I'm sorry Zack, I'm going to give away your secrets in this blog post.
I haven't been around my blog very much lately because I've been putting a lot of effort into the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics.
After the Fresno Pacific University debate on God's existance (you heard about that, right?) I met up with Zack, founder of the Central Valley Skeptics up in Modesto.
Zack had taken the time to drive down from Modesto and listen to the debate, and I wasn't about to let him go without picking his brains. You see, the organization that Zack founded is growing very quickly, and unlike many Atheist groups that have a reputation for being clogged with old-fogies bent on pure intellectual discussion, the Central Valley Skeptics consists of a considerably younger and more energetic crowd.
And even more interesting, that group has gained members very quickly. Something that I wanted to see the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics do.
So I cornered him, and picked his brains.
According to Zack, he got the least response, and the fewest new members from traditional media. Paid newspaper ads, fliers, and even a website garnered only a few new faces. The biggest response and the most new members were gained through social networking.
Zack uses both Myspace and Facebook to lure potential new members. People of my generation (I'm the last of the Baby Boomers) and those born in the 70's mostly don't have much to do with Myspace or Facebook. I know that I used to look at Myspace as putrid mess of bad HTML, spinning graphics and annoying music. But now I'm starting to see the attraction. This is a way to meet all those friends you never knew you had.
The response to Zack's social networking was amazing. He's got to keep moving fast to keep up with everything. His on line membership grew tremendously, and this translates to more people showing up at the meetings.
So, I decided to first concentrate on Facebook. I've handed off the CVAAS Myspace account to someone else for now. I figured Id have my hands full learning one new thing at a time. And I was right – until last week I had never done anything with Facebook other than reserving my “Calladus” identity on it.
So starting on Sunday night I went back to Facebook and started building my personal profile. Filling in the blanks and generally sprucing it up. But personal profiles are limited in the networks that Facebook allows them to join. I was able to join the Fresno social network, but I'm not eligible for any other networks. (I'm too old for High School, I've let my CSUF email address lapse, and none of my current or former employers are part of Facebook)
But the Fresno network is big enough, with over 30 thousand members.
My next step was to create a Facebook group. The Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics Facebook group. I set it up and made it look pretty with a quick graphic, and with links back to the CVAAS website, and content in the upcoming events.
Groups are social gathering places where you can schedule activities, show upcoming events, and “broadcast” a message to all other group members. I made sure that group members could invite their friends to join, and that they could also participate in the group.
Okay, so now I have a group and a personal profile. I then used the Search feature of Facebook to search for potential friends. I first sent friend requests to everyone over high school age with the word "Atheist" in their religious preferences. Then I did the same with "Pastafarian". After that I got creative and started searching for other key words, like Secular Humanists, Secular, None, nonbeliever. I tried to be sure that the potential members wouldn't be offended by my invitation. I was also clear that I wasn't just inviting potential friends, but potential group members.
I also started searching books titles. I've found that if someone has "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" in their book list they will probably be sympathetic toward CVAAS. While books like “The God Delusion” or “End of Faith” often just mean that the person is reads widely. I have no evidence, but I would suggest that religious people read “God Delusion” or “End of Faith” as part of their duty toward apologetics – where non-religious people really enjoy reading “Hitchhiker's Guide” as a fun, but ultimately secular book. I wonder if other books are like this.
So when I found someone I would send them a short greeting, explaining who I am and what I represent, and ask them to friend me. The greeting is limited to 255 characters, so you have to be able to write compactly. I kept it informal too.
To keep from wearing out my fingers, I composed a greeting in a word processor and then cut and pasted it into each invite. This really saves on keystrokes. I would suspect that any ability to broadcast to non-friended people would be disallowed by the Facebook team due to Spamming issues.
I could then invite those who confirmed me as a friend to the Facebook group. There's an area in the group's page that allows you to choose who to invite. I invited all of my friends. Again, you are limited to 255 characters, and I used a prepared text for my invite. The new invite was written differently than the first invite, and focused on the purpose of the group and its benefits to members.
I started sending Invites since Monday, and have averaged about 20 a day. I've got 30 accepted friends so far in my profile. And a couple of private messages thanking me. So far I only got a response from one person who was less than thrilled. The majority of responses have been positive.
Facebook groups also has a method of dropping in non-facebook email addresses into the group invite area. I dropped in all of my CVAAS contacts. The CVAAS group is now up to 31 people in size, and shows some signs of growing without my help.
Before Facebook our current email list had about 65 people on it, and 14 of them showed up for the last CVAAS meeting, about a 20% ratio. If this holds true, I should get another 6 people attending the next meeting just from this week's Facebook advertising.
And I haven't even started on Myspace yet. I have a page there, but I haven't invited anyone through it yet. I'm trying to get a volunteer to take it over for me.
Oh, Zack said that one other tactic worked very well for him. He did targeted cold-calling of potential members. He used phone numbers from the local university science faculty, and also called other potential sympathetic people. Almost all of his responses were positive. But he was subjected to one very unhappy professor who dressed him down for the call.
I'm not sure I could do cold calling. I think Zack has a lot of ... ah .. guts.