How Twitter Helped Feed A Lot of Hungry Kids

Twitter is getting a lot of attention these days. It’s not difficult to understand why; as social networking gained momentum with increasingly popular sites like MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, so did Twitter. The statistics are downright staggering: Twitter’s user numbers have jumped to an estimated 32.1 million from only 1.6 million just a year ago. Today you’ll find famous TV personalities, musicians, actors, sports stars, journalists, CEO’s, corporations, and major news organizations Tweeting to the masses. It’s pretty cool to see what John Mayer or Oprah Winfrey are up to everyday, isn’t it?

But the key to successfully using social media is to leave the race for a million followers to Ashton Kutcher and his celebrity pals; for those of us Joe PR guys, the focus needs to be on building a network of meaningful contacts and getting to know the people in those networks. A recent volunteer project of mine is a perfect example.

I posted my first Tweet back in 2006, well before Twitter use exploded. By using it and other social networking sites, I’ve connected with PR and marketing professionals, media, and many other interesting people from all over the world. Several people I’ve met on Twitter have become close friends. More importantly, 140 characters at a time, I’ve expanded my personal network among fellow PR pros and reporters in Phoenix (where I live). This network would prove valuable to the Taste of the Nation’s Arizona event.

On March 18, Stephanie Martin (@SMartin00) saw a Tweet from me about volunteer opportunities for PR professionals. Stephanie, a marketing professional, had met me on Twitter just a couple of weeks prior. Her message was simple: “hey I’m on a committee for a charity event and we could use some PR help. Mind if I email you?”

“Sure!” I responded. Stephanie and Taylor Kalander (@Itkalander) were the co-chairs of the Taste of the Nation Arizona culinary event, a fundraiser aimed at fighting child hunger. Now in its 21st year, the annual event is part of a national endeavor by Share Our Strength; proceeds from the local event go to the Arizona Association of Food Banks and St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance.

With economic woes hitting Arizona hard, local food banks needed this help more than ever. But, like many charitable endeavors this year, there were a number of new economic challenges to overcome for the event to meet its goal.

After Julie’s Tweet to me for help, I attended a planning committee meeting and volunteered to use my expertise to help. The event was less than two months away; immediate challenges were generating ticket sales and acquiring high-profile donation items for the silent auction.

Twitter to the Rescue
I wrote a blog about the event with a coupon code for discounted tickets and frequently promoted on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. While this helped generate awareness and ticket sales, the real value in Twitter came when I was able to acquire thousands of dollars in donations for the silent auction in just a few days.

I did it all using Twitter by connecting with:

  • Phoenix Suns PR Manager Krystal Temple Heaton (@SunsPRgirl) put me in touch with community relations manager Kimberly Sandbrook, who was able to provide an Amare Stoudemire autographed basketball and other Suns items.
  • Arizona Diamondbacks Corporate Communication Director Catherine Hermann (@DbacksPRgirl), who was able to contribute autographed baseballs, D’backs gear and game tickets.
  • Phoenix Coyotes Community Relations Director Sarah Finecey, who graciously provided a signed team jersey, autographed hockey pucks, and a private suite in the arena for 12 people to attend a home game of their choice. In addition, the Coyotes sent some of their popular cheerleading squad to the event.
  • Charlotte Crisch (@crisch) and Amanda Blum (@amandablum), expert PR consultants who donated four seats in one of their upcoming “Are You Socially Acceptable” courses on how to use social media to market small business.
  • The Taste committee’s silent auction chair, Julie Kiefer (@juliekiefer), was also able to connect with a number of donors through Twitter, including a guy from New York who provided an autographed guitar from the legendary Eric Clapton and a drum head signed by members of the band U2.

Noticeably absent of any presence at the event were the Arizona Cardinals; perhaps they’ll contribute next year?

Twitterpower Engages Local Media
In addition to securing silent auction items, Twitter was a valuable way to build awareness among local reporters and generate media coverage:

  • I connected marketing chair Cameron Cobb with KTAR 92.3FM (@KTAR923) community relations manager (turns out they went to high school together) and KTAR became the only official media sponsor of the event, giving us valuable on-air and web promotion
  • ABC 15 Anchor Katie Raml (@katieraml) helped line up an in-studio interview with one of the participating chefs and reporter Cory Rangel (@coryrangel) did a moving story about families in need at St. Mary’s Foodbank. ABC 15 anchor Steve Irvin (@Steve_Irvin) was our celebrity emcee.
  • FOX 10 community relations manager Richie Taylor (@MYFOXPHOENIX) helped secure a live in-studio interview and on-location story at St. Mary’s Foodbank
  • NBC affiliate 12 News (@ARIZONA12NEWS) also had one of the chef’s for a live in-studio interview the day before the event
  • Mike Shaldjian (@lafinguy), from Media Watch AZ was able to donate his company’s services to help monitor media coverage and provide copies of the broadcast clips

The dedicated and hard-working committee for Taste of the Nation Arizona 2009 pulled off a successful event in spite of economic challenges and thanks to the generous sponsors, participating chefs, gracious donors from across the Valley, and those 1,000 people who cared enough to attend. My heartfelt thanks to all of you. In the end, the Arizona event exceeded the local fundraising goal for this year and Share Our Strength has raised more than $50,000- that’ll feed a lot of hungry kids!

Twitter was instrumental in my volunteer PR efforts for the Taste event-it was through Twitter that the committee found me and asked for help. I’d like to thank all of the Tweeps mentioned above for helping us.

If you’d like to learn how to use social media platforms for your non-profit or small business, check out my blog post on Using Social Media To Build A Healthy Brand. For those of you who are still skeptical about the value of Twitter (and other social networking) as a vital organizational communication channel, I seriously hope you’ll get with the program!