Mar 18

Small Groups + Strong Ties = The trend toward deeper engagements and offline action


Several members from the Social Impact team are down at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

I was squeezed into a crowded shuttle the other morning with a dozen or so other bleary eyed SXSW conference goers when I noticed a small group of friends sitting around me, all silently playing the same mobile game together.

This new blurred dimension is the reality for an increasing number of people. We adeptly straddle the online and offline worlds like seasoned gymnasts.

For those of us who are fans of civic participation and actual human interaction, this form of purely virtual communication can be a little scary.

That's why I was excited to see that the standout technology platform at this year's SXSW interactive festival was not only something simple that we're already familiar with, as my colleague David Leavitt points out, but something that encourages and organizes physical world engagement.

GroupMe is a group messaging app that helps you set up mobile chat groups so you can quickly and easily communicate and organize people in your networks – for example, coworkers, family or your bowling teammates. GroupMe, the most buzzed about platform at SXSW, and joins other similar SMS apps such as Beluga (acquired by Facebook) and Fast Society to help us find ways of communicating with smaller, targeted groups within our vast and disparate networks.

This is all a part of a growing trend of nurturing our connections more deeply. Chris Perry, Weber Shandwick's President of Digital Communications summed it up in his post from SXSW when he says, "Intimacy, not surprisingly, is looking to be the killer app."

This is great news to those who are looking to organize people around events and causes. Social Media has been an invaluable tool in reaching vast numbers of people and networks, but we have been longing for ways to leverage the strong ties within our networks. Those of us who help clients rally thousands of people within grassroots networks around causes in the hopes that we get 50 committed people to show up somewhere in person can take solace in the fact that the social space is trending in our direction.

GroupMe took off so quickly at SXSW because people found it useful in using the virtual world to coordinate actual physical meet ups. It allowed people to seamlessly stay in touch from afar and more quickly come back together. I talked to one person on the plane back home who said that everyone in the group they were with -- except one person -- was on GroupMe at SXSW, and they never actually ended up seeing that person.

So, don't be left out. Get on board and start using the power of the virtual world to organize people in the physical world.

Mar 17

Texting is the new texting

David Leavitt

Several members from the Social Impact team are down at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

Most innovation in the digital communications space is about speed and size. Faster computers. Smaller computers. Mobile phones that give users access to a library of hundreds of thousands of programs.

But sometimes it's the simplest ideas that prove to be the most transformative.

The most useful products coming out of SXSW this year are among the most basic and (for the most part) use technology that was available years ago: group texting apps for mobile phones.

GroupMe, GroupedIn, Beluga and other group messaging apps, the hot trend at SXSW this year, let people create groups of friends/colleagues/family. Users can instantly share text messages, photos and even call all members of their customized group at once in a conference call.


Yes, that's it.

Sure, email accomplishes many of the same things (you can start an email conversation with multiple people, each of whom can "reply all" to the group). And email has no word-count limits or photo restrictions.

But when you're on the go and meeting friends, nothing is more convenient than texting. Especially in crowded areas with weak cell phone reception. Your message is also more likely to be read immediately via text than email – a text message is read within 4 minutes while an email could take up to 48 hours, making texting 720 times faster.

Among the youngest mobile phone users, text messaging is the mostly widely used digital communications tool. And older users are texting more than they ever have.

As a result, it's only natural that the latest trend is to nurture that love for texting with apps that help us do it more efficiently and with a richer experience.

Mar 29

Crowd sourcing the cephalopod

Victoria Baxter

The octopus is finally getting the attention it deserves.  Pandas are so last year.  The octopus, the smart but spineless creature, is the new star of the National Zoo. An octopus is surprisingly smart and curious, which can lead to some unfortunate mishaps and escapes from aquariums.  They are also extremely flexible, like the octopus in Boston that stuffed its entire 7 foot body into a 14 inch glass cube to get at lunch. 

But don’t just consider the octopus, name him (or her – they are not 100% sure of the little detail yet!).  The National Zoo is holding an online contest where people can name the zoo’s newest “charismatic cephalopod.”

Crowd sourcing has been a hot topic of late in social media circles. Our team recently attended a session on crowd sourcing at the SXSW Interactive Festival.  Does this contest count as crowd sourcing and does it add value to the zoo? 

The contest definitely fits into the broad category of crowd sourcing by allowing zoo fans to name the newest arrival.  One limit the zoo imposed is that you select one of four possible names. (Olympus, Ceph, Octavius and Vancouver, if you were wondering.)  The contest could have been more participatory by allowing people to suggest their own names.   But then again, the zoo doesn’t have to live with what would have been my well organized campaign to name the octopus Smarty Pants.  Even still, the contest is a way to build engagement with fans of the zoo. Not a bad move when trying to build excitement for an animal that doesn’t have a panda’s star appeal or its own TV show

Get your vote in before April 7th.  The winning name will be announced on Facebook and Twitter.

Mar 24

The Power of the Connected Community

Adrienne Caruso

People at South by Southwest find themselves surrounded by “digital celebrities” – the bloggers we all know and read, journalists with Twitter followings in the thousands, authors of books that aim to change the way we use the Internet. These leaders in social media and the digital world, and more importantly, their vast networks and following, can be the key to a successful awareness-building, engagement or media campaign.

It’s all about tapping into a connected community or – as we often tell our clients – meeting people where they are online. By leveraging the power of digital thought leaders and their networks, your organization’s message or call to action can spread like wildfire. Consider the following factors when you engage the online community:

  • Engaging a connected audience. Meet people in their online spaces; don’t ask them to come to you. Understand where your audience works, plays and goes online – and meet them there with information or an “ask,” whether it’s through a leading blog, Twitter conversation or engaging a digital leader as a champion.
  • Leveraging a timely hook. SxSW is an ideal example, but consider other convenings of like-minded individuals (digital or industry-based – TED and NTEN come to mind), where your audience is already connected to online conversations about the issue. This ensures that your user engagement remains timely and action-oriented.
  • Creating an easy “ask.” By tapping into a digitally connected audience, you open up to some very easy initial “asks” (i.e. just open your iPhone and tweet about us!). You don’t need to require your audience to do any heavy lifting (digital or literal) to begin to build a relationship and promote your cause.

The key to these strategies is driving conversation to spark action. Whether your goal is raising money, attracting Twitter followers or seeking media coverage, it all starts with engaging your audience – and influencers in your space – to generate conversation about the issue. For an example of our work with the Pepsi Refresh Project, check out our Pepsi Refresh South by Southwest Challenge, an online activation to fund digital ideas that were supported by influencers(@GaryVee, @adamostrow, @ConsumerQueen) at the conference this year.
Mar 22

Is Social Media Driving Social Impact? Thoughts from SxSW


It is easy to be blinded by all the shiny objects at the South by Southwest Festival. There are so many new tools and trends that it takes real effort to see real fundamental shifts in the landscape. I'm wondering if one of those shifts was inherent in Valerie Casey’s keynote when she asked the question “What if social media was about social impact?

Technology has become a great equalizer. It has torn down communication barriers, allowing people to connect in real-time across geography and social station like never before. Many Members of Congress rely less on their auto pens, and more on Twitter, to communicate with their constituents. Farmers in Africa can now share crop prices and tips with fellow farmers thousands of miles away. We have reached a level of interconnectedness few thought was possible.

But does this interconnectedness make us care more about each other and care about our collective social impact? Does the mere fact that we are directly connected to people through technology make us care more about the collective good?

Not according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Well, at least not yet. In a September '09 report Pew found that  that 37% of internet users in the 18-29 age bracket use blogs and social networks as a venue for political or civic involvement as opposed to only 17% of 30-49 year olds. So maybe these connections and this idea of inherent social impact has started to become ingrained with the so called "digital natives." 

From an organizational point of view this tells us that we we have to keep thinking of ways of making direct connections with our advocates and donors. We need to tear down the barriers that surround our organizations and connect people directly with the work and the people behind the stories. This is the power that technology provides us and the expectation that comes with it.


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