grew up in the height of, “the reality television era.” As I was moving into the sixth grade, there was a reality television show on the Disney channel called Bug Juice. A couple of years later, America’s Next Top Model debuted, and in high school, and reality-television shows such as the Real World and Road Rules were a hit on MTV.
Now, more than ever, reality television shows are a critical piece of programming. According to Vox media, "In 2015, 750 reality-based shows aired on cable alone." This number does not include the influx of reality-based shows that can now also be streamed on digital platforms such as YouTube and Hulu.
To my surprise, as I was watching a recent episode of the MTV show, Catfish, I was taken back by the thoughtfulness and authenticity of the show's hosts, Nev and Max. I found it interesting how these two traits play off the premise of the show: people pretending to be someone else. While one may think that lessons for business may not arise out of programs such as Catfish, I found four lessons that nonprofits can learn from the show.
Listen to your audience. Before Nex and Max officially dive deep into solving the “Catfish problems,” they ask their guests, "Tell me the story." When nonprofits are gathering testimonials and interviews, it’s vital never to lose the integrity of the story and that happens by truly listening to what is being said. When you honor the story in its most real form, you are adding a level of authenticity to your nonprofit's storytelling.
Do your research. As part of the Catfishing process, Nev and Max turn into private investigators to find out the truth. They use tools such as "Phone Number Search" or "Google Image Search" to get answers. They will even call people connected to a Catfish party to gain more insight into the situation. Does your nonprofit integrate research into its day-to-day work? For example, as a digital marketer, before I propose a new idea or method into my organization, I conduct extensive research to determine the pros, cons, foreseeable problems, resources, and if other companies or nonprofits have used this method before.
Create systems and processes. The reason Nev and Max can film so many episodes of Catfish quickly is due to having an established system and process. Having systems and processes are useful for two reasons. One, you can put 100% of your focus on the work at hand. You will not have to sit down and think about what you did last time to get a result. Two, you have something that you can compare time and time again. For example, think about year-end giving or annual appeal campaigns. Do you know the exact steps, methods, and actions you took on your end to raise a dollar amount?
Follow Up. At the end of each episode, Nev and Max conduct a follow-up phone call with Catfish participants via Skype. Think about that concept with your nonprofit. Do you have a collection system for people who want to learn more about your organization? This is especially key in the marketing and communications department of an organization. When someone comments on a Facebook post, but you see that he or she is not following your page, do you invite them to like your page? Do you send them a personal message saying, "Hey, I saw you liked our page! To learn more about our organization, please click here." The good news is that now more than ever, follow-up can happen automatically through tools such as email marketing workflows and chatbots.
While comparing reality television shows to nonprofits is not typical, there are lessons everywhere. Think about the elements of reality television that make them so popular and keep viewers glued to their phones, TV screens, and tablets every single week (or day if they’re binge-watching Hulu or Netflix), then reflect on how you can include those elements into your nonprofit's marketing.
Aleshia Patterson is the Editor-in-Chief of Nonprofit Marketing Magazine. She has served in the nonprofit sector for almost a decade. She currently works as a Marketing and Communications Coordinator for a local nonprofit in Saint Louis, MO. In her spare time, Aleshia loves to travel, binge-watch Netflix, and go on Office Depot excursions.