guest posts, location-based social media, mobile advocacy, Online organizing, social media campaign

A Foursqaure Experiment Gone Right

19 Comments 02 June 2010

Editor’s Note: When I met Estrella Rosenberg April 8 at the Nonprofit Technology Conference, she told me about the Foursquare 100×100 campaign to launch two days later. No one had used Foursquare in this way previously, and I immediately knew she was on to a breakthrough idea. I asked her to send me a writeup once it was over, and this is her guest post below.

When April 1st rolled around I had been investigating how non-profits use Foursquare and brainstorming how they could  use it for a couple of months. Although not a direct method of fundraising my thoughts were still along those lines…and then a question popped into my head. Could Foursquare be used for awareness and advocacy?

1 in 100 children are born with a heart defect. My two nonprofits Big Love Little Hearts and One Hundred Squared serve the Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) community. When was the 100th day of the year? It happened to be nine days later, April 10th. My next question was: “could I come up with a campaign in nine days, launch it and have it be successful?”  I had no idea but I’m not afraid of failure so I set out to create a Foursquare experiment.

The basic premise was this – we created a hashtag, #100X100, that stood for 1 in 100 on the 100th day of the year. I created a website, to explain what it was, why it was important and to determine the actions we wanted supporters to take: spread awareness using the hashtag and call/write their representatives asking them to support the Congenital Heart Futures Act and Pulse-Ox screening of CHD to the National Newborn Screening Panel. We also created a Facebook fanpage and Twitter profile.

We recruited volunteers to commit to a guerrilla, grass-roots effort to use Foursquare to parlay our message. On the evening of April 9th a few dozen Big Love Little Hearts volunteers added the following as a “tip” to 600 Foursquare locations:  “1in100 children are born w/ a heart defect. Pulse-Ox screening saves lives – you can too! Check in with the hashtag #100X100.” We also embedded a link in the tip to the One Hundred Squared website. We chose what we thought would be the most checked-in locations on a Saturday: airports, Starbucks’, Target’s, gym’s, etc. in every major city.

One of the benefits of using Foursquare as an origin point is that most people who use it sync their check-ins to Twitter and Facebook. This meant that one person checking with #100X100 had the possibility of being viewed across three different platforms with three audiences. Talk about bang for your (time) buck!

Did it work? Better than I could have possibly imagined.  My goal was to see how social media worked for advocacy and awareness. However, something extraordinary happened: I began foursquaring/tweeting/facebooking about #100X100 at 12:01 am on April 10 and Big Love Little Hearts’ supporters followed.

At 7:30 am an angel who was following one of our followers on Twitter (but not us) noticed our hashtag. (She is an adult with a CHD who was not diagnosed at birth and who is alive today because she received lifesaving surgery.) Her passion for our work led her to call me and commit to donating $1 for every time someone used the #100X100 hashtag until midnight April 10th.

How much did we raise?  She gave me a cap of $25,000. I knew the moment she said it that as a not-quite ten month old organization we wouldn’t reach the cap. Much to my surprise our supporters were so engaged that we reached it by almost half.

At quarter to midnight the hashtag had been used 11,703 times across all three platforms. Our donor was so impressed that she committed all $25,000, which funded 12 surgeries in developing countries. Twelve lives saved in 24 hours.

That’s great (okay, FANTASTIC), but did it work for advocacy and awareness? YES! Less than two weeks after the 100th day of the year about 100 people from various CHD groups were to meet in Washington  for CHD Lobby Day. The One Hundred Squared website, as linked through Foursquare and the hashtag, asked people to contact their representatives. We wanted to plant a seed for anyone who used #100X100 on the 10th to call their Senator or Congressman and let them know that they supported measures that would greatly improve the lives of the 2 million people living with CHD in the states.

On the April 22 (CHD Lobby Day) we used the hashtag via Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare to remind our supporters to call their legislators. By noon more people had looked at the website than the entirety of April 10. I had seven appointments with Senators  & Congressman from Illinois that day. There wasn’t a single one I walked into where their aide didn’t inform me that constituents had been calling about this all day. People Lobby Day delegates from other states texted or called me to say the same. More than 500 people told me that they had contacted their representative, and 300 others contacted the Big Love office to do the same. 1800+ viewed the page and clicked through the link to find their representative. I cried with pride the entire day.

What was the benefit of using Foursquare as our social-media springboard? The tips we left are still there and will stay there perpetually. For several locations our tip is still the most recent. Did I mention that we have a link embedded in the tip?

A huge “thank you” to everyone who participated in #100X100 on April 10h and 22 – you made it such a success that the Big Love Little Hearts sister organization, 1 in 100, changed its name and expanded its mission. (Check back with soon – or subscribe -for more details)!

One last nugget – all of this was FREE. We raised $25,000, saved 12 lives in the immediate and set the stage for millions of lives to be changed.

Estrella Rosenberg is the Founder and Director of Big Love Little Hearts, One Hundred Squared, Little Leo Foundation and The 4F Club. She writes about her love of non-profit work in her blog, Adventures In Philanthropy.

Big Love Little Hearts provides lifesaving surgery to children with congenital heart defects in developing countries. Almost one million children are born with a heart defect worldwide every year – half will need surgery to survive. Ninety percent will be born in countries where access to lifesaving measures is limited by economic status or lack of infrastructure. Follow them on Twitter. Follow One Hundred Squared on Twitter here.

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  • elyondekoven

    What a great idea and execution of a brilliant strategy! A model for nonprofits and for-profits for years to come! One small niggle: I wouldn't say it was “free” – the organizers put a LOT of time into designing the strategy, making a Facebook page, making phone calls, organizing the seed volunteers, etc. Such costs are not negligible. But certainly, in this case, the investment paid off extremely well!


  • Hi @elyondekoven –

    Thank you so much for your comments and kind words! You're right…when I said it was “free” I meant monetarily. Certainly I invested a lot of time into this, although remarkably less than I do for off-line events. Because I only had the idea for the campaign nine days before we implemented I moved fairly quickly through all the things you mentioned…I created the website, facebook fanpage and twitter profile in five hours. The next day I created a document that I sent to key volunteers that explained the project and what I wanted them to do. That and energizing our volunteers took a few more hours but that was it leading up to the evening prior to #100X100.

    In the late hours of the 9th through the end of the 10th I was almost constantly on facebook, twitter and foursquare working to build and keep momentum. I worked on this for 30 of 36 hours and did not sleep at all. The six hours I wasn't absolutely glued to my laptop were spent participating in the conference I was at and eating. I repeated that again during CHD Lobby Day.

    After I write all that down I realize just how many hours I truly poured into this and you are correct to say that it's not negligible, but this work is such a labor of love to me that it never feels like work. My sister died from an undiagnosed heart defect and her loss is what drives my passion for the children we seek to help. It has given me an endless well of energy for this cause.

    Thanks again for your comments!


  • sue_anne

    Estrella – I tweeted you, but I think this is a fantastic idea. I hope you don't mind if I steal it in some way. I work for a California-based non-profit, and we're always looking for new ways to get visibility. I think doing something like this as targeted check-ins where people interested in kids might visit would really help get our message out.


  • Hi Sue Anne –

    I don't mind if you steal it at all! I wrote about it so other non-profits could think about how they might adapt the model for their own organizations. I think your idea is very on target…let me know how it works for you!


  • sue_anne

    I'll definitely let you know. I've been on leave for the past couple of weeks but this is top on my list to talk about when I get back to work next week.


  • I'm so glad that others got tangible ideas from this guest post! It was certainly the intent from it – a “learning from experience” piece. @Sue_Anne – let me know when you use it with your organization and I'd love to write about lessons you learned from replicating it!


  • Hi Estrella,

    Congratulations on your success with raising money through Foursquare! I lead the social media team as a volunteer with Jolkona Foundation ( and we've been wanting to experiment with how to use location-based apps in our efforts. Thank you for sharing your story!

    How many volunteers did you recruit to help lay the check-ins around town? Is this the first social campaign you've implemented on this scale?


  • Congratulations on the campaign's success.

    I really hope, though, that this doesn't become a commonly used tactic. As a Foursquare user, I'm often looking for tips while mobile and in a rush. I want them to be relevant to where I am. Treating Foursquare as a platform to push non-locationally-relevant messages simply because it also pushes to Twitter and Facebook for many users is quick, yes, but ultimately works to hurt the platform. Despite the cause being a good one, I honestly would have been annoyed and predisposed against the campaign if I'd encountered one of these tips.

    Like a previous commenter, I think there's some potential here if the locations are targeted carefully. But even still, honestly, the vibe is more crassly opportunistic and spammy than community-building. Just my 2 cents.


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  • Hi Laura,

    Thanks for taking time to comment – I'm glad to hear your exploring how you can use location based apps at Jolkona! There's a lot of possibility with them when you think out of the box. I'd love to hear about it if you move forward with anything.

    This was the first social campaign that we've implemented on this scale – we have still not yet celebrated our first anniversary and I'm constantly brainstorming how to best achieve our mission. I think being a young organization makes it easy to incept and implement new campaigns very quickly (there are less channels of approval). We had about a dozen volunteers who committed an hour sometime between 8pm-midnight on April 9th. If I had more time I think I could have organized the volunteers better and gotten more of them so that we could have added tips to more locations.

    I got your email – if you have any more questions please don't hesitate to ask!


  • Hi Erica,

    I really appreciate your honest comment! I'm an active foursquare user as well but look at tips most from my computer (I like to view multiple tips to look for consistent opinions) so I had not considered what an inconvenience that would pose for users who look at them on the go like you in the day of and the days following April 10th. For those that exclusively view tips via their mobile device the increased popularity of foursquare especially contributes to the tips quickly being replaced by more current and relevant ones. Although there are several locations where our tip is still the most recent they tend to be places where there are few tips.

    It's always good to hear other points of view and I really do appreciate your candor, Erica. I will say that even if you had been annoyed at encountering the campaign and not participated you would have noticed it and spreading awareness was one of the primary goals. It's hard for me to view that as a negative but I do understand where you're coming from.


  • it is very important for the whole world and i am happy that this experement went as it had to.


  • Great post! Congrats on this success with your unique approach to using foursquare. I work for a non-profit Fair Trade organization (Ten Thousand Villages Canada) and, as other's have posted, we are always looking for new ways to inform people! Thanks so much for sharing!


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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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