City Year #makebetterhappen


Every year in the United States, one million kids drop out of the nation’s schools. It’s a chronic, persistent phenomenon that is robbing America’s children of their ability to reach their full potential. City Year, a national education-focused non-profit organization, is focused on working with at-risk students in urban schools across the U.S. Each year, it recruits diverse teams of young adults, called corps members, to dedicate a year of fulltime service to help students stay in school and on track to graduate. Corps members provide individual support to students who need extra care and attention, by focusing on attendance, behavior and course performance through in-class tutoring, mentoring and after-school programs. Our focus was on college-going males/females, 17-24 years old.


Awareness of the organization was modest (aided awareness of City Year was only 25% among college students before the campaign). Despite being known for their signature red jackets, khakis and Timberlands, few people actually knew what City Year did or why the organization mattered. In addition, City Year had media budget of $0. That’s right, $0. Their message had to be spread in a way that did not rely on traditional media support. Our mission was to increase meaningful and motivating awareness among high-potential City Year applicants, and deepen the overall quantity and quality of the corps member applicant pool. Our focus was on males/females, 17-24 years old.


The success of the #makebetterhappen campaign lay in three key observations from our research: • That today’s young adults want to not only make a difference in the world but they also want tangible proof of their efforts; • That they trust messages from their peers more than from institutions; • They are heavy social media users (31% of this audience are Twitter users (eMarketer, 2012)). These insights led us to build a campaign around the meaningful efforts that corps members are making in schools every day – told from the influential voice of the corps themselves, and relying on a free social platform to spread the word: Twitter.


Leveraging the strengths of Twitter as a medium, we created a hashtag specifically for the corps to tell their stories: #makebetterhappen. We encouraged all 2,500 corps members to pause and think every day: “what good happened today?” And we asked them to tweet about it using this Hashtag, creating a rich, constantly updated content stream that shared their stories with the world. City Year corps members’ daily tweets were soon being seen by their friends and family. And, most importantly, by prospective corps members. Through City Year’s extended network of friends and partnerships, we eventually saw the hashtag in some interesting places, including in tweets by NBA stars and the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. We also knew that the peer influence for our audience online that drove our strategy would still be influential offline. To extend the campaign beyond the Twitter platform itself, we featured real corps members and their tweets in executions for TV, radio, print, out-of-home, and digital placements. And we used the hashtag - and not a website URL - on all communications to drive prospects back to the #makebetterhappen content stream on Twitter. Utilizing offline executions that featured content that originated online allowed all audiences to be exposed to City Year’s message, regardless of that audience’s presence on Twitter. We also created a living mosaic of corps member profiles and tweets,, which lives on the City Year homepage. The mosaic features 600 corps members and incorporates a live feed of corps member tweets to integrate the campaign within the website.

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The results are perhaps the most compelling aspect of this campaign: • In less than one year, we have been able to produce a lift in aided awareness among college students from 25% to 46% (a 21% increase). • On campuses where campaign materials had a presence, the number of students considering City Year as an ideal employer jumped from 3% to 11%, and the number of students who had applied or intended to apply increased from 1% to 5%. • 28,700 total tweets containing #makebetterhappen and over 26,000,000 impressions have been recorded on Twitter so far. • We’ve seen a 30% increase in web traffic over last year (even without the URL on materials). • City Year’s confirmed acceptance rate has increased 16% over last year, indicating a more qualified applicant pool. • Unaided word associations of City Year among our target reflected language such as “innovative,” “change,” and “cool” - showing movement in perception among our audience from the functional attributes of City Year to the emotional ones. • In Spring 2013, City Year was recognized as #64 on Universum’s Top 100 Ideal Employers list among college grads (Liberal Arts & Humanities), cracking the list for the first time. • In August 2013, Forbes online published data from Universum that stated among business students, City Year was tied for #2 as the company most associated with Corporate Social Responsibility, demonstrating that City Year’s attractiveness outside of the Liberal Arts/Humanities majors is growing.


#makebetterhappen is about giving a voice to the corps members and enabling them to talk about the impact that they’re having in our schools every day, in real time, by leveraging a social platform where they can share their unfiltered stories with the world. It’s about victories both big and small – from the larger scale impact that City Year has on our nation and our communities, to incremental progress made by students day to day. And the results speak for themselves.

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