Melody Kramer

Cuny Panel On Membership

26 Aug 2015

Hi everyone, thanks for coming and a particular thanks to Hal and Jeff for inviting me, and to Sarah for organizing this panel.

Before I introduce you to the panel, I’m going to start off talking for no more than 3 minutes about the research I conducted at Harvard this past spring. If that seems short, no worries - there’s an Ignite version online and an hour-long speech version online and a 72 page report. (If you’re pressed for time, read the executive summary and the key takeaways.)

The 72 page report was written during my recent Visiting Nieman Fellowship up at Harvard, where I basically examined what membership could look like in public media if there were models other than monetary ones: i.e. could people become members of a local station by donating time, code, or a skill? I wanted to know: What would that look like for the person? What would like that look like for the station? And would stations be strengthened if they start to value (and articulate) these other contributions — which may or may not lead to financial donations?

But the question I was really interested in was this: How could stations benefit if they expand the idea of what membership is and could be - and incentivize others to participate?

I talked to lots of people outside of public media for this project - people at libraries and food coops and airlines and people who work for the national parks.

And the reason I did that was because I think these people are grappling with the same issues - and some of them have solved them. Issues like: how do we make people ambassadors for an organization, even if they can’t donate money. And how do we get people into our physical spaces to understand what it is we do — and use those spaces as a hub or platform to become more deeply connected to each other. How do we think of public media spaces as public spaces - ones that more deeply strengthen and connect their communities?

What I love about this panel today is that the people on this panel have to think a lot about users and incentives and strategies in a way that public media stations - and other media orgs - could really learn from.

I’m going to let each panelist introduce him or herself and talk about his or her organization and then we’re going to have a conversation about a lot of things: incentives, email and newsletter strategies, ambassador-type programs, building in the open, building funnels and retention plans for existing and/or potential members, creating ways for users to have direct access (and what that looks like on various platforms) and how to translate what happens online into the real world and vice-versa.

And if English isn’t your first language or you want to share this with someone else, my entire introduction - and every question I’m thinking about asking these panelists - is also online. I’ll tweet out the link. Thanks!

PS: I talk about this kind of stuff all of the time on twitter (@mkramer) and my newsletter

PPS: I’m working on a Knight Prototype Project right now called Media Public and the entire process is public and you can sign up for updates if you’re interested in a) participatng or b) learning more.


I think of each Kickstarter campaign is it’s own, totally new, membership model. They’re extremely targeted and work well when a user already has an existing fan base. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what has worked best, and why. What threads do they share?

I think a lot about using an audience as ambassadors for a public media station or brand. I’m wondering if you could talk about this in terms of Kickstarter campaigns that didn’t start out with a large audience, but were able to successfully meet their goal through thinking about the audience as motivating others to participate.

How do the incentives help engage a new audience and motivate them to contribute? Are incentives necessary?

My favorite Kickstarter campaigns - and I’m thinking of the ones that PRX has run with Roman Mars - send me detailed, personalized updates after the campaign goal was met. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about email and social media, and how Kickstarter campaigns successfully connect with audiences during and after the campaign is over. I’m particularly interested in these connections afterwards because I think they’re really smart, particularly if someone intends to fundraise in the future.

BetaNYC / Code for America

I talked to several people who run Code for America during my Nieman year and I was really interested in how they initially got their government partners to get on board with the idea of having outsiders come in and work with them. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the partnerships you champion between government organizations and people who might want to help them out — and how the two sides build trust. I say trust because I think there are many parallels between what you do and what public media organizations could do — but what I’ve heard from stations - and I imagine you’ve heard this too - is that quote “we’re not sure if we can give people access to such and such.”

How does working in the open on platforms like GitHub build community? What does it mean for members of the community to have access to government and civic organizations in this way? And vice-versa?

If someone contributes to BetaNYC projects or a Code for America project, how are they rewarded? And is a reward important or are there other factors in play?

How do you motivate people to come back? It’s easy to start a project and much harder to build a community around one. What do the successful projects share?

If someone on one of your projects learns something, how do they share what they’ve learned with the rest of the BetaNYC community?

People come to a physical space for BetaNYC and Code for America. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about coming together in person - and whether you think this model would be as successful if people worked remotely.

Donors Choose

I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Maris. How do projects incentivize ambassadors? Are there ways to reward people who can’t contribute money to a project, but who will champion the project to other people? Particularly teachers - most of the projects I’ve seen have started with a teacher, but then spread elsewhere.

I’d really love for you to talk a little bit about the innovative, personal rewards structure Donors Choose has created, that’s led to 1.8 million supporters. That’s a huge number. Who counts as a supporter and how do the rewards help motivate them?

What could media organizations learn from this?

I think Donors Choose is particularly good at translating how what happens online can translate to the real world, which then allows more donations to come in online. I’ve gotten personalized notes from teachers. I’ve heard from Stephen Colbert. Could you talk a little bit about your different newsletter and email strategies? They’re good, and I’m particularly interested in how you have different ones for teachers and potential donors. How do emails from the teachers themselves motivate potential donors?

The Muse

The Muse has two different audiences - the job seekers that use the site and the companies that post jobs on the site. How do you think of community and building a community for people who are seeking jobs?

What strategies do you use to keep the people who have used The Muse to obtain job to come back to the site or act as an ambassadors for the site?

There’s also an incentive here for the companies who use The Muse to attract applicants to develop original compelling content. It’s almost flipping the table: the companies are showing themselves off, to attract applicants. What works well?

How does personalizing the process improve the process for both the companies and the applicants? I feel like this is something a lot of media organizations could learn from. I receive the same news story told in the same way, no matter what demographic I’m in. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what you’ve learned from personalizing the process.

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