This article collates some experiences from different EA groups about how to most effectively market or advertise your intro programs and get more applications.
Note: Many groups call their intro programs “fellowships” and call participants “fellows” – these terms are used interchangeably in this article!
- 5 steps to make an advertising plan
- Ideas for advertising strategies
- Sample Materials
- More Resources
- Hall of Fame
What should my advertising aim to do?
- Encourage sympathetic viewers to participate. Once they’re engaged, they can experience a more in-depth explanation of EA ideas.
- Avoiding creating a bad impression of EA. To do this, avoid controversial statements or images, even if you believe this would generate more interest.
- Promotion should be welcoming and inclusive, as these are part of the core values of the community.
How much advertising should I do?
Strike a balance between (a) making sure as many people as possible hear about your program and (b) avoiding being perceived as spammy. While it’s important to keep reputation risks in mind, my guess is that most organisers could advertise more on the margin. Consider your context – in some places, persistent advertising of a society/event is more socially acceptable than in others.
Where should I advertise?
- My impression is that some of the most broadly effective strategies are Freshers/ Activities/Societies Fairs, social media and personal invites. But this varies between groups – even experienced and successful groups do quite different things!
- Ask other similar groups what’s worked for them, e.g. successful societies in your university/ area, nearby EA groups and existing group members.
- Experiment with advertising! Try one or two new strategies each time. Ask in the application form how people heard of the program so you can track how well each strategy is working.
How should I advertise?
- Make it super easy for people to sign up for your program. Include a link to the application form and the application deadline in all advertising materials. Make Google Calendar and/or Facebook events and send people links to sign up. Send people reminders close to the deadline and on the day of the deadline.
- Adapt your materials to your audience; emphasise what you think readers will find most exciting, e.g. career advice, social opportunities, academics associated with EA, relevance to activism and charity…
Should I market the program as highly prestigious?
You can market your program as prestigious through:
- The name of the program. “Fellowship” is the most common name used, and this sounds prestigious in many locations. Other names used include “scholars program”, “seminar program” and “discussion group”.
- Using formal language (e.g. avoiding slang/smileys/multiple exclamation marks)
- Clean and simple posters/banners/visuals
- Offering completion certificates
- Having a more demanding application process (e.g. interviews)
- Having policies for attendance and engagement
- Getting endorsements from or organising events with high-profile EAs (Harvard once got Peter Singer to film a greeting for participants!)
Is “prestige-signalling” a good idea?
- Different groups have had success with varied levels of “prestige-signalling”. Some degree of this has worked well for many groups, but I also know of groups that advertise the program as a relatively casual discussion group and still have a good number of applications and strong attendance.
- Once again, think about what you think would work best in your context or try out different strategies and see what works best.
- Note that if you advertise your program as prestigious, and require a high level of commitment, participants could be disappointed if you are unable to deliver a high quality program. I haven’t seen any evidence that this has happened in the past, but it is worth considering.
- If you market the program as prestigious, take extra measures to make sure people feel comfortable and not intimidated during the application process, for example by being very friendly in emails and interviews.
5 steps to make an advertising plan
This section lists some concrete steps you can take to make a stellar marketing strategy.
If you have a few hours:
- Contact an EA group similar to yours and ask if they’re up for a quick chat about what marketing worked for them. You can find group contact details on the EA Hub, or reach out to individuals on the EA Groups Slack. Ask things like:
a. What advertising method gets you most of your event sign-ups? What did you do when you were just starting out?
b. What’s the main selling point for your target audience? What’s been your most well-attended event and why?
c. What’s something you haven’t tried yet that could get loads of sign-ups if successful?
d. Do you have any thoughts on what might work well in my situation? 2. If you can’t find an organiser to ask, get together a few members of your own group, set a 5 minute timer and brainstorm advertising strategy, using prompts like:
a. Where do we get most of our current sign-ups?
b. Where do we already have leverage or contacts?
c. What would make you sign up to an event with a society you didn’t know much about?
d. Skim through the section “Ideas for advertising strategies” below and see if you’ve missed any obvious options. 3. When you have a big list of options, prioritise.
a. Estimate how much time you’ll have for advertising.
b. Choose 2-5 most promising strategies you think you can make within that time. They could be:
- (If you can) Low effort, high reward (e.g. writing to people who’ve already expressed interest).
- Low effort, low reward (e.g. writing a Facebook post).
- High effort, high reward (e.g. finding 10 people to write individually).
- Make advertising materials, including a standard text and graphics (see the section “Sample materials” below). Share it with other organisers/committee members and encourage them to pass it on to at least 3 people each.
a. Emphasise how important this will be to the success of the program in order to motivate them to follow through. 5. Set a time for carrying out each strategy and (if you’re multiple organisers) allocate them between you.
If you want to do more:
- Choose 1-2 strategies you really want to optimise. You can use a similar method to brainstorm ways to optimise the individual strategy. You can also set a target for how many sign-ups you want to try and get this way.
- Contact other societies at your university and ask what’s been successful for them.
- Look through the list below, brainstorm how you could do each of them and choose any that seem promising.
Ideas for advertising strategies
The list below contains most of the advertising strategies we’re aware of that have been tried by EA groups. You shouldn’t necessarily advertise in all these places – that’d be a lot of work and it might be better to choose a few but think hard about how to do them most effectively. Instead, use it as a check-box to see if there are any obvious strategies you’ve missed and to get inspiration for new strategies to try out.
Social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Discord, Slack…
- Make sure existing group members press “going” to your events.
- Facebook ads are relatively cheap and funding can be requested from the Centre for Effective Altruism. EA Philippines has had success with this.
Events, especially Freshers Fairs/Activities Fairs/Societies Fairs.
- Encourage people to sign up to your mailing list at the event so you can send them information about your intro program afterwards.
Personal invites, e.g. to people who’ve been to past events and friends/contacts of existing group members.
- Some groups set targets such as “each organiser should invite 3 people”.
- Some groups use an anonymous referral form in which people can submit the email address of a friend they think might be interested.
Posters or flyers in dorms, university buildings and other relevant places.
Mailing lists, including university-wide mailing lists and other mailing lists you have access to (you may have to write the admin of the mailing list).
Info sessions where you briefly explain EA and the program and answer questions.
If you have a website, make sure to mention the program. You can also have an “expression of interest” form when applications are not open.
- The Centre for Effective Altruism can fund, and help you create, a group website if needed.
Collaborating with other university/local societies – especially if you know the organisers well, they may be willing to advertise your program or host joint events.
Collaborating with professors, for example by getting them to advertise (or let you advertise) your program in their classes.
This section contains sample marketing materials that EA groups have used to advertise their intro programs. You’re welcome to copy all of these materials and adapt them for your own group.
Finding and modifying graphics
Join the Effective Altruism Groups Canva Team. This has a bunch of editable designs you can use, including several fellowship specific designs.
This page links all the currently available editable graphics that aren’t on the Canva team (plus a few that are), including EA logos, and a few fellowship specific designs.
- How to Edit These Graphics (Or Make Your Own) This page includes instructions on how to edit the EA Groups Gravit and Canva files, a size guide for making Facebook and meetup images, and links for finding free images and EA logos.
The following sections contain samples of advertising graphics from a few EA Groups. Most of the links below will take you to the graphic design website Canva, which is free and easy to use. Once you’ve made an account, open a design, press “Use template”, and Canva will make a copy for you that you can freely edit.
Example facebook banners
Flyer from Harvard Effective Altruism (on Google Sheets, not Canva; press “File” in the top left corner, then “Make a copy”)
Other sample materials
Sample texts for mailing lists, social media etc.
- Non-anonymous referral form from Yale Effective Altruism (type in anything on the first page to see the second page, but remember not to press “Submit”!).
Hall of Fame
Thanks for inputs to this guide by Kuhan Jeyapragasan, Emma Abele, Jessica McCurdy, Marka Ellertson, James Aung, Huw Thomas, Catherine Low and Marisa Jurczyk.
Thanks to Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Positive Impact Society Erasmus, Stanford and Yale for generously sharing their advertising materials for the benefit of other groups.