Monday, April 19, 2010

Gettin' Things Done!

A funny thing happened on the way to this post.  I had a chance to see the power of social media in action, and man, was it impressive. 

I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with "Andrew Hudson's Job List."  It's a weekly email posting that goes out to thousands upon thousands of job seekers nationwide.  I've known Andrew Hudson for many years, having first met while I was working news for KOA radio and he was the hard-nosed, do-everything spokesperson for Wellington Webb, Denver's Mayor at the time.

Andrew went on to work public relations for large companies, and, in time, his tiny service of sending out a jobs list turned into a full time job.  Andrew is an accomplished Jazz musician and he does a lot of work for companies and non-profits around town. 

I'm not sure of the details behind this particular story, but here is what I know.  Last week, Andrew, through his Facebook page (Andrew's Job List) posted a plea for help.  It seems he had done some work for, or on behalf of, Elitch's, a local amusement park that until recently was part of the Six Flags empire. 

Elitch's owed Andrew money.  Here's where it gets interesting.  Andrew had apparently tried for nearly a year to collect the debt from Elitch's.  Here is the original posting from Facebook:

Andrew Hudson About Elitch Gardens - In the last year, I've contacted them 12 times & talked to at least 7 people who have all told me different stories. I've never had this problem with any other company. I suggested taking what they owe in trade so I can do giveaways with AH Jobs List. If they pay me, it's going to charity. I...'ve kind of written it off...but not without a last attempt to force them to be honest & ethical.

Now,  Andrew made it clear that the money wasn't the issue here, Elitch's obligation was what mattered.  Within minutes of this initial posting, Andrew's fans and friends began posting, emailing and contacting Elitch's.  

This was posted on April 15, at 3:49pm.  Here is the final update Andrew posted at 5:20, later that day:

Andrew Hudson Thanks everyone! Elitches' GM called....check from 4/09 invoice was cut and in the mail.

Within two hours,  Andrew had motivated enough response from the community to get Elitch's to not only respond, but pay the bill.  How's that for the power of social media?  A note has to be made here:  I have not spoken to Andrew about this situation.  I am simply using this as an exampleof the power and reach of good social media practices. 

Creating Similar Results:

There's a lesson to be learned here and not just the one about getting organizations to pay their bills.  The power to motivate is particularly effective through social media.  I believe there were a few things in place here that made this such an effective plea for help; things that can be used by any small business or non-profit to achieve similar results.

First, Andrew made it clear that the object wasn't about the money itself.  He stated early on that he would take the debt in trade, or, if money were paid, it would go to charity.  Zing!  That's a key element here.  Had Andrew simply asked for help in collecting a debt, I doubt seriously the response would have been as large. 

The fact that the money was going to go to a charity helped motivate the masses in a way that just trying to collect money never would have.  When trying to get a response from the public, the best way to motivate is to appeal to their better nature.  If you ask for something for yourself, people are less likely to participate.  But ask their help in raising money to help others, and the response can sometimes be overwhelming.

The next factor at work here is the David vs. Goliath dynamic.  Andrew is just a guy, trying to collect a debt and help a charity in the process.  Elitch's is a large corporation with a long and colorful history in Denver.  They're the Goliath to Andrew's David.  If there's one thing we know, it's that Americans like to pull for the underdog.  

As a small business or non-profit, you have an opportunity to cast yourself in the underdog role to your benefit.  But if you do, you have to draw very clear lines between yourself and whoever you're taking on.  Maybe you're a small restaurant and you're taking on the large chain restaurant down the street from you.  People will get on board to help the David's of the world.

There's also another aspect to the Goliath angle that cannot be overlooked.  As I mentioned, Elitch's is a well known amusement park in Denver.  It's been a local icon for over a century.  One of the last things an organization like Elitch's wants is the bad publicity of a simple unpaid bill.  Certainly the local newspapers and tv stations aren't necessarily going to run with the story.  But once the story is out in the social media circles it has a way of generating buzz, and not the kind of buzz that companies like Elitch's likes.

In nearly a year, Elitch's had given Andrew the run around, for whatever reason.  But once the story started circulating online, Elitch's had resolved the problem within hours.  And this makes sense.  From a PR standpoint, this is the kind of story that people remember.  It's the kind of story that sticks with an organization and can taint them forever.

Now, in fairness to Elitch's, they did quickly resolve the issue and claimed that the bill had been paid previously, but due to a mix up, the check had gotten lost in the mail.  We have no reason to doubt Elitch's and it's a credit to them that the GM immediately resolved the problem.  But one has to wonder if Andrew hadn't motivated his large group of social media followers, would the situation be resolved today?

Bigger, And Better Is Better:

The final aspect to this story is the aforementioned large group of Andrew's followers.  Andrew has 5,000 fans and friends on his page, the max allowed by Facebook.  His call for action reached five thousand voices all at once.  This isn't even mentioning the number of folks who follow Andrew on Twitter or LinkedIn or receive his weekly email newsletter.  But even if we're only talking about his Facebook crew, that's still potentially five thousand people who could have called, emailed or contacted Elitch's in a two hour period.  Assuming only ten percent of those people contacted Elitch's, that's 500 people.  Even at one percent, that's 50 emails or phone calls to Elitch's in a very short period of time; more than enough to get Elitch's attention.

This says something about the importance of gathering followers and friends in your social media efforts.  This brings us to the old argument between quantity and quality.  Just by rounding up thousands of friends and followers on your social media platforms you won't be guaranteed success.  Quantity is important, but quality matters as well.  

Andrew's list of friends and followers belong to his facebook page because they have a reason to follow his updates.  Maybe they're looking for a new job, maybe they're looking for ways to improve their work situation.  Whatever the reason, they follow because they value his updates and the product that he publishes regularly.

You can do the same thing with your organization.  Continue to publish useful and informative updates, continue to grow a vast army of quality friends and followers, and your calls to action will become much more than a plea into the wilderness.  Your requests will be met, instead by a motivated group of individuals working in concert with you to meet your goals.

And any way you look at it, that's a recipe for success.

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