Published on October 11th, 2010 | by Tom0
How to Start a Mass Movement
I wrote this for today’s Atlantic Monthly Live.
In the age of social media, business can learn a lot from citizen uprisings. Rather than be persuaded by marketers, today’s connected consumers prefer to be moved to action by each other. That means brands have to turn misfits into true believers, fans into foot soldiers. To win share of mind and market, innovators must provoke customer uprisings–even foment revolutions–around their products. The mass market has been replaced by the mass movement. Here’s how to build your own mass movement:
1. Start with the Misfits
As Eric Hoffer observed, revolutions are always born of frustration. Every market has its misfits; the underserved and discontented. They are the grousers, complainers and malcontents who leave feedback on company websites or user review sites (like Yelp) or frequent (even start) negative product blogs. Wherever you find a gripe session you will find the misfits. Thank them; they have done you the favor of identifying your product’s shortfall or industry’s unmet needs. Reach out to them and enlist them to join you in making the world a better place.
2. Leverage the Anti-Environment
Marshall McLuhan nailed it: who’s left out of a group is just as important as who is invited in. He called group outsiders “the anti-environment.” In practice, establish the “others” early in the movement to separate your true believers from the satisfied herd and make them feel special. Happy customers provide an opposing view and give the movement a sense of exclusivity, even superiority.
3. Vilify the Status Quo
As you cultivate the core of your movement, shower them with validation. Echo and applaud their complaints and misgivings. They will appreciate your articulating in manifesto form or rally cry what they’ve felt all along. They really like being right and this validation will harden their resolve.
4. Plant a Thousand Flowers
Mao had it right. Mass movements don’t start out that way, they build over time as the aggregation of many smaller complementary initiatives. It’s easy today to seed ideas into social networks–from aficionado sites to Facebook to LinkedIn. Give the true believers the tools to be experts and respected voices in their respective communities.
5. Deliver Moral Certainty
Galvanize your core with a strong point of view. Not just something they “like” but something they can believe in. Crossing that chasm from mere appeal to article of belief is how a brand becomes a cause and a product becomes a vessel for personal passion. Provide a narrative with high moral ground. We are right, they are wrong. Nothing excites like righteous indignation.
6. Provide Social Proof
As heroic as crowds can be, protesters only converge on public squares from the safety of their neighborhoods once they are assured that others will also show up. No one wants to be the first to risk life and limb unless they know they won’t be alone. Consumers similarly need social proof. They like to feel special but not weird. When you’ve gathered a critical mass of the disgruntled, mainstream consumers will gain confidence and join the movement.
7. Keep the Faithful Fired Up
A social network is like a muscle: use it often or it will atrophy. Remember, your base is opinionated and vocal — constantly give them something to talk about and pass along. They will grow the movement for you. Use tools like Twitter to send frequent missives. Retweets are the bullets of your idea revolution.
8. Push a Day of Reckoning
Frustration can slow boil for years, but revolutions need to happen quickly. Even the most passionate group has a limited tolerance for agitation without resolution. Give them an outlet fore their energy before they get distracted. The Arab Spring is a poignant example – multiple revolutions in several countries culminated in about 75 days. Think a brief, intense campaign to get the revolution in motion, culminating with a moment of climax – like the launch of a new product aimed squarely at the problem.
9. The Revolution will be Monetized (but not in the classic sense)
Once a movement has begun you’ll only kill it by trying to control it. You can’t dictate how the mob uses your brand or misuses your logo. Get over it and get out of the way. Second — and this is the hardest lesson for traditional businesses — the investment in a movement is not easily converted into a corporate asset. A revolution is a unique but not sustainable moment. Those of the revolutionary front aren’t likely to stay with you after you become the new status quo. Like Che Guevara, they will move on to the next worthy fight.
It’s better to start the next revolution yourself than to be run over by it later.