HOW TO: Mobilize Viral Swarms via Network Mapping

Source: Monitor Institute Graphic on Flickr

Relationships are the heart of many successful social media outreach efforts. They help fuel viral success (second only to exceptional content) and serve as a catalyst for self-organizing online swarms. You need to be able to visualize connections and influence, however, before you can strategically leverage relationships to reach and inspire target audiences. That’s where network mapping comes in.

Depending on your objectives, you can map social media conversations or you can map networks of individuals and organizations to identify hubs, clusters, and links you can leverage to bridge networks or strategically connect people for mutual benefit. You can visualize your connections low-tech or with free or paid digital network mapping tools:

What is your organization’s strategy for network mapping? What are your takeaways?

‘Disruptive’ Mobile Plays Well with ‘Older’ Radio

Cart CallingMany of us in developed countries find it annoying when somebody calls and hangs up before you can answer.

But in developing countries, “missed calls” are becoming an extremely cost-effective cue for transmitting and obtaining information—without incurring fees for voice calls or text messages. In India, for example, small businesses call vendors and hang up to indicate they need deliveries, fishermen use a “missed call” to inform buyers they are on the way back to the shore, and cricket fans use “missed calls” to get an SMS back with free score updates.

Now development professionals are increasingly pairing radio and “missed calls” to create interactive strategic/behavioral communications campaigns. These campaigns combine mobile—a disruptive and relatively expensive new technology—with an older free technology that reaches most of a target audience in many places. This synchronization keeps cost downs and, more importantly, prevents old and new technologies from competing with one another and creating useless noise. Two great examples are Radio Farm International’s use of radio programs to advertise a “missed call” service for agriculture and weather tips in Tanzania and SMS polling about farmers’ crop choices in Uganda.

Other ways mobile plays well with radio include call-ins, call-outs, voice messages, and interactive voice response. All of them turn traditional radio’s one-way flow of information from broadcaster to listener into a powerful two-way distribution channel. When a high percentage of a target audience has web-enabled feature phones, mobile chat platforms (such as WhatsApp and Mxit) also present opportunities to combine radio and mobile to fuel listener-to-listener interaction.

Internews’ Gaza Humanitarian Information Service, combining radio, SMS, and social media for humanitarian relief outreach in the Gaza Strip, provides an excellent example of what is possible. The efforts’ expected results are:

  • “Communities access timely, accurate, well-targeted humanitarian information through radio and SMS and social media
  • Communities engage in 2-way communication with aid agencies through provision of high quality radio content, radio call-ins/talk-back programs, SMS channels and contemporaneous audience research
  • Key media outlets improve their capacity to broadcast quality humanitarian reporting by better understanding relief operations, effectively liaising with aid agencies and managing/sharing audience feedback
  • Effectiveness and accountability of the humanitarian response increase, as communities improve their understanding of how to access relief services and understand aid operations, including constraints and challenges, as well as how to best communicate with aid agencies”

I love the way the Internews and other examples above avoid the pitfall common in too many communications projects involving social media and mobile: cookie-cuttered tactics creating multiple, competing ways to spam audiences with identical content they just ignore. Tailoring your communications to fit a channel and audience needs makes it more likely your audience will see or hear your messages, remember them, and perceive them as relevant enough to prompt action. It also makes it more likely you will achieve your outcome (versus output) communications objectives even in an era of rapid technological change.

Why Half Your Audience Won’t Listen to You

Ted talk“If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The strugge between ‘for’ and ‘against’ is the mind’s worst disease.” —Sent-ts’an, c. 700 C.E.

Who is your target audience?

The first question you need to ask before starting a communications project can come down to analyzing one key motivator for your target audience.


Before you can unite an idea with an emotion to inspire action, you have to understand why your target audience might not do or think what you think they should. But figuring out why otherwise intelligent and caring people might not think like you is often easier said than done.

The TED talk in the video below provides an excellent starting point for understanding and appealing to people’s moral intuitions. Drawing on ethnography, evolutionary theory, and experimental psychology, the speaker, psychologist and professor Jonathan Haidt, explains how five fundamental ideas commonly undergird moral systems around the world: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. He further explains how people’s minds are designed to unite us into teams according to these fundamental ideas, divide us against other teams, and blind us to what’s happening.

Haidt’s research shows liberals worldwide value justice, change, and freedom from oppression—even at the risk of chaos. Conservatives, meanwhile, value preserving tradition and legitimate fidelity to rules that have stood the test of time—even at the cost to those at the bottom. Because these are often opposing moral visions, Haidt’s talk is a reminder that messages framed without audience research and an understanding of communications theory could inadvertently repel half your audience.

I predict Dr. Haidt’s theory will become a communications theory classic like professor Geert Hofstede’s national cultural dimensions theory, anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s high- and low-context culture theorySRI International’s VALS (“Values, Attitudes And Lifestyles”) framework, and professor Everett Rogers’s diffusion of innovations theory among others. These theories show how complex human behavior and decision-making is, and reading them reminds you the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.

That leads you back to a common theme of this blog: the need for audience research (perhaps combined with a knowledge management approach) when your objective is behavior change.

Storytelling Success = Emotion + Drama + Visuals

Uniting an emotion with an ideaPeople love stories. They warm hearts and bring content to life in a way dry data and left-brained arguments cannot. The Web 2.0 stories they love most unite a positive emotion with dramatic narrative and strong visuals, encouraging people to share and act:

Of course, facts are facts, and you have to have data to back up your stories. But how you tell your stories—according to your objectives and your audiences’ interests—is perfectly malleable per the above formula for success.

ICT Success = People First and Technologies Last

Does my recent rave review about xPotomac’s innovations mean I think all conferences should feature mind maps and tweets instead of PowerPoints?

I hope it goes without saying “of course not!” Why?

Due to POST, which I’ve written about before briefly. POST is a useful acronym coined by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, the authors of Groundswell. It stands for People, Objectives, Strategy, and Technologies.

The acronym is a reminder to always start information and communications technology (ICT) communications planning by considering the capabilities, interests, and needs of your audience—not the hot technological tool of the day. If you are targeting social media influencers who own handhelds and live in the United States, that does enable leveraging their connections to get your message out in real time. If your audience is rural cell phone users in India, however, consider using speech, graphics, and touch interaction apps that work on old fashioned “feature phones.” If you’re reaching out to business travelers, focus on the ratings and review websites they frequent.

Once you have defined what makes the most sense for your audience, then set your objectives based on what you are trying to do. Inform? Energize? Resolve customer complaints? Foster collaboration? Crowdsource? Connect?

Your objectives will then determine your strategy. Imagine you succeed. How will things be different afterwards? Imagine the endpoint to determine what audience behaviors you harnessed, influenced, or changed. As I explained in my recent xPotomac post and an earlier post on encouraging social media engagement, this typically means much more than merely raising awareness.

The last step is picking specific appropriate technologies, the opposite approach of attempting to replicate xPotomac’s innovations with a reluctant audience or client and different objectives. That’s because ignoring POST, falling victim to shiny object syndrome (otherwise known as fondling the hammer), and mindlessly copying tactics is often the recipe for activity without accomplishment—not innovation and ICT success.