One of the brightest minds on new media, Clay Shirky, described social networks as having "the power to organize without organizations." So what does that mean? Organize what exactly? Organize groups, common interests, a cause, or a community without requiring a formal institution or organization.
I've spent the last week or so doing exactly this for a cause I deeply believe in.
Story of Prop 10.
Winter Guard International, or WGI, is considered the Sport of the Arts because it brings music to life through performance in a competitive format. Ensembles put together eight minute shows in a space smaller than 60' x 90' feet. The competitive season runs from late winter into early Spring. There are two sections of WGI - the color guard side (rifles, flags, sabres etc) and the percussion side (drumline and front ensemble). They are both under the umbrella of WGI but compete separately. Ten years ago, a proposal passed on the color guard side to remove the age limit for the highest level class. In the percussion circuit, however, the rule remains intact and members are not allowed to perform after they turn 23 years old.
I was mostly in agreement with the age rule while I performed. I supported the idea that members needed to move on with their lives. However after I began my career with WSI, I soon began to realize I could work and also march (if there was no age limit). This is when I decided something needed to change.
I worked closely with Craig Dunn, the director of the current WGI world champion ensemble Rhythm X, to write and submit a proposal to remove the age limit for the top class in the percussion circuit, just the same as the color guard side of the activity. Upon learning that I would not be able to present the proposal myself as I am not a member of the Advisory Board for WGI, I turned to social media and networks to build a grassroots campaign in support of the proposal.
The first step was to create a Facebook page for all those in favor of the proposal. By having people join, we could somewhat quantify the support of the proposal within the community. Next, we took advantage of our existing networks and invited every drummer friend we had into the group and encouraged them to do the same. In parallel with building support within our existing Facebook network, we promoted the proposal by posting it and a link to the group on our personal blogs, one of which already gets considerable traffic. Next, and most importantly, we went into the trenches. By this I mean we went to every marching related social network or site and began contributing to the community and discussion. Let me clarify, we did NOT go out and start new threads asking people to join the group. In fact, in every case someone else already had done that. All we did was jump into the conversation, answering questions and contributing to the back and forth debate as to whether or not the passing of the proposal would be good for the activity.
In less than a week, the Facebook group accumulated 1355 members. Meanwhile, this proposal has become one of the most talked about ever in the online space. Never before in WGI have people gathered in quite this way to unify a voice of support. And it was all done leveraging the power of social networks.
In less than a week, the advisory board will meet to vote on this and nine other proposals. Whether or not our proposal passes, we can all take comfort in that our voice was heard.
The key initiatives that made our grass roots campaign a success up to this point are seen time and time again when applied to political campaigns or even businesses.
1) You need to create good stuff - something that appeals to or gives value to your audience. In this example, it was the proposal itself.
2) Take advantage of your existing networks. You have them for a reason. USE THEM.
3) Promote your content across platforms you CONTROL - i.e. don't keep it a secret and bury it on the back page of your site. Make it VISIBLE
4) GET IN THE TRENCHES. If you want to play ball, you need to suit up and get dirty. Go to your market and ENGAGE THEM. If you go out to online channels simply to promote your idea or site, you will come across like a used car salesmen. ENGAGE the naysayers and offer smart, valuable input.