How do you rally the troops on social to save a hiking trail?
What started out as a small group of volunteers with a love of the outdoors, has become Washington state’s most trusted leader in regional land conservation and sustainability.
Forterra’s key objectives are:
- Acquire keystone lands in Washington state. From old growth to the highest mountaintops in the Cascades, Forterra has completed over 400 land deals covering more than 250,000 square acres. Their projects have ranged from protecting farmlands from becoming subdivisions, saving property in the heart of the city for affordable housing, and securing funds to purchase land that has sustained the region’s most popular and scenic hiking spots.
- Care and develop keystone lands. With the help of local partnerships, the Green City Partnership Program, and community volunteers they restore, maintain, and care for the lands they acquire.
- Create livelihoods in keystone lands. From working with city planners to develop sustainable urban areas to backing sustainable building materials and securing funding, Forterra works with a wide range of groups to increase economic potential.
Saving the Lake Serene Hiking Trail
Just an hour long drive north of Seattle, the Lake Serene hiking trail is one of Washington’s most popular hiking destinations. Take a 4.1-mile hike on an old logging road up a series of thigh-busting stairs to find yourself surrounded by towering cliffs and staring across a placid alpine lake.
Another great experience from 2017 was helping save the Lake serene trail. @forterranw raised $275,000 to keep it from being logged close to the trail. #savelakeserene #forthisplace #northwestnature #northwestcoast #northwestlife #northwest #pnwlife #skykomishvalley #skykomish #king5explore #q13fox #kiro7seattle #komoloz #adventurevisuals #thatpnwlife #pnwonderland #wanderfolk #beautifuldestinations #pnwcollective #hikingadventures #hike #hiking #bridalveilfalls
Weyerhaeuser, one of the world’s largest owners of timberlands, owned a quarter-mile portion of the timberland that borders the Lake Serene hiking trail. The trees that run along the trail were scheduled to be clear-cut over a year-long period beginning in fall 2017.
Even though Weyerhaeuser would replant after harvesting their trees, clear-cutting would leave a massive bald spot along one of Washington state’s most beloved day hikes for years to come. This kind threat falls right into Forterra’s wheelhouse.
Forterra decided they wanted to purchase the land from Weyerhaeuser to preserve the forest within 500 feet surrounding the popular hiking trail, but they needed money. A lot of money. Weyerhaeuser was willing to sell the land at the market value of $800,000 US dollars.
So, Forterra put their resources to work. They reached out to their community partners and connections securing $405,000 from the Snohomish County Conservation Futures Program. An anonymous donor agreed to match donations up to $75,000, but they still needed to raise $275,000 before October 30, 2017 (it was mid-August).
Amazingly, with the help of over 600 contributing hikers and climbers, they reached their goal! They purchased the land from Weyerhaeuser, protecting the forest from ever being logged.
But, how did they do it?
Certainly, there were many contributors to their success in raising awareness and the funds they needed to save Lake Serene. It’s worth noting a few social media marketing tactics they used to help them cross the finish line.
Tell a story
When you plan on running a social media campaign, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is “which social channels will be most impactful for achieving my objective?” (assuming you’ve already defined your objective). Forterra shared posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for this campaign which were good choices because these channels are:
- Great for engaging with communities (ie. Facebook Groups)
- Popular for driving a lot of conversation (hashtags and mentions)
- Intentionally built for generating excitement around events
- Designed for easy sharing
- Effective at educating people
No matter your objective, capturing your audience requires good storytelling. We more easily absorb information from stories because they engage us. We want to know what happens next. Stories use emotion and personal connections to inspire action.
In this campaign, Forterra used video to tell a powerful story in a short amount of time.
Choosing your media type
A joint study by Neilsen and Facebook found that people who simply see an impression (<1 second) of a video without actually watching the video were still impacted by the ad. In the first second of Forterra’s video, they stated their objective, “Save the Lake Serene trail.” That is the message that people will remember even if they just scroll by, so make sure to get to the point early in your social video to increase engagement.
In this video, they tell their story and keep it brief, which is perfect for social. They distill their problem, what they hope to achieve, and the call to action in 30 seconds. Simultaneously, they use imagery in the background that illustrates the beauty of the area at risk. They also manage to tug at the heartstrings by showing video clips of families enjoying their outdoor adventures on the trail.
Embrace the dark side
What is dark social media, you ask? Coined in 2012 by former deputy editor of The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal, dark social refers to “the portion of referral traffic that lacks the information to trace it back to its source and is essentially invisible to most analytics programs.” When people share content on private channels, such as email and instant messengers, it’s considered dark social. Madrigal estimates that roughly 70% of social referrals come from dark social.
Think about the last time you shared a link to blog with a friend in Facebook’s native messenger or via email because you didn’t want the world to know that you’re into craft shows. That’s dark social. The primary takeaway is that there is a lot of valuable activity happening that you can’t track. There are over 1.37 billion daily active users on Facebook every day. Although you can’t track dark social, it has the potential to pack a ton of value, so keep this in mind when you’re reporting on the impact of your social media campaign.
Social tracking headaches
On a related note, to help social markets track their campaigns better, we recommend that you always use UTM parameters in your social media posts. Sometimes, even UTM’s can get a little messy when people begin sharing urls on the internet.
To help wrap your mind around what we mean, let’s say your organization sends an email to your subscribers with a link to donate to your cause. One of your subscribers copies the donation link in your email, pastes it in a Facebook post, and shares it with a Facebook group to help spread the word. Awesome! Except that it’s going to be tracked as traffic from your email campaign, not from Facebook. This is because the URL they shared in the Facebook post still has the email UTM parameters attached to it.
This is exactly what happened in Forterra’s ‘Save Lake Serene’ social campaign. Here’s a screenshot of a Facebook post in a public Washington Hikers Facebook group.
Check out the social engagement metrics in this post:
- 23 comments
- 27 shares!!!
- 143 reactions
This post generated incredible organic engagement! Imagine if just one of these 27 shares was as successful as this Facebook post. The reach of this post has the potential to grow exponentially, but it’s not accurately tracked. This is one of the reasons why accurately tracking the ROI of social media campaigns can be really difficult.
We decided to dig deeper to see if we could discover anything else about where this post came from.
Here’s the link that was shared in this Facebook post:
We clicked on the link in this post and found that the Forterra’s email campaign UTM parameters were still attached to the link. It’s likely that this user subscribes to Forterra’s emails and copied this link from an email campaign. If this is true, this also means that Forterra’s Google Analytics will report that all the traffic generated from this social post (and traffic from its shares) came from the email campaign, not the social media post. So, the traffic generated from this post will have attribution metrics, they’ll just be incorrect at no fault of Forterra. Double bummer.
You may feel that attempting to track your social media campaigns is pointless, but we’d argue the opposite. Regardless of dark social and misattribution, your message is still reaching the right folks and making an impact.
Seek out public and private social communities to find audiences who are most likely to make a difference and share your content. To help curve the misattribution problem, ask your followers to share specific links on different channels. Justifying social media can be tough, but you should still report on the activity you can track and keep in mind that your efforts have likely made a bigger splash than you can prove. That’s a good problem to have.
Drive momentum by sharing your goal progress
Your followers will notice when you share a new post every week about how close you’re getting to reaching your goal. That’s exactly what Forterra did. As more partners and supporters committed to donations, Forterra made sure their base knew about it by posting about it on Facebook and Twitter.
Here’s a Facebook post from September 26, 2017, when a community donor offered to match up to $75,000 in donations. By sharing your progress, your audience will be energized by the momentum of your organization and the likelihood that they will share your content (and donate) increases.
Call supporters out by name!
Calling supporters out by name and sharing their content encourages more engagement and builds trust in your relationship. Share the UGC warm-fuzzies when someone writes a blog, snaps a high-quality image, or shares your content.
Collaborate with partners
As they say, “many hands make light work.” It’s almost always worth the extra effort to collaborate with partners, vendors, local businesses, and organizations who have a similar audience to help amplify your message and reduce the workload.
As a conservation organization, Forterra is well-versed in partnerships. They were able to mobilize quickly with the support of their community, nonprofits, outdoor retailers, local breweries, and other active partners to help save Lake Serene. They know that their audience is active and that they love the outdoors, free gear, and craft beer (welcome to the PNW).
Here’s a list of events they co-hosted with a few of their community partners to help raise awareness and money.
Concerts at the Co-op
In the month of August, REI planned a concert every Thursday to celebrate a life outdoors. Forterra came to discuss their cause, increase awareness and energize attendees to get behind the cause.
Guided tours of Lake Serene
REI also lead a guided hike up the Lake Serene trail. They organized this hike as a fun and interactive way to show what could be lost, to educate people about what Forterra was trying to accomplish, and to teach people about the history of the land.
REI also hosted the event on their Hiking and Camping Classes & Events page.
Happy Hour at Fremont Brewing
Working with Seattle-based Fremont Brewing, they hosted a happy hour event to raise awareness and money. They also gave away some pretty awesome swag!
On the Facebook event page, they made sure to communicate what each individual could do to help the cause.
“With a $45+ tax-deductible donation to save the Lake Serene trail, you’ll receive an exclusive member patch! The first 200 patch members to the happy hour will receive a special treat from the brewery! Learn more and donate at www.saveserene.org.“
You don’t want to surprise people or make them feel as though they were baited and switched. Spell out what you’re looking for upfront when you host events.
Ask for help
You won’t get help if you don’t ask for it. Forterra wasn’t shy about asking for help from their audience. In blogs, press releases, articles and on social media they asked their followers, supporters, and readers to help spread the word about their mission and their goal.
Nonprofits understand that some supporters don’t have extra money to give, but they can help raise awareness and share the message with their friends, family, and social networks. For those who couldn’t make a monetary donation, they wised up and asked for them to spread the message about what they were doing in an effort to reach a wider range of people with similar interests.
Here was their alternative ask:
People interested in helping to save Lake Serene Trail can learn more and donate at forterra.org/serene.
People who visit Serene, or have in the past, are encouraged to help spread the word over social media:
- Use #SaveLakeSerene with photos and posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
- Use the geotag “Lake Serene–Bridal Veil Falls” when you share your photos
- Tag your photos with three friends you’ve hiked with or would like to hike with to raise awareness
Thank your supporters!
It goes without saying that raising $250,000 takes a massive community with a lot of love, and nobody could do this alone. Forterra took on a huge challenge and brought the right people to the table to achieve what they set out to do. Without the supporters, this never could have been done. Forterra understands the hard work and commitment it takes and they made sure their supporters were recognized for their contributions, participation, and activism in spreading the word.
It was just as much of an achievement for their community as it was for them, and they gave credit where it was due.
Want to get involved? Here’s what’s next.
The next project in Forterra’s the campaign is to secure the 320-acre Maloney Creek property in the town of Skykomish. The Washington Trails Association and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance have flagged a suite of new hiking and mountain biking trails that depart from an in-town trailhead and work up the scenic Maloney Ridge.
Forterra’s will help secure the keystone land. The property includes old growth, a critical habitat for endangered species, and protects the watershed above the town of Skykomish.
If you have any questions about the project, you can contact Michael Beneke, the VP of Communications at Forterra at 206-204-8059 (office) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Featured Photo Credit- Brian Kilpatrick of One Summit Media
Editor’s note: All of Forterra’s hard work paid off! In October 2018, Forterra acquired the last privately-held piece of the Lake Serene Trail. Congratulations to all involved!