Boy, was he wrong. Doug Ulman, CEO and President of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, talks about how to use your community to improve business.
“Four years ago, I knew nothing about social media. I didn’t believe in social media,” Doug Ulman, CEO and President of the Lance Armstrong Foundation (also known as Livestrong) told attendees at the Inc. 500 | 5000 Conference on Friday.
Today, Ullman has over 1 million Twitter followers. Livestrong now uses platforms like Twitter and Facebook to empower everyday people to share their stories, connect with others suffering from cancer, and spread word of mouth about its services--like one that connects those with cancer to new clinical trials. Fundraising, while possible through those platforms, is a second priority.
The three-time cancer survivor explained Livestrong’s social media strategy using the metaphor of the non-profit’s iconic yellow rubber bracelet. “It connected people around a common cause. It let them know they were a part of something greater than themselves,” Ullman said.
Social media gives the charity an built-in audience it can leverage for help and support.
Here are a few ways Livestrong does it:
Let People Decide. On Livestrong’s site, donors can vote online for the programs it should fund. That ensures the charity funds the projects its community deems most important, and inspires local groups to rally their own communities to vote and support those programs. Businesses should do the same, Ullman said. Let employees and customers decide which causes the company should support. “Let it bubble up,” Ullman said.
Stories Are Power. When Livestrong wanted the United Nations General Assembly to address cancer for the first time, it didn’t just reach out to the diplomatic body directly. It created a website where people could upload photos, tell their stories, and show the human side of why cancer, the world’s leading cause of death, should take center stage at the U.N. In 2011, the diplomatic body made cancer an issue for the very first time.
Rally the Troops. Ulman described how the organization posted a video of Brian Rose, a 32-year-old baseball coach diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma. The outpouring of support inspired donations, including one benefactor who watched and offered to pick up the tab for a $70,000 clinical trial. As it turned out, the benefactor didn’t have to shell out the money, because public pressure inspired by the video led the insurance company to cave and pick up the tab, Ullman said. Throughout, Livestrong simply acted as the conduit. “It’s not a one-way tool of communication.”
“A community does not move forward unless it moves forward together,” Ullman said. By creating a place for that community to meet and share, new ideas and new opportunities will spring forth.
BURT HELM is a senior writer for Inc. magazine. In 2013, his Inc. feature “After the Squeeze” was awarded the Stephen Barr Award for Feature writing, and his stories “After the Squeeze,” and “Turntable.fm: Where Did the Love Go?” received awards from Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Prior to Inc. he worked as a reporter for Bloomberg News and a department editor for Businessweek. He is a graduate of Yale University with a double major in Physics and English. He lives in Brooklyn, NY. @burthelm