Atlanta has shut down.
1,000 accidents across Georgia.
99 school buses stranded at midnight.
2,000 students stuck in school.
3 inches of snow.
Northerners, Brits, and Eskimos can laugh (hopefully not). But this was the condition of Atlanta after Tuesday and Wednesday’s snow storm, Jan 28 and 29. If you didn’t hear, let me inform you:
- Tuesday, Jan 28, less than 3 inches of snow fell on the greater Atlanta region.
- By afternoon, ice and sleet crippled the roads, causing hundreds of accidents and shutting down major highways, including I-75, 85, and 285.
- Atlanta was unprepared for the ice – immobilizing all work, construction, tow trucks, and help.
- A baby was born while the mother was stuck in traffic. A baby.
- Atlanta was shutdown from Tuesday afternoon to Thursday morning. People abandoned cars on the highways and sought shelter in grocery stores, hotel lobbies, and schools.
I’m not here to report news. What fascinates me is the response to the incident. Within hours of Atlanta’s meltdown, citizens began rescuing, feeding, and sheltering those stuck in traffic.
There were people in ditches, without food, medicine, water, or medication. Without cell phones, beepers, pagers, or chargers. Without help, warmth, or gas. But they were found. They were saved. They were fed, clothed and rescued within hours of their castaway.
By creating one Facebook page, “SnowedOutAtlanta,” Michelle Sollicito saved hundreds of people’s lives. “Through this page,” Sollicito said to Atlanta Journal Constitution, “an elderly woman with cancer got help; a pregnant mom and a young child found shelter; a man with a heart problem got to the hospital.”
Michelle’s story, and the hundreds of other stories encoded on that Facebook page, captures what I think is social media’s greatest asset: social change.
Social Media does Matter.
Over the past three years, I’ve read articles, heard stories, seen social action multiply through social media coverage. I’ve been to Kony 2012 rallies, seen the Tweets that follow, watched the YouTube videos explode. I sat stunned by Egypt’s Revolution, a rebellion began by one Facebook user asking simple questions.
And now this.
All these social changes inspired the analysis to follow. In this article, I ask “how did SnowedOutAtlanta use social media to work effectively?” In short, I uncovered the following principles. SnowedOutAtlanta demonstrated:
- A quick assembly
- A clear, precise, and simple call-t0-action
- A sense of immediacy and urgency.
- Localized social media
- Persuasion by real stories.
In a series of four articles, I will extract several tips for social media marketing exemplified by four groups: (1) SnowedOutAtlanta, (2) Kony 2012, (3) Skateistan, and (4) the Lotus Revolution. Each group used Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube, and other social media outlets to call people to action, espouse their message, and deliver fast results.
In short, I espouse this: social media effectively calls people to action.
For franchises and multi-unit businesses, this is important to keep in mind. Without a clear call to action, customers/clients will not follow you. So, as you read these articles, keep these questions in mind:
- How can social media be used to call my customers/clients to action?
- Am I using my social media to kill time, or am I using it to catalyst change?
- Am I convinced of social media’s importance? Why or why not?
- How can I use social media in a positive way?
1. Don’t Fear: Organize Quickly with Social Media
Sollicito arrived home before the worst of the Southern snow storm. A web designer and a philanthropist, Sollicito put her tech-knowledge to practice. “My friend’s husband was stranded,” she told Fox News on Wednesday, “and my other friend could help her husband. So I though, hmm, people need to get in touch with each other and help each other. So I set up a group to do that.”
Within 24 hours, 50,000 people joined the group.
To say that SnowedOutAtlanta demonstrates the supersonic boom of social media is to state the obvious. But let’s break it down to see exactly where and how it was quick and effective. SnowedOutAtlanta:
- increased awareness of closed roads, dangerous routes, and hazardous locations.
- located shelters and houses where the stranded could sleep.
- used maps with colored pinpoints to show where the stranded were.
- centralized by breaking into many groups based on location.
- showcased real stories of real people in immediate danger.
- raised awareness for grocery stores, gas stations, and other places where food and supplies could be acquired.
- reunited the lost with their loved ones.
- ignited hundreds of peoples’ compassion, empowering them to brave the cold and find those who expressed a need on Facebook.
- saved hundred of lives and inspired dozens of news stories.
All of this in 24 hours.
Quick communication, quick action, and quick response: this was the power of SnowedOutAtlanta.
Part of this power was in Sollicito’s courage. When she arrived at home, she did not hesitate. She quickly created the Facebook page.
So our first principle is rather simple: Don’t hesitate. Create events quickly.
2. Organize Effectively: Keep it Clear, Precise, and Simple
Now, let’s strengthen this first principle: for faster organization, gather people around a clear, precise, and simple call-to-action.
Do not overlook this. Unless your call-to-action is clear, you will not capture attention. Unless your call-to-action is precise, you will not organize around a single cause. Unless your call-to-action is simple, your message will get lost in Facebook posts, loud voices, and millions of useless conversations.
Let’s compare two examples. Pick out which message is clear, precise, and simple.
- “Post here details of who needs help and where. Also, please post details of where people can get help from.”
- “Those who are seeking ways to tap into the potential of e-mail will find themselves in a position to capitalize on the pending explosion in Internet usage.”
The first is Sollicito’s group description, the second is from Reagan’s vice president, Alexander Haig. Haig is known for his self-conscious, unquestioned ambiguity, known as Haigspeak.
Let’s look at the first quote for a moment. We have our three important features: (1) a clear call to action (“Post here”), (2) a precise mission (“Post details of who needs help and where”), and (3) simplicity (20 words broke into two sentences).
Now let’s look at the second quote. Haig is trying to call people to action, and the meaning of his message is profound for the 80s: if you harness the power of email (or technology), you will make money on the Internet.
But notice how lost we get by the tenth word. The quote is not clear—abstract words like “potential,” “position,” “capitalize,” “pending,” and “usage” distract us. It’s certainly not precise. And it’s far from simple. The meaning is obstructed by unnecessary, imprecise, and dead language.
So let this be our first lesson in social media marketing: you must be clear, precise, and simple to make a difference. Your language does matter. Abstract and jargon words will slow your social impact.
So ask yourself these questions:
- Is my call-to-action clear? Could a random customer explain my mission?
- Is my call-to-action precise? A good way to measure this is to ask: are my customers responding to my social media accounts? Do they interact with my Facebook events pages? Do they re-tweet my sales? Do they even know I have social media?
- Is my mission simple? Can my customers remember my mission statement?
3. Create Immediacy with “Limited Duration”
What is Immediacy?
Let’s move to a third compelling use of social media: create immediacy.
Immediacy is doing whatever it takes to bring your audience into direct involvement with your organization, usually through urgent and specific calls to action.
Immediacy has inextricable ties to time and limited duration. In his mental notes, Stephen Anderson defines the persuasion tool, Limited Duration, as: “Given a choice between action and inaction, a limited time to respond increases the likelihood that people will participate.”
On the SnowedOutAtlanta page, several posts used this limited duration tactic: “Help needed. Dad stuck in white Honda. No food. No water. Cell phone dead. Please find him and help him.” “Need to find food for my 1 and 3 year old. We are all hungry Where can we go?” “Stuck by Exit 61, Camp Creek exit. Car is out of gas, have no food, no place to go. Need help.”
In these cases, response is needed because time really is scarce. With night falling, unprepared Southerns were in immediate danger. Every request, then, become urgent: if this is not answered, consequences will follow.
A Model for Creating Immediacy
From this, let’s extract a model for creating immediacy:
- Use a specific, short time frame.
- Use captivating language in your request.
- Use spoken or unspoken consequences if the call-to-action is ignored.
- Be truthful and believable.
Let’s elaborate that fourth point. We’ve all seen infomercials try to create immediacy with false time frames and supposed consequences that never follow through.
- “Call in the next 15 minutes, and we will double your order!”
- Truth: no matter when you call, your order will always be doubled.
- “Don’t wait, call now before we raise the price!”
- Truth: they’ll never raise the price.
- “If you call now, we will add two additional knives!”
- Truth: they will always add those knives.
Thus your immediacy should be truthful and believable. If you promise something, follow through with it. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t use immediacy to exploit. Use it for effect.
Let’s look at a recent example, Shaky Knees Music Festival 2014. In their marketing strategy, they use time duration to sell tickets. Here’s their strategy: at first, they sell the 3-day “early” tickets at $99, which considering the lineup is actually really good. Here’s the catch: Shaky Knees will only sell a certain amount of tickets at this price. Once this amount is sold, the price jumps to $150, the “pay in advance” package. This second batch is also set to a certain amount. Once that is gone, the price jumps again to $169, which is the full price.
Shaky Knees started selling tickets January 16. Today, January 30, they outsold their “early” tickets. They are now selling only $150 packages.
This is an obvious example of immediacy in marketing. But it follows the model. (1) tickets are sold in a short time frame, (2) “early” and “advanced” captivated avid concert goers, (3) the unspoken consequence: the longer you wait, the higher the price, and (4) Shaky Knees really did raise the price on their tickets.
Whatever product, service, or event, use this model to create immediacy.
Thinking about your business, ask this questions.
- How have you created immediacy in your marketing strategy?
- Have you done something different to create immediacy?
- What success stories do you have using time duration and immediate calls to action?
4. Localize your Social Media
Since this is about social media, let’s link social media with immediacy.
In general, to create immediacy on social media, this principle should be followed: the more local your social media, the more immediate your request.
Notice I said “in general.” There are cases where this isn’t true. But, for the most part, this holds true. Thus, for all multi-unit businesses, the best way to create immediacy is to empower local units to create their own social media presence.
Let’s look back at SnowedOutAtlanta. Sollicitio centered the Facebook group on stranded Atlantans. When she discovered this was too large, she split the group into smaller, more concentrated localities: South Atlanta, North Atlanta, East Atlanta, Cobb, Acworth, for instance. As a result, Facebook didn’t crash, and groups were able to work more efficiently. Plus, the stranded people that asked for help—people that were near apartments or houses or neighborhoods—heightened the immediacy. They’re right there. And I can help.
In consequence, more people helped. They felt connected, empowered, and motivated. And it was all cultivated with local Facebook pages.
In short, locality heightens immediacy.
Think about small businesses in your area.
- Which ones create immediacy?
- Which ones use social media to voice urgent requests?
- Which ones are neither immediate nor urgent?
- How can you create immediacy to call your customers to action?
5. Use Social Media to tell Stories, Not Tales
What’s the difference between a story and a tale?
A tale is fictitious. A story is not.
In other words, tales touch on life but get lost in the imagination. Stories, however, touch on history—hi-story—and remain truthful. Further, stories are told to inform and captivate. Tales are told for ulterior, and often selfish, motives.
Everyone recognizes a tale from a story. Here are some examples:
- TALE: Lose 15 pounds in 5 days! RAPID WEIGHT LOSS PILLS.
- Story: This is Jared. He lost 245 lbs by exercising and eating Subway instead of junk.
- TALE: Improve your marketing strategy with just one simple step!
- Story: This is Ray, and this is how he made a six figure income with his method.
- TALE: Free iPAD if you click HERE!!!!
- Story: Don’t click there. Here’s five ways to save money for expensive gadgets.
A story makes an argument. A tale appeals to fantasy. A story reveals characters, tells us something significant, creates a deep response. A tale tries to do this, but in a cunning, deceptive way. And that’s the most distinctive mark between a tale and story: stories are believable; tales are not.
SnowedOutAtlanta: The Story of the Good Atlantans.
Wednesday, Jan 29, BusinessInsider posted this story: 13 Examples Of People Being Awesome In The Middle Of The Atlanta Traffic Jam.
All these are good examples of stories, but many, many more are found on the Facebook page. Stories of loved ones being reunited, of Atlantans passing out supplies, of former Braves superstar Chipper Jones saving his former teammate Freddie Freeman. Okay, that one isn’t on the Facebook. But it’s still awesome to retell.
The point is this: no matter where you look, you’ll find success stories—not tall tales—on every page.
Create Stories out of Customer Experience
You can’t always be the superhero. But you should be helping your customer.
The businesses with the best social media pages are those with the most success stories. Now, think about this for a second: success stories on Facebook are more believable than tales told on SPAM mail, why? To verify the veracity of the story, just check the Facebook of the person telling the story. If they look like a computer, boom, tale uncovered. If they look real, the story is verified.
Always encourage your customers to post real stories to your social media accounts. These can be Facebook posts, YouTube comments, or Tweets. No matter what, your goal is simple: create stories out of meaningful encounters with your customers. Then, post those to your social media accounts.
Social Media Matters: SnowedOutAtlanta Testifies
So now let’s wrap this article up. From SnowedOutAtlanta, we can infer five principles to apply to social media marketing:
- Don’t hesitate: quickly organize your event.
- To better organize people around your cause/product/service, make your call-to-action as clear, precise, and simple as possible.
- Create immediacy with time-durated events.
- Localize your social media.
- Publish real stories created from successful customer encounters with your organization.
These are our five observations, but there are no doubt dozens more. What other principles can you draw? Do you agree with ours?