Amber J Lawson is an American producer, entrepreneur, and online content and development executive. In another step toward her goal to “do good to scale,” Amber J. is the founder and CEO of Good Amplified, a YouTube Network solely focused on helping nonprofits evolve their donor engagement and retention via storytelling. In anticipation of Good Amplified’s launch, CATALYST connected with Amber J. to find out more about her new project and the future of content marketing.
Amber J Lawson founded Internetnetworksstudio.com in 1999 (after focusing on the performing arts at the University of Missouri). What motivated the transition from acting to developing online content and producing?
When I first moved to L.A. (a few years after college), I loved performing. However, I disliked the way in which an acting career often left my fate to the whims and demands of other people. I wanted to make my own opportunities! So I became a producer and started writing my own content in order to have the roles I was interested in playing. This transition was taking place during the first Internet boom, and my friend said to me: “You know, I think this Internet thing is here to stay.” My initial reaction was, “What? That’s crazy!” Yet he and I (along with an 18 year-old stock market genius we worked with at a restaurant) set out to create Internetworksstudios.com.
Our first show invited people from around the world to submit videotapes of them singing and dancing; the online community then voted for its favorites. We were a little ahead of our time — it was like our own American Idol — but after burning through the initial seed money, we created an hour-long pilot called Alyx. We partnered with Madonna on this program, which helped us sell the show to ABC/ Touchstone.
It was all just a little ahead of its time — a notion that I’d say has defined my career so far. I’ve been involved in multiple projects that were ahead of their time, but hopefully right now (with Good Amplified) we’ll be perfectly aligned with the coming-of-age, millennial generation.
What inspired you to create Good Amplified?
I worked as the head of programming at AOL. It was my dream job! I absolutely lived, ate, slept and breathed it. When I left my position, I thought, ‘I love doing these kinds of things.’ I believe that you can do good for the world and make money, so I contemplated how to strike that balance. I thought about what I love (entertainment), which led me to the idea of helping nonprofits across platforms to raise money through storytelling.
I started looking for a way to do good to scale: a way that would build upon itself. I wanted to help leverage what nonprofit organizations are already doing through a platform (YouTube) that the millennial generation utilizes to consume content. And that’s when I concocted Good Amplified.
What do you think the benefits are for a nonprofit to focus its media campaign on video production/sharing over traditional forms of digital content (e.g. articles)?
A potent form of marketing is storytelling, and every nonprofit has stories to tell. So they already have the key, potent pieces. The piece that’s missing, though, is leveraging the largest video platform (and second largest search engine) on the planet: YouTube. If you’re not there, it’s kind of like you don’t exist.
By optimizing content that nonprofits are already making on YouTube, they can deliver their mission to the next generation. The reason I say it’s critical to be on YouTube is because millennials donate through views. If you monetize your video, and people watch it, they are (in essence) donating through their viewership. The next step in showing their commitment is becoming a subscriber. I look at this as a new donor-retention program: subscribers receive notifications about updates, which helps maintain their connection.
According to standard marketing technique, it takes six to eight “touchpoints” for brand recognition to stick. With YouTube, this is something nonprofits would never have to think about again. All they need to do is continue telling their story to create those touchpoints in an organic way. So both the content and future viewers are present: nonprofits just have to facilitate the connection on a familiar platform. It’s an easier conversion than asking potential donors go to a website, or a new app, or something that’s completely different.
How is Good Amplified being funded?
At first, we set ourselves up to work as a tradition Multi-Channel Network (MCN). Most MCNs operate in three steps: there is a content creator; the creator monetizes its content; when revenue is produced, the profit is shared among creator, YouTube and the MCN. This works for some companies, but with a lot of nonprofits, we found that this was a difficult system to adopt. First off, there needed to be a value in the services we (GA) are giving — it’s human nature to pay more attention to something that costs money.
The second piece is that some nonprofits can’t take what is called Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT). It’s costly (and an accounting headache) to resolve this legality, which is why we have elected to give the nonprofits the option to pay a monthly fee to manage nonprofits’ YouTube channels. We run every aspect of it — titling, tagging, optimizing search algorithms — but we also educate the organization in the process. Over time, the nonprofit builds up a case for its team to start turning on the monetization (through ads) and collecting that revenue.
Has working on Good Amplified changed your perspective at all with respect to digital media and technology consultancy?
I feel like it has because there’s been a bit of an education process. For me, storytelling is the most powerful medium, period. While talking with nonprofits, we have found that they are waking up to the power of YouTube, but they need assistance. Quite frankly, some of the most successful nonprofits on YouTube have been the smallest organizations. In the absence of a complex, institutional process that drives internal operations, these organizations are more receptive to change. I think this is what our social media landscape demands: real-time interaction. This is how lasting relationships with online audiences are formed.
It doesn’t cost a lot of money to get in the game, but it does cost time. A lot of organizations lack the time to curate their YouTube presence, and that’s when they bring Good Amplified onboard. Our goal is to get into the DNA of an organization: every time they create a piece of content, YouTube should be a part of its checklist for sharing.
Most organizations use YouTube as a library or repository for past content. In reality, this material could be doing all the work for them! I use the example of Kobe Bryant, who granted a wish for Make-A-Wish Foundation a while ago. Contrary to popular belief, celebrity videos don’t always get a lot of views. Rather, a video has to be optimized on its platform in order to be picked up by the search algorithm. Once the video of LeBron got picked up, it started to generate 50,000 more views per week. That’s Kobe more people reached with your message! It’s all about the optimization and getting picked up in the algorithm. I know those things sound tedious, but they make all the difference in the world for getting your word out.
What advice can you offer people and organizations that are trying to utilize online platforms for social good?
Number one is that you have to engage with social platforms. This is where the next generation of givers can be found, and the old techniques don’t work for them. I believe that older institutions have to disrupt what they’re doing in order to survive. Every year, we lose various nonprofits because they aren’t receiving enough funding. These organizations were doing great work, but they weren’t reaching that generation of future supporters and advocates.
In addition to social platforms, content marketing is everything right now. What we’re talking about (brand recognition through storytelling) is exactly like branding for companies like Taco Bell or Target. Given that the commercial is going away, brands have to find different ways to engage with an audience through content that is entertaining and relatable. Why should the task of nonprofits be any different?
Good Amplified is committed to doing good to scale. We are looking forward to working with any nonprofit that has an appetite for content, and I think that is the distinction for how we can help. We are committed to making nonprofits successful — that’s our goal — but they have to have the desire for storytelling and content creation. I truly believe storytelling is the way of the future, which is why nonprofits have to embrace it now.
Sarah is an undergraduate at Yale University and a content editor for CATALYST. As a traveler who has visited 30 countries (and counting!), she feels passionate about international development through sustainable mechanisms. Sarah has taken an interest in the intersection between public health and theater, and hopes to create a program that utilizes these disciplines for community empowerment. She is a fluent Spanish speaker with plans to take residence in Latin American after graduation.