Case Study: Family Promise of Grand Rapids “Toyota 100 Cars for Good” Social Media Campaign Results


Thanks to the generosity and tech-savvy of West Michigan as well as the hard work of volunteers, Family Promise of Grand Rapids won a Toyota truck by pulling in the most support in the 2012 Toyota 100 Cars for Good contest.  This is the second win for a GR-based nonprofit in as many years.  Clearly this city has something going for it (take that Newsweek).

Thanks to everyone who helped!

Big kudos go to the core group of volunteers that helped make this win possible:

Rick Jensen, Terri Howe, Christine Hoek, Allison Root, Adrienne Wallace, Abby TaylorPete Brand, Amanda BrandKaitlin Brand, Angie Phillips, 834 Design and MarketingWondergem Consulting, Clark Communications and the WMPRSA Board.

It’s also worth noting that everyone was led by Cheryl Schuch – the Executive Director of FPGR who is a model for all leaders to learn from.  She’s truly invested in her organization and was closely-involved every step of the way.

Rick and Terri worked on the campaign on behalf of the West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (of which all three of us are board members – FPGR is WMPRSA’s current nonprofit client that we provide with two years of pro bono counsel as part of our PRforGOOD project).

The Strategy

Having helped Kids’ Food Basket come up with a winning strategy last year, Adrienne Wallace and I shared what we learned with the FPGR team (the case study for KFB is available here).  Here’s what we came up with:

  • Do Your own Analytics: Unfortunately Toyota doesn’t make the data generated by voters on its app available to contestants so you’re on your own to build insight and track progress during the frantic 24 hours the competition takes place.  The easiest way to do this is rely on a URL shortening service ( is free and provides a great analytical toolset) and begin promoting that link ahead of time as well as the day of the contest.
  • Don’t Rely Solely on Social Media:  Though social media is an incredible tool, we found that it likely couldn’t be credited with the majority of votes for KFB last year.  What probably played a larger role was a series of good old-fashioned email campaigns and word-of-mouth.  Reaching out to partner organizations with large employee or membership groups (for email awareness campaigns) was critical.  In this case, Family Promise of Grand Rapids had a large network of churches (the sites through which their services are distributed) as well as the national organization comprised of Family Promise charities all across the US – also with similar networks of local service sites.
  • Know Your Audience:  Every organization needs to regularly assess its interactions with its audience.  This has been a cardinal rule for Marketing/PR/Advertising since time immemorial.  One of the most powerful benefits of knowing your audience is being able to focus your efforts on the channels that will reach the most people (and most effectively).
  • Stay Visible: The deluge of updates we’re all hit with on social media each day means that most of them will go unseen.  This means for any campaign, be it 24 hours or 24 months, you need a plan to be visible multiple times.  Using a tool like Crowdbooster will allow you to keep tabs on the times when your social media posts get the most attention and it will be invaluable in a situation like this.
  • Stay Original: The challenge, however, is to accomplish this without being spammy and getting flagged, blocked, unfriended, or de-prioritized by your network and the algorithms of the platforms you use.  The best way to do this is to treat each update as a unique snowflake: craft individual messages that use different visuals, appeals, logic, references, etc.  This is a good rule even when you’re not involved in a campaign: the time and effort it takes to grow and nurture a network of followers can be undone in a matter of minutes – so treat it with care.
  • Be Observant: Watching the progress of voting throughout the day means scheduling your volunteers to vote periodically and report back the results (as there’s no other way to see them).  This creates new/original content you can share with your networks to motivate them in addition to gathering important data.  It also helps to watch what your competitors are doing throughout the day (they may have some great ideas you can ‘borrow’).


Ultimately the team of volunteers working on the event came up with an outstanding strategy, and a wealth of tactics underpinning it.  On voting day, it’s important to prioritize the most powerful tactics and check off as many as you possibly can during the voting window.  The full tactics document is available here (.pdf)  Sample tweets from the day are available here.

Here’s a summary of how the campaign went down:

  1. An action item was created to give supporters something to prepare with in advance of the voting day (a Facebook event).
  2. Volunteers also created imagery and video for advocates to use as profile icons (like the one above) to serve as a constant reminder wherever and whatever they did during the day to remind their networks of contacts to get out and vote.
  3. In advance of the voting, the volunteers put together a list of influential social media presences to contact with the message to spread.
  4. The PR pros with media contacts pitched the local news for coverage in advance of the voting (and the day of).  As a result they earned traditional media before and during the event, and many of the local news personalities shared the message with their sizable social networks.  Many thanks to Emily Richett, Jennifer Pascua, Shelley Irwin, Lauren Stanton, and Michele DeSelms for their help!
  5. The day of the voting, a “command center” was set up at the Family Promise of Grand Rapids headquarters, and volunteers spent hours sharing, tweeting, liking, emailing and calling their contacts to drive out the vote.  Reaching out to networks in real-time had the advantage of allowing for discussion (which generated more content that the distributed networks of friends and friends of friends were able to see).  It also allowed for monitoring of who had voted so they could be checked off the list.
  6. FPGR started out with stiff competition from Hawks Aloft (a conservation nonprofit in New Mexico) – and was trailing 29% to 46%.
  7. By 3:00 p.m. the voting had narrowed to a tight 33% to 33% tie between FPGR and Hawks Aloft – it remained this way until 9:00 p.m.
  8. Family Promise of Grand Rapids Executive Director Cheryl Schuch shot a short video appealing for votes and updating everyone on the current status of the voting.
  9. In the early evening, the amazing productivity of the volunteers had exhausted all of their tactics, so they took a break from campaigning to regroup and think of new ways to reach out.  What they came up with was brilliant…
  10. Volunteers began going to local bars that they frequented with their laptops (fortunately many bars now offer free internet access) and gave a 30-second elevator pitch to patrons asking for their support.  They responded generously and the votes began to tip in favor of FPGR.
  11.  Voting was still close hours before the close, so a last-ditch social media effort was made to drive more voters out; volunteers used everything from memes to personal appeals to drive out voters.
  12. At 11:57, three minutes before voting closed, Family Promise was ahead.  This is significant because the later in the day it gets, the harder it is to move the numbers (because the total number of votes is higher).

In the end, FPGR emerged victorious – securing 35 percent of the vote (over Hawks’ Aloft 32 percent)

FPfacebookpageanalytics_07-31-12Some have criticized Toyota for this contest, arguing that pitting charities against each other is inappropriate.

I disagree vehemently: while only 100 organizations win cars, ALL of the organizations receive free Facebook Advertising credits and a Flipcam from Toyota – and they get the benefit of broadening their reach and sharing their message.

In the case of Family Promise GR – this meant 250 new followers on Facebook alone and a TON of local media attention.  It may also translate into donations, as it did for Kids’ Food Basket last year (including donations from generous people around the world – not just in Grand Rapids).

Evaluation (Analytics)

Here are the analytics for the link used to promote voting for FPGR during the 24 hours the vote was open:


Here are the analytics for that same link over the past 30 days leading up to the campaign.  Fortunately our experience last year impressed on us the importance of starting to communicate early WITH an action item (in this case signing up for a reminder, Facebook Event, or bookmarking the page to vote at).



At least one email campaign we have analytics for had a dismal response rate.  As previously mentioned, Family Promise of Grand Rapids is the “PR4Good” client of WMPRSA and unfortunately only three of the 300+ email contacts actually clicked through on the link.

The campaign netted some excellent traditional earned media:

pewcenter_mobileusage2011The Rise of Mobile

This year, 20 percent of the traffic generated through the link came from mobile devices.  This is highly significant as it represents a massive increase from the previous year.  That could be due to the fact that Facebook has become more mobile-friendly in the past year; most Facebook apps could not access “Pages” – meaning that most people could not install the 100 Cars for Good app and vote on a smartphone or mobile device.  It also corresponds to an observable increase in mobile use by everyone on the Internet.

This was particularly important for the FPGR campaign because the vote was held on a Saturday in the summer – when most people are away from the internet access they have at work or even home internet access as they may be vacationing.

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