Facebook Case Study: From 517 to 33,000 fans in two weeks (plus media coverage)


OK marketer, put yourself in these shoes (they’re more like boots actually). Your state government is facing massive budget shortfalls. Teachers are being laid off. Draconian cuts to vital public services are being announced left and right. And amid this tumult, you are the one tasked with using your marketing prowess to stave off disaster itself.

The above paragraph probably makes you feel better about your own challenges, but think for a second…given the above situation…and very little resources…what would you do?

Social media marketing for a social cause

At the end of May 2009, the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) found itself in this very position after learning about massive cuts in state funding that threatened to close 220 California state parks.

In response, this nonprofit organization quickly launched a multichannel effort with its agency, Adams Hussey & Associates, that included direct mail, telemarketing, email, and social networking. I want to focus on that last part for this blog post. Because what amazed (and impressed) me the most was that CSPF used Facebook to shape the larger conversation about this topic.


Before I get to that, let’s look at how CSPF used Facebook. They optimized their existing Facebook fan page to promote awareness, discussion, and (hopefully) attract new activists and members. “Find us on Facebook” language and graphics were featured in every email and all over the site.

The “Friend Get a Friend” campaign launched on Tuesday, May 26, on Facebook via an update to 517 fans – “This year’s cuts are ten times as bad, so we need ten times the fans on Facebook.”  The update explained to recipients the imminent threat parks were facing and set a deadline and a goal – 5,000 fans by Friday (May 29).

The second Facebook update was sent on Monday, June 1 at 12:12 p.m. PST, stressing a 24-hour deadline and asking for fans and petition signatures. The California budget committee was scheduled to meet on June 2, so media coverage was at its height.

The Facebook factor shapes the conversation

“The California State Parks Foundation, the lead public organization advocating keeping the parks open, had its fan base on Facebook increase from 500 to 33,000 in the past two weeks, reports Jerry Emory of the Foundation.”

– Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, June 21, 2009

Now this next part is truly impressive. With just two updates on Facebook (and in all fairness very smart cross-promotion through other channels), CSPF created a proof point for keeping the parks open, helping them meet their “promote awareness” goal.

That’s right, the Facebook campaign itself actually entered the public debate. The massive growth of this fan page caught the media’s attention and was mentioned on several TV news spots and in national news articles. They took advantage of a timely and newsworthy story (the California budget cuts were all over the news on- and offline) and created a talking point to meet their communications goals (several news oulets mentioned the Facebook growth as evidence of a grassroots swell).

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, raising awareness wasn’t their only goal. So let’s take a look at some of the other success metrics. Those two simple Facebook updates (aided by the cross-channel campaign) have helped raise several hundred thousand dollars in nonmember, one-time gifts.

In addition, CSPF more than tripled the size of its email list and acquired many new activists that are being converted to donors online and via the telephone.

CSPF is routinely using social media now. A subsequent Facebook and Twitter promotion gained 285 new members in four days, and their Facebook page has now grown to 54,000 fans.

Other success metrics were a little harder to meet. While California’s budget that was passed at the end of July 2009 did not close the originally proposed 220 parks, budget cuts forced nearly 150 to partially close or reduce services.

What you can learn from this case study

Nonprofit organizations are a natural fit for social media campaigns. People (who believe in your cause) want to help, often don’t want to expend much time or money, and want to look good to their friends, family, and social network. A social media campaign lies at the nexus of these three motivations. And, most importantly, it gives your fans an easy way to act.

Of course, the benefit isn’t limited to non-profit corporations. To wit, the Pepsi Refresh Project uses social media to leverage those same motivations. And this isn’t just a side project for Pepsi. They made a strategic decision to use a social media activism campaign as their main 2010 marketing push…instead of the Super Bowl. This is the first time in 23 years that Pepsi has not advertising during the Super Bowl.

So what can you learn from CSPF? When creating a social media campaign, keep a few important principles in mind:

  • A tight deadline always spurs action online.
  • When supporters can get instant feedback on the effects of their efforts (seeing fan numbers grow) it makes them even more motivated.
  • The best campaigns cross pollinate. CSPF didn’t just use Facebook. It also used direct mail, telemarketing, and email in a tightly integrated fashion, including a custom URL for the Facebook fan page. Even better, add other social networking platforms to the mix, such as Twitter.
  • Be clear. While social media has grown explosively, not everyone you reach will be clear on every convention of every social media platform (which are constantly subject to change). As opposed to showing first-time Facebook fan page visitors the default “Wall” tab (which has no clear call to action), CSPF created a pseudo “New Fan” landing page that included three simple buttons:
    • “Click ‘Become a Fan’ above to join the conversation!” (Please note, as of last month, Facebook replaced its “Become a fan” terminology with the “Like” button)
    • “Join CSPF”
    • “Take Action”

    Join California State Parks Foundation

  • Institute back-end tracking on clicks and conversions to determine where supporters are coming from (this is one thing CSPF would do differently next time).

Mapping an effective media strategy

I found this case study while perusing an early draft of an upcoming book from MarketingSherpa. To read the entire case study, along with ten other case studies from leading companies and 27 real-world examples of what works, order your copy of the soon-to-be released Social Marketing ROAD Map Handbook: A method for mapping an effective social media strategy. If you do so by May 28th, you’ll save $100 and get a free bonus gift.

I want to thank Lead Author Sergio Balegno for letting me take an early look at his research, even though he was still editing it as I poked around. And full disclosure: While Sergio and I are not related, MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa are sister companies.

Related Resources

The MarketingExperiments Quarterly Research Journal, Q1 2010 (Social Media Marketing begins on page 51)

Social Media Marketing in Four Steps

Facebook and Omniture: A welcome step in social media measurement

Please Be My Friend: Taking the first step beyond just being on Facebook

Develop Your Social Marketing ROAD Map Strategy

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  1. Emily Whitley says

    nFusion is conducting a quantitative study on Facebook. If you’re a marketer, take 3 minutes to answer the questions and you will get a free copy of the research findings. Improve your marketing efforts on Facebook! The survey will be up until May 31, so hurry and complete yours now. http://bit.ly/9P3e04

  2. Kingsley Tagbo says

    That is amazing to see Pepsi deciding to make use of social media marketing and not spend the majority of its marketing campaign on one big event that lasts a few hours. It’s also amazing to see nonprofit organizations able to generate such good media coverage through some Facebook promotion along with a few other pieces of good marketing in the mix. It’s always nice to see some positive aspects of Facebook come into light, rather than hearing about privacy woes every other day. This goes to show that Facebook can be a powerful and beneficial tool for any individual, cause, or mega corporation.

  3. Joey davis says

    Danial –

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen a blogger mention something I noticed almost 24 hours ago. Facebook has limited the dimensions of the graphic you have have on your fan page landing tab.

    Yep, first they take away the option to have a facebook landing tab only to give it back, but now they’ve completely screwed everyone who has created a graphic for that page but reducing the size of the graphic. Here are some examples, starting with the one you featured. In each of these instances, the graphic as it appears on the facebook page WAS the same size as original graphic:

    Original image:

    Now look how it appears on the facebook page:

    Original image:

    Now look how it appears on the facebook page:

    Original image:

    Now look how it appears on the facebook page:

  4. Brenna says


    Thanks for pointing that out! I hadn’t noticed that FB was restricting graphic sizes now. We’ll be adjusting CSPF’s page (http://www.facebook.com/calparks) ASAP.

    And thanks for such a great write up Daniel! We’re very proud of the campaign to save CA state parks last year. It was the first year my online department worked with CSPF on their strategy and we were thrilled with the results and the recognition from MarketingSherpa Viral Hall of Fame.

  5. Neo Kineda says

    Thanks for the example – it validates some of the FB best practices and demonstrates that tightly integrated cross-channel marketing is effective in social media marketing.

  6. Kelly and Shelby says

    We get invites to social causes on facebook almost every week. How does one cause really stand out from another on facebook now that so many social causes have taken to using this as an effective way to raise attention and money?

  7. Carol Schiller says

    Sure would love to learn more about those “smart cross-channel promotions”.

  8. Derek says

    That’s a great case study, but I’m left to wonder just how relevant the “fans” are to what the company is doing. When you have any mass following, there’s a high likelihood that a small percentage of those fans are just “liking” a page because someone else on their friend list “liked” it as well.

    That’s my only “blah” with Facebook. While it can be a great tool for marketing, you invariably end up with that percentage of people who provide little to no value. Of course it’s a small percentage, but the more “fans” you have then the more people fall into that percentage.

    It still beats the band over other forms of paid marketing such as print media where you’re hitting a lot more eyeballs that just don’t care.

    I will say congrats to CSPF for the success they’re seeing. I applaud their efforts within social media and wish them nothing but success. Here’s hoping they maintain a strong content marketing strategy to keep those fans happy and engaged.

  9. Eugene Flynn says

    Thanks Daniel for sharing the case study,

    This is potentially a really interesting case study on integrated marketing. It appears from the case study that facebook was not the catalyst for actions or donations but the number of supporters was used to demonstrate grassroots support or a mandate for the campaign.

    What would be really interesting to learn is how the other channels supported the campaign. Were other channels used to primarily promote facebook over their web site?

    It would also be interesting to learn how much of the several hundred thousand dollars raised came through new facebook friends versus the other channels that were used. Facebook has a poor record to date as a successful fundraising platform. Are these details contained in the full case study?

  10. Daniel Burstein says

    Thanks for all the great comments and questions. Be on the lookout for a follow up blog post that will seek to address these questions.

  11. Frank says

    What was the budget and team size? I can believe the increase in followers…I went from 1 to 3000 in 4 days…….Thanks for a good article I just want to know the budget they used. Thanks

  12. Brian Arfi says

    @ Frank,

    raising 1 to 3000 is not that hard, because in only using your own (suppose) 5000 friends, and several other accounts, you can reach 3000 easily, well, at least compared to getting to thousands of fans.

    Anyway, good article. Glad i read this one 🙂

  13. Daniel Burstein says

    Thanks for all of your questions and feedback. I conducted a follow-up interview with Brenna Holmes from Adams Hussey & Associates to address your questions and get more details about this case study — https://www.marketingexperiments.com/blog/research-topics/facebook-interview.html

  14. Britt King says

    Congratulations, Joey and thank you, Daniel.

    Your team blew me away with those results. Please tell me you’ve been approached by industry and academic journals about this entire strategy? It’s revolutionary!

  15. Queretaro Realtor says

    Great article, we as a company are always looking for ways to interact with our clients in the social media world.

  16. Jared Meyers says

    Great write up here Daniel. Facebook marketing is a huge area to reach millions of customers! So many people do not utilitze it in a proper way to gain tons of leads and sales. I have been marketing online for 8 years and never really got into this area until a year ago. If you are not utilizing this social platform, start now! You won’t regret it!

  17. Stéphane Thirion says

    Thank you for these explanations, good idea

  18. Nikhil Ganotra says

    Superb Case Study, Daniel!

    Learned a lot of new things from it.

    BDW what was the budget?


    1. Daniel Burstein says

      Thanks for reading MarketingExperiments. I’m glad this old blog post can still provide value.

      To answer your question, I’m not sure what the budget was. And as the post was published six years ago, it is too late for me to reach out to the source and get an answer.

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