Huge props to the Stanford d-School team for opening their doors for “Creating Infectious Engagement,” a community discussion on virality, engagement, and “getting the word out,” whatever that word might be.
This conference featured case studies and speakers illuminating different ways to gain critical mass through grassroots, process-oriented and innovative methods. I appreciated how the various speakers shared diverse angles, engaging unique ways of thinking and “cross training” our neurons to fire in multiple ways around engagement.
CASE STUDY: LIGHTS OUT SAN FRANCISCO. Former Google PR guy Nathan Tyler (Google him. Entertaining) shared clear, actionable tips on “To-and-Not-To-Do” when building grassroots momentum. In his case, it was a groundbreaking 10/07 (03/08, too) event that inspired individuals, offices, and organizations around San Francisco to turn off their lights for one hour. He influenced city officials to power down the lights on the Golden Gate Bridge, and sparked “me-too” events in LA, Sydney and beyond.
Nathan’s key points:
– Connect with real people and be relentless, enthusiastic and authentic (Funny how the A-word continues to pop up).
– Keep it simple. Force yourself to limit ideas and do one thing well. Resist overdesign from the start. And keep that focus local and small for as long as possible.
– Start with your own community (online and real world) and let it grow from there.
– Remain honest, humble and open throughout.
– Make everything replicable (especially Web tools) and share widely.
– Little gifts, reminders, promotions outvalued posters and printed materials (my take on this was that people valued identity and connection more than words. They wanted the affinity more than they wanted facts).
Nathan emphasized that organic/grassroots momentum out-valued the ROI on relationship-building with established organizations, institutions and associations. He implied that their investment was diluted relative to the more “core” drive of impassioned visionaries, but conceded that there is a hand-off (when you reach a certain scale) were these partnerships assume more value.
SPEAKER: DAVID MAXFIELD OF VITALSMARTS. As the author of “Influencer: the Power to Change Anything,” David is no stranger to persuasion. His points on multiple sources of influence, and his movie about “learning will” (featuring a 6th grader running a marshmallow-based behavioral modification experiment with hungry 4-year-olds), were memorable, but his pitch felt disjointed.
I would have been more persuaded (I assume to attend one of his workshops, buy his book, or have him speak at my place of business) had he been more generous with what he offered and delivered real value instead of the “tease” he presented. Interesting lesson on conversion and uptake, right there real time.
CASE STUDY: COOLIRIS AND THE STANFORD PARTY TEAM. This was the one that blew me away. Not only is CTO Austin Shoemaker a fellow Apple Alum (and rower!), he and CEO Soujanya Bhumkar have created two amazing innovations. The first is a visual “wall” that grabs content from the Web, photo sites, social networks and even online catalogs to create a stunning “in the round” visual search engine that truly moves (in their words) beyond the browser. Second, and even better, IMHO, is a breakthrough program that puts marketing, product design, bd, testing, and all forms of innovation directly into the hands of the Party Team, a band of 37 Stanford students that assume responsibility for building buzz and integrity around the Cooliris experience.
With a student:”grown-up” ratio of 3:1, the kids definitely run the place, and they do it well. The “official” team supports their needs and innovations and guides decision-making to move with their initiatives.
I’ve long been an advocate for user-permeable organizations and customer/community proximity, and have even guided a few clients to form “student boards” for ongoing brainstorm sessions, but Cooliris’ work takes active user engagement to a whole new level. This is a company I will watch and learn more from and I encourage you to do the same.
SPEAKER: HAYAGREEVA RAO OF THE STANFORD GSB. “Huggy” introduced a simple mantra for creating engagement: “Hot Causes + Cool (as in “Cool”) Solutions.” The combination of an impassioned, emotionally-infused call—Change something! Think for yourself! Do it better!—and a bit of swagger in the implementation comprised Huggy’s suggested formula for inspiring a movement.
Citing microbrewing as a cultural movement, defined by a Hot Cause (“Wake up! You have tastebuds! Don’t let Big Beer tell you what to drink…especially if it’s their lousy brew) meeting a Cool Solution (the community, collective and culture of homebrewing) transformed the notion of “beer” in our culture and dramatically shifted the market concentration of artisanal beer (such that the US now outpaces Germany in artisanal beer production by some market ratio that I needed a brew to understand) over a very short period of time.
Huggy has a book in the works exploring the cultural causes of organizational change, and based on his research it’s one I would at least scan. The case studies would provide good inspiration applicable to a variety of products and markets.
All in all: time very well spent. I valued the various angles from which the four presenters (and the engaged, insightful d-School faculty) explored the nature of change and movement, and I found much of the content directly applicable to client scenarios I’m addressing now and thinking about for the future.
Gracias to my friend John Zeisler (who coaches at the d-School) for inviting me to take part.