Social media was the engine for America’s Tea Party “revolution”

It’s Election Day here in the United States and we appear to be on the brink of a significant social change.  Fueled by outrage over the financial meltdown, economic stimulus attempts, government bailouts, and the election of Barack Obama, The Tea Party Movement is upending incumbents in the name of fiscal conservatism.

Many are pointing to the role of social media channels in spreading this movement.  Did social media create the Tea Paryt Movement, and if so, does this prove that the social web CAN enable dramatic social change?

Today, just two years after a sweeping Democratic victory, the tea-party movement is poised to redraw the landscape again. Nurtured by online networking, it helped disparate activists across the nation link up and already push aside high-profile incumbent leaders in multiple states this year.

A thorough history of the Tea Party Movement in The Wall Street Journal is peppered with references to the use of social media in building a national movement.  Let’s start with a brief summary of how social media played a role in these sweeping changes:


The genesis of the Tea Party Movement may have been a blog by Stacy Mott, a stay-at-home mother fed up with the government’s economic policies.  Enraged by the government bail-outs, she started a blog for conservative women called “Smart Girl Politics” and launched a social networking site at the same time.  This and other conservative blogs were catalysts for live rallies. The content caught the attention of influential blogger and political commentator Michelle Malkin who started to write about the rallies.  After a dramatic online television rant calling for a modern-day Tea Party movement by CNBC Commentator Rick Santelli, the Smart Girl blog went viral.  Hundreds of other blogs popped up, creating a grassroots cry for change.

Social networking

Facebook pages started springing up locally and then nationally, uniting disparate activities. The movement initially had no budget, so Facebook served as the central directory for the party’s activities.  Within a year there 2,000 Tea Party-related Facebook pages. Eventually one of the founders created a website and social networking site called The Tea Party Patriots.


Many believe the first seeds of the movement were planted on a list of top conservatives on Twitter, dubbed #tcot” for short. This list spawned other lists and within weeks #tcot  grew from 25 names to 1,500. Twitter was used to unite disparate voices and organize conference calls, town hall meetings and rallies.


As the movement grew, organizers established wikis to provide protest advice and organizing techniques.

Fueled by these social platforms, general disenchantment coalesced into a cause, and in just a few months the movement enjoyed a stunning victory when Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts won Senator Ted Kennedy’s long-time Democratic Senate seat.

The social media revolution?

Undoubtedly social networking unified an idea among disparate interest groups with no organization and no budget.  Does this amazing success discredit the much-discussed Malcom Gladwell article claiming that the weak links and lack of hierarchy could not promote such dramatic social change?

Yes and no. If you look carefully at the brief history of the Tea Party Movement, it may actually SUPPORT Gladwell’s contention.

The WSJ article shows the initial loose organizations created on social networks were eventually dismantled by in-fighting, controversy and hurt feelings. Once the euphoria of the initial change began to wear off, the social networks could not sustain the change and even the early pioneers united by blogs and Facebook became bitter and divided. Relationships among the loosely-based coalition deteriorated so quickly members began suing each other.

The real catalyst came from coverage by the traditional media. News programs on the Fox Network and articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal fueled interest in rallies. Live conference calls to organize the initiative seemed to be the linchpin between chaos and unity. Town Hall meetings and live rallies kept the momentum alive.  Embarrassing content, like a racist photo-shopped images of the president, quickly went viral on the social web and actually created more divisiveness among the members.

The other important point was that Gladwell was addressing revolutionary change that requires risk to personal safety.  Voting for the Tea Party Movement in the privacy of a voting booth carries the same risk as clicking a “like” button on Facebook so this is not exactly a test case for his theory.

In any event, there is no doubt that the Tea Party Movement could not have coalesced with this speed and forcefulness without social media. What are your thoughts on this Social Media Political Revolution?

To succeed in social media, set aside your marketing plan

Forget your marketing PLAN?  Have I gone MAD??

Every good social media plan STARTS with a solid marketing strategy but social media efforts are sub-optimized if a company is too wedded to long-term plans and can’t respond to sales opportunities happening RIGHT NOW in front of their noses. To succeed, let’s put the long-term plans aside for a moment and consider a new way to think about and organize around the social web called REACTIVE MARKETING.   Let’s look at some examples …

Where’s the beef? A large restaurant chain was frustrated that the only thing that generated Facebook traffic was coupons.  And why not?  They had conditioned their customers to expect discounts every week!  Wait a minute. They were giving the customers money. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

I showed them a way they could tune into conversations through a simple saved Twitter search.  Immediately, they found hundreds of real-time needs from people looking for recommendations, or the best pub in town, or a place to take a date.  The chain had been too worried about planning next month’s promotion schedule while ignoring the real money-making opportunities of listening and responding, listening and responding.

Un-clog your blog. A B2B company has a content marketing plan that extended out for the next three months. Meanwhile, they had ignored a major market shift caused by a regulatory change. Instead of grabbing this opportunity to establish a voice of authority and educate their customers on the implications of this ruling, they adhered to this traditional mindset of sticking to a marketing plan while the real world passed them by.

Bring the heat. A local heating and air service company discovered a significant opportunity when they saw a series of tweets complaining about their largest competitor.  Responding to complaints that their competitors ignored opened opportunities to create loyal new customers. They are thinking of reducing their newspaper ad budget since this customer acquisition strategy worked so well.

Listen to me NOW. I sent out a tweet mentioning that I was in the market for a video camera. Within 20 minutes I had three tweets back offering specials on cameras.  While that seems like a good example of reactive marketing, none of the companies followed up with me after the first tweet.  Nobody closed the deal.  These companies organized their marketing efforts around the real-time opportunities of the social web but didn’t provide employees with the authority to go out there and actually sell me something.

Foursquare is still Bore-square. I’m still messing around with Foursquare although after several months I have yet to find any concrete value as a consumer.  But some day, I am going to “check in” at a retail location, an employee is going to address me by name, shake my hand and offer me a special deal for just checking in.  This would represent “reactive” marketing right at the point of sale. The social connection is not between me and somebody in a corporate office, it’s between me and the college student who is the department manager at the local retail tore.

Can you begin to see the opportunities?  The chance for connecting with new customers on the social web is not coming through a strategy document you just prepared for your CEO. It’s in connecting with people who need you RIGHT NOW!  It’s all about being reactive!

This presents dramatic implications for a sales and marketing department.

1) There’s a need to develop a culture with a discipline to tune-in, stay tuned, and react to market shifts and new competitive opportunities.

2) Here’s the big one.  You need to drive the authority to sell and react to the people on the front lines and establish appropriate goals and rewards for their reactive marketing efforts.

3) Every successful marketing tactic starts with a good strategy. I’m not advocating tossing out a marketing strategy. I’m suggesting that you adjust your plans to adapt to the real-time sales opportunities of the social web.

The largest brands understand this but I think this is an enormous opportunity for small and medium-sized companies. What’s your take? Have you seen much reactive marketing in your part of the world?

A lesson from LinkedIn: Crowdsourcing your education

Check this LinkedIn screen capture out. Isn’t that cool?  Makes me think … maybe there is some value to this social networking stuff after all. : )

Bringing down the Twitter snobs

It seems that Mitch Joel and I are becoming the Social Media Odd Couple.  I like Mitch. He’s smart. It’s just that I think he is so frequently wrong.

Like in his latest post, “Being a Twitter Snob is a Good Thing” when he states “it annoys many people when they follow you on Twitter and you do not follow them back. Too bad. Don’t do it.”

Mitch lives the life of a Twitter snob, exclusively following only the most select and obviously interesting people. His reasons:

  • It is a way to de-clutter a cluttered social media world.
  • Having select Twitter followers reflects better on your taste in connections
  • Having an appearance of exclusivity adds to your credibility

Before I respectfully rip Mitch a new one, let me provide two points about my own Twitter strategy:

1) I absolutely block any obvious spammers, MLM marketers and list-builders from my Twitter stream because I do not advocate these business practices. So to that extent, I am not a person who follows everybody.

2) It is a free world and you should follow any Twitter strategy that makes sense to you, including Mitch’s.

Now, having said that, Mitch my dear friend — You.  Just.  Don’t.  Get. It.

Reza Malayeri is exactly the type of person Mitch would not follow.  He is an unassuming employee of a Veterans Administration Hospital in Seattle.  He has a 147 Twitter followers, none of them are “A-List” by Mitch’s standards.

A couple of months ago, Reza sent out a random, funny tweet that made me laugh out loud.  We had an exchange of corny comments and soon I was looking forward to seeing him in my Twitter stream.  Reza made a real effort to connect by following my blog, commenting and sending me jokes.

Last week I spoke to Reza for the first time.  I found out that he is a disabled U.S. Veteran.  He is an awesome parent.  He’s helping out his father by putting a family business online after working all day at the hospital.  And after connecting with another member of the {grow} community, Arminda Lindsay, he was inspired to develop, sponsor and promote a Breast Cancer Awareness charity event in his hometown.

Folks, this man is a hero.

He is an A-List human being and I am HONORED and HUMBLED to be following him.

So my first point — There is an amazing person behind every single Twitter picture. Every single one.  Who is Mitch Joel or anybody else to judge who is on the A-List?

Reza and I are now helping each other in a number of ways.  We are creating new business benefits.  How did it start?  With a random, corny tweet.

Second point — Here’s the rule of creating relationships and business benefits through Twitter: You just never know.

You never know who will connect with you, you never know how they will connect with you, and you never know where it will lead. So why would you exclude ANYBODY?

To the Twitter snobberati, I honor your freedom to follow whomever you want, but kindly suggest you are missing out on the greatest networking opportunity in the history of mankind.  And Reza too.


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