Thoughts from SXSW: Crowdsourcing Lessons from Tom Sawyer

March 15, 2012



Image courtesy of TripAdvisor

When was the last time you heard anyone talk about Tom Sawyer? The 1981 song by Rush in your iPod at 6:30AM while you're trying to #winfromwithin (blatant Gatorade plug) doesn't count.

Comic books, trade magazines and the non-stop fire hose of information that drench all of us in the communications industry make it hard to slow down and read a great piece of literature such as Tom Sawyer. But there I was, at the Sheraton Austin, in the Capitol View north room, listening to Dave Olson from Hootsuite talk about “Crowdsourcing Community Projects Like Tom Sawyer”. Now, I dig Dave; and I dig Hootsuite. Especially since this summer when the uprising in Egypt began. It was the only tool the Egyptians had to communicate with the outside world after the government shut down Twitter and Facebook. Let me tell you how “dig” turned into “love” for Dave and Hootsuite.

Dave began by talking about how Tom Sawyer convinced his gang to pay him for the privilege of whitewashing (painting) a fence (great metaphor for crowdsourcing). He then whipped out three collages to represent three different stories of his own:

1. True North Media House, a community effort in Vancouver, B.C. that encouraged social coverage of the 2010 Olympics

2. Phones for Fearless, a community arts initiative that encouraged people to trade in their old smartphones and cameras so those who never had either could access the Internet and tell their own stories through video

3. Hootsuite users' efforts to translate the platform with or without the company's permission

In Dave's trademark fashion, he walked us through each story, using audience motivation and end benefit as pillars to ground us in the “why” audiences participated, and continue to participate in these efforts.

I found it interesting because as we see more and more companies diving into the user-generated content scene, talking up community or simply wanting to reach out to audiences in a collaborative fashion, there are two things that seem to be missing from many crowdsourcing efforts using Dave's stories to “set the bar”.

1. Appealing to an audience's heart first, then their wallet. People want to be a part of something bigger than them. Whether it's animal, vegetable or mineral, sometimes something as simple as putting their name on a website or sending them a sticker that no one else gets access to can make the “goodness” connection that will last longer than a campaign.

2. If you're going to crowdsource, use a “gentle voice” when you want to protect your brand. Companies don't have to give up the perceived control that they have over their brands. They shouldn't. Audiences get that, especially if you level with them. There are people behind brands, just like them

So those are just two reasons why I love Dave. He was able to talk about what we usually call “process” as a storyteller, imparting wisdom based on actual experience in a way that made every one of us in that room want to get a Hootsuite Pro account for six bucks a month. I did, but not because he asked me to. I did it because he reached my wallet through my heart, successfully crowdsourcing approval for his efforts in the Capitol View North Room here in Austin. Brilliant.