My Best Moment of 2014: #BookItToBrooklyn
By: Tori Valentine, Account Manager
For the final week of 2014, I look back at what I’ve accomplished this year. Among many shining moments, one stands apart. Something amazing happened back in March that really changed the way I see social media, the influence of the internet, the 24-hour news cycle and the community within this River City. That something was: #BookItToBrooklyn. A spur of the moment, gotta-do-something, knee jerk reaction to something I felt passionate about turned into one of the best 48 hours of my life.
#BookItToBrooklyn Goes Viral
How do you get something to go viral? This is the golden question among social media gurus. I can say: watching something I was working on go viral has been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as a public relations professional. Now, I’d like to share how a simple fundraiser became one of the most important social media and media relations lessons I’ve learned.
Why It All Happened
There’s something special about Virginia Commonwealth University’s men’s basketball program and the team’s home court. If you haven’t been to a VCU game at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, you really haven’t felt the energy and electricity coming from the crowd that helps motivate the players to victory. It’s something amazing.
More than 40 consecutive wins at home while being backed by a rowdy crowd of Ram’s fans was why a basic fundraiser went viral. It all started when it became clear that VCU would be playing in the A10 Tournament in Brooklyn, New York and there were no plans for how to get students, who otherwise couldn’t afford the trip up north, safely to Brooklyn to retain the home-court advantage that helped the Rams win 18 straight games at home during the 2013-14 season. To retain that home-court advantage, VCU fans needed to be at the game.
Not having the students in Brooklyn with the team to cheer them on, would in my opinion, have a potentially negative affect on how well the team played in the tournament. We had to get our students to Brooklyn.
In a risky move, three days before VCU was set to play their first tournament game, I put my public relations skills to work and set up a GoFundMe.com account with a fundraising budget of $8,000. This amount would comfortably fund the transportation and lodging for 56 dedicated student fans, or as better know, Rowdy Rams. I reached out to the VCU community first, via Facebook and Twitter, and asked students and alumni to put the word out that we had set up the fundraiser and needed people to donate. This effort made me realize the true power of social media and how it can make things happen (and fast!).
Not even 24 hours into the fundraiser we had reached our goal of $8,000. A student intern at the local media TV news station WTVR-CBS 6 called me to pick the story up. After they published their phone interview with me, word of the effort spread like wildfire. Soon I was meeting up with the other TV news stations around the city and getting more and more media coverage. This, in turn, built broader awareness of the need and resulted in more donations. It was a great example of how social media and media relations, when combined into a campaign, can work very effectively. It’s something we do for our clients monthly here at Commonwealth PR.
Overall, with the help of social media and influencers within the VCU community, we were able to raise $14,000 in a little over 24 hours. The most notable contributions came from head coach Shaka Smart and his wife Maya, NASCAR drivers Elliot and Hermie Sadler, and NBA player/VCU alum Eric Maynor, along with local Richmond businesses that also donated generously.
The $14,000 raised was able to fund both safe transportation and lodging for the students along with some really amazing seats in the Barclay’s Center so the team had their rowdiest of fans right beside them.
The money that was unused was put into the on-going Brooklyn fund (courtesy of the local restaurant Baja Bean Co.) a bus to the 2015 A10 tournament.
If not for risk-taking, social media tactics, media relations experiences and enthusiastic influencers, the #BookItToBrooklyn campaign would not have been as incredibly successful and I wouldn’t have learned the valuable lessons about social media and media relations that you can’t get from a textbook.