Lessons from Skittles for poets and activists, parts 1 (and 2?) (DRAFT!!!!)

DRAFT! Work in Progress!  Feedback, please!
Final version to be published in The Seminal, potentially in two parts

excerpt from skittles home page, March 2009

A few weeks ago Agency.com and Skittles kicked off “Interweb the rainbow”, a brilliant marketing campaign that involved multiple social networks.  The idea’s simple: replace the skittles.com home page with different social network sites.  Late that Sunday evening, they set it up to be a Twitter search for “skittles”.

On Monday, skittles was the #1 topic on Twitter.

By Tuesday, there were zillions of blog posts and positive articles in the Wall Street Journal, LA Times, the Financial Times and Advertising Age.*  Skittlemania died down quickly, but the publicity continued after Skittles switched their home page to Facebook, on Wednesday.  One example: an AP article on Facebook’s rework of their home pages devoted two paragraphs to Skittles.

It’s too early to know whether Skittles will stand the test of time “Hugely successful” is an understatement.

Twitter: an epicenter for buzz

In this series I’ll discuss what activists can learn from the Skittles experience — and poets, too, for reasons that’ll become clear next week soon enough.  (Here’s a teaser.)   Let’s start with the most obvious one: Twitter’s a great place to create buzz right now.

Twitter’s filled with highly-networked people into PR, marketing, social media, and blogging.  It’s got great viral propagation mechanisms like retweeting, hashtags, top searches, “Follow Friday”, the Monday night Journalist/PR chat, and so on.  In fact, right now Twitter’s quite possibly the most buzz-enabling place on the internet.  And the numbers you need to start getting attention are still surprisingly small; as the Motrin Moms showed us in November, a few thousand activists can leverage Twitter get a story into the New York Times in 24 hours.

And while there was an agency and a little bit of custom development involved, Skittlemania was a heck of a lot cheaper than most if not all of the classics on Mustafa’s excellent list of amazing viral marketing successes in Social Media Icon.  For Anonymous, who leveraged Skittlemania to great placement of get an anti-Scientology message in the LA Times, it was even cheaper.

So lesson #1  is  Activists and poets — and anybody else who wants media attention without spending a lot of any money — should consider including Twitter in their plans.   Launching “Ask the President” on Twitter on Liminal States is an example zero-budget and minimal-time-investment launch plan with discussion and early statistics.

Things happen quickly in the Twitterverse

The basic idea behind Ask the President is simple: a web site that lets people on the Internet vote on what questions they want to hear at the a White House press conference.  Ari Melber’s The People’s Press Conference, Katrina vanden Heuvel’s Ask the President,  Megan Garber’s Presidential Press Conference, Pro-Am Edition in the Columbia Journalism Review, and Evan McMorris-Santorio’s Word On The Tweet: @MrPresident Edition* in the National Journal makes a strong case for why this is likely to resonate with the Obama campaign, whose transition team ran the similar Open for Questions pilot [1, 2].

Ari asked me if I’d help him and Shaun Dakin promote Ask the President on Twitter, which is why I wrote up the launch plan.   On Wednesday, not long before last Thursday’s launch, we got the media release that President Obama had scheduled a live press conference for 8 p.m. (Eastern) on Tuesday.   How convenient!  But hmm, if we’re launching on Thursday, do we have a chance to build enough buzz by Tuesday?

Well, Skittles and got rolling over the weekend, and were all over the press and blogosphere.  The anti-Facebook organizing in mid-February [1, 2, 3] went to #1 on Monday, and by Tuesday night Facebook had backed down.  The Motrin Moms did the same thing to Motrin November only even faster [1, 2, 3].  Things happen quickly in the Twitterverse.

So Lesson #2 is that as long as you can get some action going in the blogosphere and other social network sites, if you launch on Twitter over the weekend you can be media darlings by Tuesday.

Start playing now … and stay tuned!

Yeah I know.  Who wants to launch over the weekend.  It’ll be fun though.  I promise.   Lesson 3 from Skittles is Everybody knows: fun rules.

And  it won’t take a lot of time at all.  A little Twitter search magic gets you a page which includes a lot of questions you can vote for along with tips from the @AskThePresident profile and updates about articles and blog posts.    If you see a question that looks interesting, you can click on the link to take you to a page where you can read more and vote for or against it.  For example, here’s a tweets from  sharpiedshoes, ggordonliddy, and  KDeutsch that caught my attention:

Terrorist Threat Level never goes below “Be Very Fearful and Give Up Your Rights”?” http://tinyurl.com/cmpanu

http://tinyurl.com/c4o2c4 Great question by one of my producers #tcot

#AskPres audience is a little defensive about fact that working class are underrepresented -28 Net Votes http://tinyurl.com/djgh4l

Once you’re there,  the green thumbs-up button is a yes vote and, the red thumbs-down is no.

And if you’re on Twitter, the “ReTweet” button brings up a page for a twitter message with the tinyurl and hashtag already filled in, which is every helpful.  “Tweet this” be a better choice for the name; hopefully it’ll change soon.  Or you can just retweet on Twitter like usual, for example this one from me:

RT @KDeutsch: #AskPres audience is a little defensive about how working class are underrepresented -28 Net Votes http://tinyurl.com/djgh4l

If you’ve got a little more time, you don’t have to stop there of course.  Browse around for other questions and tweet them. Sign up and submit your own questions or video … and tweet about them! If you’re a blogger, check out the embedding technique that Sarah Jaffe uses on Alterdestiny.**

See?  I told you it wouldn’t be so bad.  And the fun’s just starting.

Stay tuned for more.


* I know any publicity is good publicity, but would it be too much to have asked that they used either @AskThePresident or #askpres rather than a totally unrelated Twitter profile?  Sheesh.

** if anybody has any luck getting this to work on WordPress or Wetpaint, please let me know!