Review of EA Global 2016 Marketing

This post is a summary of some of the most interesting findings from reviewing the marketing activities conducted by CEA to promote Effective Altruism Global 2016.

This is intended as a resource for others working to promote the effective altruism community, sharing what we found worked well and which activities we found to be less valuable.

For those short on time, the activities we recommend are: incentivizing nominations, retargeted ads, posting in EA Facebook groups and capitalizing on newsletter lists. We had little success with cold emails, trying to get coverage on EA aligned blogs or direct Facebook advertising and surprisingly giveaways didn’t seem to work. We also had a temporary unexpectedly low conversion rate from successful applications to ticket purchases and recommend monitoring this closely at similar events.

We tried more tactics than are covered here and learned more than is included below. This post includes just the best/worst activities and results we found surprising.

Please also note there is plenty of uncertainty in these findings, therefore we would appreciate supplementary comments and ideas, particularly from anyone who has tried similar methods. This would add to all of our collective knowledge on promoting effective altruism and EA Community events.


Our objectives in marketing EA Global

Our objectives were to:

  1. Reach 2,000 applications

  2. Have 1,000 attendees

  3. Identify one “superhero” EA (someone like Will MacAskill, Nick Bostrom, Cari Tuna, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Jason Matheny, etc)

  4. Gain a deeper understanding of the EA community and what messages are effective at spreading EA.

We succeeded at all goals except goal 3, although of course, it is early days.

Overall the results were:





Total attendees


Total revenue



Most successful marketing activities

In terms of ticket sales the most successful activities we undertook were:

1. Creating a system for applicants to nominate others

This was our most successful activity and so we particularly recommend incentivizing nomination.

For us, this resulted in 32% of all applications (853 in total) with a further 26% of applicants applying because they heard about EAG from someone in EA.

2. Email marketing via newsletters (80k and EA Newsletters)

EA Newsletter results

Average subscribers during campaign


Total applications


Net income



80K Newsletter results

Average subscribers during campaign


Total applications


Net income



The success of this is unsurprising as these are people who have already registered some substantial interest in EA. It does reinforce the value of investing in our newsletter lists, which is something we plan to prioritize over the next year.


3. Retargeting adverts via Adroll

We used Adroll to set up a retargeting campaign that would show ads on Facebook and around the web to anyone that visited the EA Global site. We tracked click-through-conversions (where someone clicked on the ad and applied on the same day) and view-through-conversions (where someone saw an ad and applied within 3 days). Since many view-through-conversions would have happened anyway, we counted view-through-conversions at 25% of the value of a click-through conversion.





Click Through Conversions


View Through Conversions


Total conversions


Total cost


Estimated revenue


Estimated ROI


Estimated net income



Least successful marketing activities

The least successful activities when looking at return on investment (time and/or money) were:

1. Seeking coverage on EA aligned blogs


We reached out to EA aligned blogs (Wait But Why, Slate Star Codex, Overcoming Bias, etc.) and asked them to write something about EA Global. This had a high time cost (especially when optimizing copy for different audiences) with very few resultant applications.


Part of the reason that the Slate Star Codex post was unsuccessful was that it did not appear on the main page, only on a hidden thread by mistake. We saw that a post about the  Pareto Fellowship that did appear on their front page did much better and resulted in a noticeable increase in applications. This doesn’t explain why some of the other blogs posts did not work, however.

2. Cold emailing foundations and organizations in and around Berkeley


We used GuideStar and other tools to find lists of large, potentially EA-aligned foundations and then cold emailed staff about EA Global. We had expected the volume of emails we were able to send to result in a good number of applications even if the conversion rate was low. However, this turned out to be more time-consuming and result in fewer applications than we expected.

3. Direct Facebook marketing

In addition to retargeting ads via Adroll we used Facebook to target ads at:


  • A “lookalike” audience that is similar to people who had already applied

  • Stanford/Berkeley students

  • Friends of people that like the EA Global Facebook page

  • People who are interested in utilitarianism and/or Peter Singer

However, this was nowhere near as successful as the retargeted ads. According to Facebook, we had 18 applications through these ads although we could only independently confirm that 3 applications resulted from Facebook.


I managed the Facebook advertising despite being new to Facebook marketing at the time. The results may have improved with more experience.


Most surprising results

Giveaways: not as promising as expected.

In addition to the above, we were surprised to find that T-shirt and Doing Good Better giveaways did not work well at all.

The T-Shirt giveaway involved offering a free EA T-shirt to anyone that nominated 5 people for EA Global. While this generated more nominations these nominees were significantly less likely to claim a ticket than nominees from other sources (22.5% for T-shirts compared to around 60% for all accepted applications).

Surprisingly, the give away of Doing Good Better to nominees that applied was correlated with a drop in the application percentage compared to before the giveaway. However, as we offered the giveaway to all nominees and did not directly A/B test this and it is likely that other factors (such as the most promising or interested  nominees having already applied) influenced this.


Facebook groups: great for reaching the community

On the other hand posting in Facebook groups performed better than expected. Between July 20 and 24 we made a significant push on Facebook and posted in all EA-aligned groups that we knew of.


Total applications from Facebook


Overall conversion rate


Applications from July 20-24


Conversion rate from July 20-24


Estimated income from July 20-24


Estimated total income


During our Facebook push, we saw both a large number of additional applications and a large increase in the percentage of visits from Facebook that resulted in an application.

Despite our success, we probably posted more on Facebook than was reasonable. We got several pieces of feedback that the large volume of posts was a bit annoying to the many EAs who were already aware of EA Global. We decided to post widely due to a lower-than-expected rate of ticket sales up until the week of the conference.


I think it would have been reasonable to post on a handful of the largest groups, but posting in all available groups was unnecessary.

Main challenge: converting applications to tickets


The significant, unexpected challenge we faced was converting accepted applicants into actual ticket sales. Based on our experience in 2015 we expected around 90% of accepted applicants to claim a ticket. Yet, our final conversion rate was 62.5%, and even this was mostly due to a considerable push by the marketing team. In fact, around 85% of tickets were sold in the last month before the event.


Some of the reasons for this could include:

  • Emails sent via MailChimp going into the Gmail Promotions folder

  • Our initial acceptance emails did not include a deadline for claiming a ticket which likely incentivized procrastination. (Later emails did include a deadline).

  • Holding the event in one central location meant those from further afield applied before calculating the flight costs and then could not attend.

  • Promotions like copies of Doing Good Better led to applications by people who were not able to attend.

It seems likely that some combination of these factors was responsible. My guess is that issues with email deliverability and content had the largest effect size as the rate of ticket purchases increased substantially once we fixed these issues.

Other lessons learned



I think I failed to be sufficiently transparent with the larger EA community about the state of EA Global marketing.

Two specific examples:

  1. I should have linked to the emails that we planned to send if someone nominated someone for EA Global in the application itself.

    1. (We tried to do this and ran into some technical issues with Typeform, but I should have tried harder to find a workaround for this).

  2. I should have been more transparent about the fact that the ticket claim rate was lower than expected.

    1. Failure to communicate this left many EAs confused when we did a large push just before the conference despite a large number of applications.


Misleading nomination emails

When someone was nominated for EA Global we sent them 3 emails (spaced over a week) to get them to apply. The emails stopped if the person clicked a link or if their email address was used in an application.


For part of our nomination campaign the third email listed the sender as the nominator’s first and last name “via EAG” (so if I nominated someone it would say from: “Kerry Vaughan via EAG”) instead of saying it was from CEA/someone at EA Global.


The email address for this email was from “Hello@eaglobal.org,” the email body used ”we” to imply that it was from EA Global, and the footer listed CEA’s address.


You can see an image of what this email looked like (with merge tags in) here.

We discussed this internally and thought that the change in “from” line might increase conversions, but that the other clues would make it clear that the email was not from the nominator.

However, after the discussion in this thread, I think this was a mistake. One nominator, Kit, suggested the following guidelines which nicely represent my current views:


My guess after public and private discussion is that the approach which captures the most total value would be something like aggressive marketing (including pushing known EAs hard to tell their friends, slightly-more-than-comfortable numbers of chaser emails to applicants, and focussing almost entirely on the positives of attending) while avoiding anyone feeling deliberately misled. Obviously CEA is better placed to make this call, and I hope the broad discussion will help guide future decisions.

Conclusion: actions for EA Global 2017

Based on our experiences this year, when marketing EA Global 2017 we will:

  1. Use an emailing system like Reply for acceptance emails to avoid having emails missed in promotions folders

  2. Ensure that ticket emails have deadlines (perhaps with discounts for earlier purchases)

  3. Monitor ticket purchase rate as closely as we monitor the application rate and update our tactics accordingly.

  4. Focus on activities that engage current EAs directly such as newsletters and nominations rather than areas that attract people who may not have heard of EA.

  5. Be aggressive in marketing the event but also be very careful that none of the marketing is misleading.

Comments (7)

Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 15 September 2016 03:42:49PM 6 points [-]

Thanks for the insight! You can/should also check what the overlap is between the different newsletter lists. I seem to be part of several newsletters and have my email address registered with various EA sites, so during the final month or so I got up to three emails per day inviting me to EA Global (including nomination emails). I imagine I’m probably not the only overlap between the lists, so many people probably got many more emails than you had intended.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 24 September 2016 04:22:48PM *  0 points [-]

This was also a problem for me, especially after I made it clear I wasn't able to attend. But I understand the need to sacrifice my email for the greater good of marketing. :)

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 23 September 2016 03:04:13PM 3 points [-]

Based on our experience in 2015 we expected around 90% of accepted applicants to claim a ticket. Yet, our final conversion rate was 62.5%, and even this was mostly due to a considerable push by the marketing team. [...] Some of the reasons for this could include [...]

I think you're missing the most likely explanation here, which is that when you market harder, you get more applicants who are interested enough to apply but not interested enough to actually go. In previous years, people mostly only applied when they definitely wanted to go, because there wasn't as much aggressive marketing to attract people who wouldn't have applied otherwise.

Comment author: mackgrenfell 01 December 2017 04:07:08PM 2 points [-]

This is a super interesting archive article, did you consider using Google AdWords grants programme?

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 14 September 2016 03:26:07AM 2 points [-]

This is cool, thanks for the write-up! I didn't know about the bad application->ticket conversion rate, that explains a lot of the otherwise annoyingly aggressive messaging (I think I got 10+ emails and 10+ FB notifications about it... I wasn't able to go because it conflicted with Gen Con, which I had already agreed to go to with my friends.).

As for Facebook ads and retargeting ads, have you thought of hiring a digital marketing agency? (Conflict of interest notice: I work in a digital marketing agency.) I usually see higher return on ad spend than 2:1 from digital marketing agencies which leads me to think there might be missing money on the table, but I also understand that EA Global is a very unique product that may be difficult to sell. You may also be able to hire someone who is EA inclined but has more digital marketing experience, such as optimizing FB/social advertising campaigns. (Other things like paid search campaigns could be huge for 80K too, especially because I'd guess their keywords are not very competitive.)

...I also didn't know about Jason Matheny. That's really cool too!

Comment author: rohinmshah  (EA Profile) 22 September 2016 07:36:25PM 0 points [-]

Re: Newsletters: I'm on many newsletters and was going to apply anyway (I may have already applied before seeing emails on the newsletters). I would guess that this applies to lots of other attendees (perhaps a hundred or so?). Would that make the newsletters seem less useful? (I'm unclear on your methodology for the mailing list data.)

Also, small note: "The emails stopped if the person clicked a link or if their email address was used in an application."

I definitely kept getting emails long after I had applied.

Comment author: MichaelDello 21 September 2016 10:48:25AM 0 points [-]

Thanks for this Kerry. I'm surprised that cold email didn't work, as I've had a lot of success using cold contact of various organisations in Australia to encourage people outside of EA to attend EA events. Would you mind expanding a little on what exactly you did here, e.g. what kinds of organisations you contacted?

Depending on the event, I've had a lot of success with university clubs (e.g. philosophy clubs, groups for specific charities like Red Cross or Oxfam, general anti-poverty clubs, animal rights/welfare clubs) and the non-profit sector generally. EA Sydney also had a lot of success promoting an 80K event partly by cold contacting university faculty heads asking them to share the workshop with their students (though I note Peter Slattery would be much better to chat to about the relative success of different promotional methods for this last one).

Could you please expand on what you mean by "Identify one “superhero” EA"? What is the purpose of this?