In God we trust. Everyone else: bring data.
— Michael Bloomberg

We don't have time or resources to waste. Our organization is small and lean but our goals are enormous. To be successful, we have to leverage every penny and every minute for the greatest return possible. In short, we feel compelled to practice what we preach.

At Strong Towns, we're always looking for a way to spread our message further, to engage with new people and to grow our movement. We try a lot of little things and then we obsess over what the data tells us. We build off of success and try to walk away from failures when they are still young. It's not always easy.

Here's some of what our data is telling us happened in 2016.

On the street in Virginia, MN. We did a lot of walking tours as part of our events in 2016.

On the street in Virginia, MN. We did a lot of walking tours as part of our events in 2016.

Audience Trends

We track audience as the number of unique users we experience in the trailing twelve months. This is different than hits or sessions. We began implementing our Strategic Plan during the second half of 2015 and have experienced robust audience growth since. We're reaching a lot of people.

Communications Pipeline

Our operational strategy for creating a movement of a million people who care is to move our audience through a communications pipeline. We envision our communications pipeline as follows:

Audience --> Weak Connection --> Strong Connection --> Advocate --> Member

When someone finds Strong Towns and joins our audience, we work to make a weak connection with them, such as on social media. Once we have a weak connection, we work to strengthen that connection through Slack and/or email. Where we have a strong connection, we work to help that individual become an advocate, sharing our message with others. Ultimately, we need many of our advocates to become members of Strong Towns so that we can continue to expand the pipeline.

This year we focused on growing our weak and strong connections. We increased our social media engagement and supported those efforts with a modest advertising budget. We looked for conversion points for strong connections and tried to emphasize those. Here are the results, which we are optimistic about.

The Strongest Town contest in March was overwhelming in terms of the numbers of emails we collected. We were not anticipating, and were not set up, to handle them all, but we were able to shift and engage the tens of thousands of people who found Strong Towns through the contest. We lost quite a few, which was probably inevitable, but we also retained a lot. As the year has progressed, our ability to engage people through Facebook has become more and more critical to sharing our message. This has some disadvantages -- not everyone is on Facebook -- but also some major advantages in terms of reaching people and being able to deeply engage with them.

Last year we shared this chart showing our Facebook connections and our high engagement levels. 

Here is an updated snapshot from 13 months later. Our connections have grown substantially yet our levels of engagement -- the number of our connections that are actively engaging in our content -- is still very high. We're really proud of this, especially since we are not artificially inducing conversation with partisan buzzwords and other tricks; this reflects people genuinely engaging with our content.

When it comes to strong connections, we've worked hard to make our email stream timely and relevant for people and we avoid -- except during our two membership drives -- turning our lists into punching bags for fundraising. While our email list does have a secondary function for growing membership, the primary function is to drive engagement in the core Strong Towns message. We strive to send people information they will find relevant and useful and have seen that result in a tripling of our email list and much higher open and click through rates. 

Finally, we're really proud of the engagement levels we've experienced on the Strong Towns Slack. We get that Slack is not the right platform for everyone -- neither is email or Facebook -- but Slack gives us an opportunity for intimate dialog with our members as well as a way for people to self-organize and help each other. There are some great conversations going on there. Since we use Slack as an organization for most of our internal conversation, it is much easier for us to stay engaged there than on other platforms that are not part of our daily routine.

We're going to continue to use data from multiple sources to identify the best way to expand and increase the velocity of our engagement pipeline. That's our ultimate path to getting to a million people who care.

Top photo from Hoboken Strongest Towns submission.