How can social marketing make an impact on the impoverished? That’s the question I’m asking for Blog Action Day’s topic this year of “Poverty.”. There are millions of places online where you can read about and act to diminish poverty. From Kiva to the Gates Foundation, organizations are harnessing the power of the many online to help their cause. And of course it’s not just for poverty. There are plenty of causes.

So, not to belittle the need to stamp out poverty, but I thought I’d use a local example of an off line “long tail” that I know the Jackson Hole businesses and non-profit (the 200+ of them that there are in our community of just over 20,000 people) community can relate to to help understand how the online long tail can make a difference for their cause, whatever it may be.

Here in Jackson Hole we have one of the most effective community foundations in the country, the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole. They have been able to tap into the wealth of those who have come here with their millions and combine it with the philanthropic capabilities of well-meaning but very average middle-class who make up the bulk of the community here. They have hit upon the long tail of giving within an effective, caring yet fairly small community. In only eleven years, through the generosity of this community alone via the Old Bill’s Fun Run for Charities, they have raised over $53.5 million, and that’s not counting the projected $5+ million from this year’s Old Bill’s that hasn’t been announced yet.

And they do this entirely through local, offline, analog marketing efforts. But it is a great example of the socialness of this fundraising event. Imagine what they could do if they took their marketing online. While their argument might be that they don’t need to, because they are only targeting those here in the community and they are able to reach them in traditional ways. However, that’s not to say their effectiveness couldn’t be increased via online marketing. But their real strength is in matching funds raised by the community with larger donations from wealthy individuals.

Now let’s take this model online. It’s nothing new; dozens, if not hundreds, of non-profits and individuals are doing it. But you need to have more than just an Internet presence. Every one of these organizations has a Web site (or should), but that’s just the base and not the end-all for the marketing that can and should be done on line.

The next step is in creating awareness and initiating conversations. And the social networks are a great place to do this. Plenty are already at it. The ones that are doing a good job have developed a presence on social media sites. Using today’s topic as an example, a search for “poverty” on Facebook returned no fewer than 500 results (though after the first three pages, most were individuals), MySpace returned nearly 280,000 results (again, many are individuals who have shown an interest in the subject by posting or linking to something related), Digg returned pages (though no specific number is given), and Google returned over seventy-and-a-half million results. Obviously, with these kinds of numbers for a single cause-related topic, the need to have your voice heard above the din is huge.

And what a great thing Blog Action Day has done in leveraging thousands of bloggers to speak out about one topic. The real test will be to see what comes of it. I have no doubt that poverty-related causes will see a spike in giving today. It would be great to see some statistics. I’m sure it will be on a scale that eclipses my example of the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole’s Old Bill’s Fun Run.

So, what is my point? Build and leverage your audience. Whether your cause is poverty or other human service needs or environmental or whatever, the potential for harnessing not just thousands, but millions of individuals online is staggering. Build a network, nourish it, keep it happy, and you could have a success on your hands.