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Interview with Marc Sirkin

Marc Sirkin is the VP eMarketing at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Prior to this role, he was responsible for the March of Dimes “Share Your Story�? Online Community. This interview (conducted via IM) provides a look at the genesis of the Share Your Story community.

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LeFever: So tell me a bit about what you're up to these days...

Sirkin: Well, I just started a new job at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) as their first VP eMarketing.

LeFever: : Great, congrats- how does that compare with your job at the March of Dimes (MOD)?

Sirkin: At MOD I was really more like a product/project manager - and not even really working within a true marketing department - I was in "revenue" as they call it over there.

LeFever: : So what was happening at March of Dimes that made them/you say "We need an online community"?

Sirkin: In both places, I get to be the Internet "evangelist" running around convincing everyone that this Internet stuff is for real...

At some point in mid 2004, I started having discussions with my boss's boss (SVP of Revenue) about Howard Dean's tactics and strategy to raise money. We talked about it a lot - and started mapping out how we might model that strategy and the idea became this...

How can MOD develop mission-affected folks into "brand evangelists"? The idea was to build an "asset" of evangelists that we could "activate" to do stuff for us. It could be for money, or action (advocacy), or events, but because these people would be so connected to our brand, they'd do it.

LeFever: : So how did you move from that to looking at online communities?

Sirkin: The idea was always an online community actually

LeFever: : The Howard Dean folks had a stake in getting dean elected- what was the stake for MOD people to be involved?

Sirkin: The stake is that right or wrong, if you have a premature baby - you feel guilty as hell and you (as a mother) have the sense that it should be preventable. These moms (PoP's as they call themselves) have a deep connection to each other. But in a similar way to how talking about breast cancer used to be taboo - they feel isolated and alone- even in their own households. So an online community became the perfect way to connect the dots.

LeFever: : ...and create evangelists

Sirkin: Bingo

Sirkin: All we needed to do really was say hey...we understand and we know you are in pain...come talk to each other about it and the response was overwhelming.

LeFever: : What happened when the community became a reality?

Sirkin: What happened was that traffic on the site went crazy, as did registrations. Within 3 months we had over 2000 users, some logging in every day posting messages, stories and photos.

LeFever: : What was the biggest challenge as the site grew so fast?

Sirkin: Reorganizing things logically. You and I had lots of conversations about organizing things - and ultimately, letting it grow organically at first was the best (and only) choice to make.

LeFever: : What form did organic growth take?

Sirkin: Topically - we had no idea what people wanted to talk about, so we left it wide open and "chunked" threads together when they seemed to need it. For example...I had 3 or 4 poems posted in a 2 day period so I created a “poems and stories�? folder... it exploded from there. The same thing happened with the photo gallery.

LeFever: : You became a community leader- what was that like? I remember it being a role that wasn't planned...

Sirkin: Fascinating and really emotional. I started a thread that introduced myself on a whim (you planted the seed in my head) and as of today, there are over 3000 page views to that thread, and almost 200!!! responses- many of them back directly to me.

Sirkin: That thread codified our entire strategy and validated in about 3 days everything we thought. "Introduce yourself" became the proof that we were right on.

LeFever: : What did it validate?

Sirkin: If you read through them, it's obvious that people were connected to MOD at a level not seen before nationally. It validated the evangelism theories for us - that people wanted and needed to feel like part of our family. We were blown away - it was so exciting.

LeFever: : I'd like to talk about your experience as a blogger in the community- what was your experience having a blog?

Sirkin: MOD's culture is conservative as I've said... when I proposed it... all anyone could ask is who's going to approve my postings... and of course my answer was NO ONE. That was a shocker. But by then, people started to trust me enough to roll with it. The bottom line is that you connect with people by being yourself - not by being some weird 5 headed marketing machine.

LeFever: : So how did you use the blog...

Sirkin: we used the blog to inform users about site updates and neat stuff going on at MOD and we thought that for our own little community that we were headed for a tipping point.

I describe it this way...the blog fills the void in between unauthorized usage of our logo, and a formal press release - it's more like a cocktail party discussion between me and my friends (or my posse as people started calling it internally).

LeFever: : Alright, that’s great stuff. THANKS SO MUCH for this Marc!

Sirkin: It's my pleasure.