How we got more than a million votes in two weeks, and won the Little Big Project Blogging Challenge

This in-depth article is about how my small team managed to smash all expectations and get more than 600,000 rating votes for our blog in less than two weeks.

**UPDATE – THE OFFICIAL COUNT IS IN – WE GOT 1,078,049 VOTES – OVER ONE MILLION!!**

First of all – a big thank you. Without you, and thousands of others, my team would not have been able to win the Little Big Project. With your help, we were able to win a grant of $5000 for an NGO that specialises in ecotourism and responsible volunteer tourism – Openmind Projects.

Thank you to all of you that voted, shared, liked and participated. My team-mate and I also won $1000 each, and courtesy of Thai Airways, return flights to Thailand for me, and return flights anywhere in Asia for my Thai team-mate.

Here ‘s a quick recap, before we get into how we did it.

From July 3rd to July 17th  myself and nine others were selected by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to promote ecotourism and responsible volunteer tourism in Thailand.  The five international bloggers were paired up with five Thai bloggers, to make five teams – all working with different host organisations around Thailand.

My team’s project was responsible ecotourism and marine conservation in Phuket.  My amazing Thai teammate was Wimalin Chalermporn, known to everyone as Fha.  Our host organisation was Openmind Projects (OMP).  You can still see all our coverage of the two weeks, and the huge number of voting hits we received, at the official competition website. The competition – whichever team gets the most total combined rating votes for all blog posts, wins $5000 for the host organisation.

So how did we win? 

  • Plan hard, before the rest of the work starts.

As soon as I found that the TAT had selected me for the competition, I started planning to win. Time was against me, it was only 8 days before the competition started that I found out I was going. Along with organising my life to disappear to Thailand for 3 weeks, I prioritized communicating with OMP.  None of us knew exactly what it would take to win, but we brainstormed ideas together.

I asked OMP to produce a SWOT analysis for me, and an analysis of their social media reach. OMP were brilliant, and they produced them quickly and accurately.  I set up Google Docs so that we could have a place to share our goals and strategy. With the groundwork done before I arrived, I felt like I had taken a crash course in understanding Openmind Projects, and was ready to get started.

  • Get clear about the rules, and understand what it takes to win.

At the start, I thought the best travel blogger would win. But being the best blogger did not equal winning. Getting the most votes equaled winning. Once we realised this, we spent a lot of time and energy describing to our supporters exactly how to vote.

I wrote a blog about it. I put instructions on my blogging bio page. Fha used Photoshop to put instructions in photos, and we uploaded them to our Facebook accounts.  Our supporters made our photos their cover photos.  We made it fun and cool, and our fans liked sharing our pictures too.

Back on the blog, we realized that a photo or a simple quote could generate as many votes as compelling, but time-consuming blog post, so we included more of them in our strategy.  We used the time we saved to communicate directly with our supporting, voting, networks.

  • Make it easy for your supporters

I’ll admit it, the competition blogging website wasn’t great.  In fact it had some key usability problems.  The bottom banner would often cover up the voting buttons with a hidden box, making voting impossible.  It wasn’t at all mobile screen friendly.  The sharing button was called “bookmark”.  And that’s just the tip of the ice burg.

Do you know the web address we would have to tell people we met if we wanted them to vote for us?

http://www.thelittlebigprojectthailand.com/blog/blogger/listings/richard.html

http://www.thelittlebigprojectthailand.com/blog/blogger/listings/wimalin.html

or maybe our team page: http://www.thelittlebigprojectthailand.com/blog/categories/listings/phuket-team.html

They just roll off the tongue don’t they? No, they don’t! How is anyone going to remember them? They’re not. So we made it easy for them.  Our OMP team set up a new simple website with voting instructions and a short, easy to remember url – www.openmindteam.com – with embedded direct links to our blogs for voting.

We weren’t there to fix the website, we were there to blog and win votes.

  • Give your supporters a reason to get involved – just like crowdfunding.

I realised pretty early on that this was going to be more like crowdfunding than just blogging. Instead of asking our supporters for money, we were asking them for votes every day. But why do you give to crowdfunding campaigns?  Maybe you want to support the organisation or the idea, maybe you want equity, or maybe you want a reward?

The guys at Openmind Projects had a great idea. Start a competition within the competition.  The best commenter on our team blog would win a free two-week volunteer experience with Openmind Projects.  This got the community engaged, and even if they didn’t want the experience, it gave them an excuse to share it with their friends who might want the chance.

  •  Think local, act global, and don’t forget about your offline supporters

I have a pretty wide international online audience here on this website and through my social media channels. But Openmind Projects has been building up its network for years. OPM has been running responsible volunteer opportunities in Thailand for over 10 years, and now operates in three other countries – Cambodia, Vietnam and Nepal. It has built up a network of tens of thousands of supporters. They were all key voting supporters, who would return to our blog posts every day and vote on them all.

Although my team-mate, Fha, has spent most of the past 7 years out of Thailand, her family has strong connections with the schools and universities in her local district.  Her mother and family friends went out at all the schools, handing out flyers with links, and giving talks. We were interviewed live on radio to over 20,000 people, and we met with local journalists and web reporters.

All the networks added together made a big difference to our vote count, and we really saw the benefit in the last few days.

  • Never give up, keep communicating, make sure your network knows what to do, and ask them to do it

We weren’t sure all our outreach was having an effect.  We knew we were doing a lot, and we knew we were doing well on votes, but we didn’t know how well until the last few days.

During the competition, we had been tracking the number of votes, and the votes of the other competitors.  We were neck and neck with another excellent team and worthy project.  We saw their votes increasing at a faster rate than ours – but during the last 3 days of the competition, something changed.

Our network had understood.  They knew what to do. We had asked for their help, and they were acting.  Our votes seemed to increase at an exponential rate.  We went from about 150,000 votes to more than 600,000 within the three final days. We had spent a lot of time and energy communicating with our network throughout the whole competition. When they knew we needed their help, they gave it to us.

  • Start working on your overnight success now

Just like all “overnight success” stories, it takes years of hard work before being publicly recognised. It takes continued effort of providing real value to thousands of people, who can in turn support you too when you need them.  I was moved by their support, and motivated to work hard for them.

In the end, a lot of the work that nobody sees helped us win. Openmind Projects can now use the winning grant to continue funding its excellent marine conservation programs.

As for me, I’m just about ready for the next Inspiring Adventure..

3 thoughts on “How we got more than a million votes in two weeks, and won the Little Big Project Blogging Challenge

  1. Great analysis on how you were able to improve relevant shares, especially getting ahead of your competitors by proper preparation. Beside the great articles you forgot to mention the brilliant photos. I think proper visiualisation is a key success factor to boost popularity of an online campaigns. It has been an amazing ride to follow anyway! 🙂

    • Good point about the photos – they really drive engagement, and give everyone an instant sense of exactly what we were doing. I’ll have to upload some of my favourite photos here too, over the coming weeks!

  2. Pingback: What is responsible volunteer tourism? | Inspiring Adventures

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