves & their friends: As we had already learned with our social recognition campaign #ThankYouThursday, individual recognition is a strong driver for social sharing – people like to share positive feedback with their communities. Connecting to individuals with diverse (or sometimes no relationship) to the organization could open up new audiences for our content.
  • Our connection to Austin is UWATX’s biggest selling point: UWATX’s work often focuses on systems-building work, which makes the type of emotional appeals that other nonprofits employ a challenge for the organization. On the other hand, because the work looks at the future of our community from a long-term perspective, UWATX has a connection to Austin, the future of the city and the growth of the community that is unique within the nonprofit space. At the same time, Austinites love their city, so this unique connection is a valuable selling and message point that differentiates UWATX from other organizations and that resonates with our broader audience. By tapping into niche Austin communities and interests, we could reinforce this connection.
  • Tagging people slows down the Twitter lifecycle: The lifecycle of an individual tweet is notoriously short, because Twitter functions like a real-time newsfeed. For an organization with a smaller Twitter following (meaning a smallish number of folks could see each post) and a small social media staff (meaning challenges in creating more content), slowing down this lifecycle is hugely beneficial. When you tag an organization or individual, your post moves from their stream into the notification tab, where you have fewer other posts to compete and a greater likelihood of being retweeted or favorited. By getting into the notification tab, you can give a tweet a longer life.


Of the 63 blogs we’ve posted this year, two of the 10 lists of 9 blog make  it on the TOP 5 list of most-viewed post to date this year.

We saw particularly outstanding success with the young professionals blog – which drew 450+ visits from Twitter alone in two days. Many of the associated tweets are compiled in this Storify.  

Lessons learned:

The type of audience and personal connection that one can draw on Facebook is significantly different from Twitter.

On Facebook, we saw great response from existing followers who recognized themselves or a friend in a post, but did not see a bump when those featured were not already followers of UWATX on Facebook. As a result, the most successful of the ten posts on Facebook as the volunteers post, which featured largely existing followers who were socially engaged.

The opposite was true on Twitter – while our existing followers did share posts mentioning them, the far greater response was from users we did not previously engage with. This shows that Twitter works well as a platform for new engagements while the nature of Facebook ( positive feedback loop built into the algorithm, restrictions on brands connecting to individuals) means that it is more relevant for existing audiences.

Partners: Writing & research – Jessica Bateman, UWATX Marketing Intern

90 years in one digital campaign

'United for 90 Years' Timeline - Responsive

This year, United Way for Greater Austin celebrated 90 years of making Austin greater – the locally-run chapter started in Austin in 1924. The anniversary presented an opportunity to tell our rare story and a challenge to do so in a new way.


To recognize this key milestone, UWATX wanted to create an online experience to draw in new audiences and delight existing ones.


This project brought together multiple disciplines in the digital marketing spaces:

  • Create a responsive timeline highlighting UWATX and Austin history: Working with a design/developer, we created a dual timeline that both showcased our own history but also told the story of how Austin has changed as a community through nine decades. We used the timeline as the center of our 90-day celebration by also highlighting the anniversary with intro text at the top and featuring our zine and photography project as well.
  • Include categories to highlight niche parts of Austin: Categories allow users to zoom in on the part of Austin history that is relevant or interesting to them and allows UWATX to market parts of the timeline to more targeted audiences based on interests. (Example: Tech category)
  • Fill the timeline with extensive, rich content: The timeline includes 200+ highlights in Austin and local United Way history, all researched and written by internal staff. In addition, most posts include a photo (with Creative Commons or Public Domain license) or YouTube video and a link to learn more. Rather than providing a list of events, we wanted users to be able to dive in to Austin history.
  • Promote extensively across all channels: To kick-off the 90-day celebration, we reached out to our universe of subscribers via e-mail (approx. 20K individuals) to let them know about the timeline and featured it in some way each month in our e-Newsletter during the campaign. We also posted on our Facebook and Twitter channels throughout the campaign, highlighting a specific event or specific category from the timeline, and drove traffic from targeted interest groups to the category pages with Facebook advertising. Finally, with the help of our PR firm, we implemented a Pinterest strategy to highlight particular events on the timeline.

Key Insights:

  • Content should be useful: As more and more brands embrace their roles as content creators and publishers, audiences are bombarded by selling messages. To cut through the clutter, brands must not only tell compelling stories, but ones that add value for their audiences and that users can see value in sharing – content that has youtility. We could similarly cut through the clutter by producing content that was useful to our audience, while also highlighting our own story.
  • We are not the star of anyone’s movie…but Austinites LOVE their city: While 90 years is a significant hallmark for an organization and a badge of honor that few attain, we recognized that it wasn’t inherently or deeply interesting outside of the organization. The challenge became how to create content that was engaging beyond that simple fact. To solve that challenge, I reviewed and analyzed quantitative data from other content marketing efforts that confirmed a completely unsurprising fact: Austinites loved sharing and clicking on content that reflected the city or our unique culture. By including UWATX history alongside Austin history, we could create something that was interesting to users regardless of their relationship (or lack thereof) with UWATX.
  • A timeline of Austin must reflect its diverse interests: When we started, the goal was to include approx. 20 or so events to tell a simple story about our city. As I researched and reviewed content with our internal team, the list kept growing as all of us wanted more information on different aspects of our history. We realized that each of Austin’s diverse communities – film makers, foodies, musicians, techies, environmentalists, etc. – had a unique history and, in order to make the timeline as useful as possible, we needed to consider all of these unique histories and make it possible for users to select only the one they wanted to engage with.


During the initial 90-day campaign, the timeline drove an additional 10 percent of traffic to our website above our normal traffic. Of this traffic, 72 percent of this traffic came from new visitors versus site average of 67 percent. After launch, the timeline immediately became (and has remained) the second most visited page on the site each month – second only to the home page. Users also average twice as much time on the site when visiting the timeline.

To date, 2-3 other organizations have followed up to create a similar timeline including the Corporation for National and Community Service and a child care advocacy consortium funded by the Annie E Casey Foundation.

Lessons learned:

The timeline succeeded in meeting initial content goals of engaging existing users and attracting new visitors. Within a few weeks, we determined that this success could further be leveraged with a more obvious call-to-action to convert new visitors, so we implemented a modal window pop-up to collect email addresses. More iteration needs to be done to refine this process and add other ways for new users to become engaged, such as easier social sharing.

Partners: Development – Pixels Fear Me | Pinterest strategy & execution – Elizabeth Christian PR

Meeting donors where they are: smart phone edition

Web experience: Impact Calculator

At UWATX, the main fundraising vehicle is Employee Giving Campaigns, which rely on fundraisers attending in-person staff meetings to pitch why  donors should give back and why UWATX is the best option. With the rise of smartphones, our fundraisers had a problem: people were on their phones and not paying attention to the pitch.


Create a second screen experience for fundraisers to use in meetings when donors are on their smartphones.


Leverage existing high-value content and extend it to a mobile experience through a mobile version of the Impact Calculator. Allow donors to take easily action by filling out a form and receiving an email reminder to donate.

Desktop experience:

Desktop experience - Impact Calculator

Key Insights:

  • Distractions are here to stay: Increasingly, research shows people engage in multiple experiences at once and take tasks from one platform to another. Fundraisers – our front-lines in identifying how prospects were engaging with us – were already seeing this trends, and we knew it was here to stay.
  • Impact drives giving: Over and over, donors say they are motivated to give by seeing the specific impact that their dollars can make. Our existing Impact Calculator made this connection direct by literally allowing users to input the amount of their gift and see how that investment through UWATX could impact our community. We could improve on the experience (adding more giving options for flexibility, playing with the design) to create an even higher-quality experience.
  • People don’t like to give via mobile websites: While mobile transactions and giving are becoming more common, UWATX internal research shows it has not yet achieved widespread adoption as the process remains clunky – it can be difficult to enter so much detailed data on such a small screen. Additionally, UWATX believes strongly in the power of Employee Campaigns, and creating a second screen experience had the risk of moving donors from campaign giving to online. We needed to move donors from the mobile experience to their desktops to give.

Mobile experience:

Mobile experience - Impact Calculator


The new Impact Calculator generated 1000 views from Jan. to June 2014, a 57 percent increase over previous year, showing widespread adoption in meetings. This included approx. 25 percent mobile views, a 5x increase over previous year. To date, approx. 10 other United Ways have requested further information to duplicate the Impact Calculator for their own communities.

Lessons learned:

While the Impact Calculator did increase engagement, it did not successfully drive individuals to fill out the form and take action. Future iterations should focus on improve the conversion rate of the tool.

Partners: Design – Creative Suitcase | Development – igray consulting


Thanking donors in the social age

Social media: #ThankYouThursday

One of the most important steps in fundraising comes after a donor makes a gift: a thank you is the pivotal step from a transaction to a relationship between an individual and an organization. Knowing how critical a thank you can be, UWATX wanted to find a new way to thank donors during the holiday season.


Research shows donors want to be thanked before they are ready to engage with an organization further. This is a challenge for UWATX, where much of our relationship with donors is filtered or restricted by our company partners. We wanted to find an innovative way to thank donors that would break through the clutter and be memorable.


Thank donors individually via social media by posting their photo and tagging the donor or mentioning them. Run this during the busy holiday season to break through the clutter and build on the spirit of the season.

Key Insights:


#ThankYouThursday posts had an immediate impact – fundraisers started receiving emails thanking them for the recognition from the first post. More than that, because the cadence of the posts was so regular (every Thursday), internal staff began requesting donors to thank. In all, #ThankYouThursday posts gained from two to 10 times as many engagements (likes, comments & shares) on Facebook as other posts during the same time.

Lessons learned:

We saw less engagement on Twitter and learned that our audience of donors preferred Facebook as their primary social network. We also learned what factors predicted how far a post would go: (1) if a fundraiser was friends with a donor on Facebook and could tag them, (2) the size of a donor’s social network and personal engagement on Facebook.

Technology:  Facebook, Twitter, Illustrator, Photoshop