How to use Twitter to crowd-source creativity

I have a “virtual” company. Well, it’s a real company, but I don’t have a building and employees and all that traditional stuff. I work with a posse of freelancers who might be spread out all over the country. So I have the best of both worlds. Great company, great people, but no worries about payroll and HR issues.

Everything works great about this model except for one thing. You can’t brainstorm by yourself.

This was the problem I was facing recently when I needed to come up with creative ideas to help a client company mark its 30th anniversary. I had some ideas, but I’ve been around long enough to know they weren’t the BEST ideas. For that, I needed to put some minds together. But how? I was on a deadline and needed to write a proposal quickly.

It dawned on me that this is what the social web is all about — networking, sharing, helping, creating. So with literally no planning, I wrote up an invitation on my blog to join a web meeting at 4 p.m. that very day and sent out one tweet asking if anyone would be interested in spending 30 minutes with me to think out loud. I was fortunate that seven people joined me, including one from Brazil and one from Spain. Some I didn’t know at all, some like Gregg Morris and Carla Bobka had become my friends over months of interaction on Twitter.

I used Citrix for the online meeting interface and conference call.  I wrote out ideas on my shared computer screen so all participants could build on what was being said.  On the notification on my blog I had given dial-in instructions as well as a little background on the problem.

In 30 minutes, I had two pages of great ideas.  I massaged the ideas into a proposal, presented it to company management and <ta da> they loved it!  But there were side benefits, too:

  • I explained to my client how I came up with the ideas, which further strengthened their interest and commitment to the social web.
  • The people who connected on the call enjoyed the exercise and have reached out to stay connected between themselves. I think that’s cool.
  • I had an idea that worked, will be repeated and it was something I could share with you.

What I could have done better:

  • Planned it ahead of time and allowed more time for people to learn about it.
  • 30 minutes was probably too short. Another 15 minutes would have made a big difference.
  • Two participants had technical problems which limited their ability to participate. A few additional people bopped in for a few seconds and left. I’m guessing they had tech problems too.

All in all, it was a  simple, cost-effective, successful people-technology mash-up.  Are you doing these kinds of things to support your business?

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  • This really intrigued me because my business is getting to the stage where I’m beginning to take onboard other people to work alongside me in a freelance capacity.

    Thus far I’ve done the collaborating and brainstorming in Wave, Basecamp, email and over the phone. Not tried Citrix but you’ve inspired me to take a look.

    Thus far it’s all been based in Sweden and Norway with people I know, but I’m curious to hear other people’s experiences of how digital communications are making virtual agencies possible (or even more, desirable!)

  • Mark

    @Jon If we can figure this stuff out and make the technologies sing for us, we can create real value for our customers. In a traditional agency, 2/3 of what you pay for is overhead. Businesses just can’t afford that any more. The model you and I are using explodes all of that.

  • Hey Mark!
    Fantastic blog topic. I sympathize completely. I have used LiveStream to collaborate online. The only downside to LiveStream is it slightly one-way in its execution.

    Doing good business outside the brick and mortar is exciting and liberating!

    Continue your innovative and inspiring work, you are a social pioneer in a space that has been sterile and institutional for too long.

    Viva La GROW!

  • Mark,
    Thanks for sharing a classic case study for business development through SM connections. You are absolutely right about additional side benefits. I find there are always hidden gems when you connect through SM. Great post.

  • Great topic – I’m so glad I stumbled on this (via a RT from @HowellMarketing). There are so many of us “virtual” companies now, and while there are definite upsides to being on your own, you hit on one of the big downsides. I love your solution. It’s inspired and, as you mention, it’s great proof-of-concept.

  • Mark

    @Michael — SO GOOD to hear from you! Been too long. Thanks for the encouragement!

    @Jim Glad you enjoyed the post.

    @Linda Maybe we should form a “virtual company” club for those times we get lonely on the job! : )

  • Mark….another reality for a lot of us that you express so well. Being in promotions I am brain-storming everyday for my clients. Rightly so, they want an idea that is different and special to their needs.

    This collaboration idea you had is a win-win situation…you benefit by developing excellent content for your proposal and you engage others that learn they can rely on you to assist them. Brain-storming is energizing but not alone. I believe it helps to promote the idea to a client when they understand that you created a core group to contribute suggestions….then it doesn’t turn into your idea vs. the clients. Sorry I missed the opportunity to participate.

  • For those of you who are curious about this I’d like to say that a lot of things impressed me about the way this worked out that day. First and foremost was the generosity and willingness to share ideas and then expand and discuss them. I’ve been in more damn marketing and planning meetings in my life than I want to remember and I rarely encountered anything like this. None of us had a personal agenda as is usually the case within company meetings. It was very impressive.

    Secondly, the quality of the ideas was just amazing. I don’t know whether Mark will wind up using any of them or not, but there a number of really good ones.

    Lastly, the courtesy and manners displayed was inspiring. Again, I think this might go back to the fact that there were no personal agendas.

    I would encourage any of you who are curious and who run businesses like Mark’s to give this a try. I really do think this is a future trend that is going to pay great dividends.

  • Mark

    @Gregg As a participant you certainly bring a unique and welcomed perspective to the dialogue. Thanks for sharing!

    @Diane – If you give it a try let me know!

  • Jim LeBlanc

    Very interesting. A simple idea, but one that i can use, assuming people will help me!! : )

  • I’ll admit, I was a bit reluctant to attend the web meeting not knowing anyone nor really what to expect. I was curious and, in the end, was pretty amazed by what was accomplished by this group in a short amount of time.

    Like Gregg points out above, there was complete cooperation and great ideas were flowing and by complete strangers nonetheless. Just goes to show the power of building a community in social media.

    You say you could have planned it further ahead of time but planning more or less a last-minute meeting and having that turnout and the ideas that came out of it should be considered a rousing success!

  • Like Gregg, I was a participant. Mark’s tweet caught my attention during one of our snow storms and honestly it was a welcoming distraction, so I hopped on the call.

    The ideas that built over the 30 minutes were amazing. I too, am curious to see Mark’s program and the company’s result.

    Gregg’s point about the lack of personal agenda among the participants is insightful.

    Another key to the success of the effort was Mark didn’t prescribe WHO he wanted to help him, or the backgrounds they should have. He was open to ANY offers, and that brought a broad mix into the conversation. We introduced ourselves with names only, so there was no title/experience/age hierarchy subtext at play. Turns out callers had years of marketing and PR experience and others came from very different backgrounds. Glad to hear it worked with the client, too.

  • Mark

    @Johnny + @ Carla — I really learned a lot from your comments. Very interesting insights. I had not considered the advantage of no titles or baggage, but it seems so obvious now. Thanks for everything!

  • Kathy Snavely

    Mark, I had a ball participating, in spite of the technical issues. (My computer guy says I have an “aura.”) It was my first virtual brainstorming experience and Mark directed it like the PRO that he is. Would love to see what your proposal ended up looking like and the client’s response! Thanks for the open invitation to join in the fun (and the snow day, so I was available to participate)! Thanks also to those who participated; I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with you!

  • Mark

    @Kathy — Nice to know somebody that officially has an “aura.” Cool! Thanks for checking in with the feedback, Kathy.

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  • Great use of SM, Mark. I just wish I would have been there. My Twitter activity has been very sporadic recently as well as blog reading. Feel free to email me next time.

    It reminds me of the roundtables that I’m on. We brainstorm and share best practices. We love helping solve each others issues.

  • Mark

    @Mike Such a kind offer, thanks!

  • Mark,

    Great post, as always! Have you heard of Kluster? They provide a cool creative collaboration process and environment – for crowdsourcing internally and externally.


    @themaria @biz360

  • Mark,

    I love this story as I work remotely, albeit for a large company. I wish I could have joined your event, next time I hope to.

    You and Linda are on to something and should start up a “Virtual Water Cooler” or something.

  • Hi Mark,

    Great post and a brilliant idea, really got my head spinning with ideas.

    I really like how this form of collaboration has the potential to provide a really original look at the subject of the brainstorm, from people worldwide that haven’t necessarily been exposed to the existing brand.

  • Mark

    @Maria — I have not hear of that! I will check it out and I’m sure other community members will benefit from your suggestion, too. Thanks you!!

    @Marc — For me,{grow} IS the virtual water cooler! : )

    @Mark — I’m glad this was thought-provoking. Honestly, it has my head spinning too. A lot of good ideas in this comment section today to expand and improve on the idea.

    P.S. There seems to be a high percentage of people on this forum named Mark/Marc. Cool. : )

  • I love the story. Do not hesitate to DM me is you need someone for a future brainstorming group, even at short notice.

    As a very keen Visual Mapper, I have experimented with using online Mind Mapping softwares to conduct brainstorming sessions with colleagues overseas.

    Both Mindmeister and Comapping work very well when used together with a Skype call.

  • Mark

    Thanks, Pascal!

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