What is the connection between a 'Grade II' obese man having reduced to 'normal weight range' and social media? It is a story that illustrates the power of community building, cause marketing, social media and a huge mash up of all these three! Here goes the story...
In February 2011, a gentleman who goes by the twitter handle @b50 and is a twitter celebrity of sorts probably felt that he had to lose weight and required motivation. He started a movement called Big Loser (Twitter hashtag #bglsr). It is a movement where one sponsors another for weight loss. By sponsor, it means that the person who sponsors will pay a pre-decided amount (say Rs 10) for every kilogram of weight lost by the person who is being sponsored.
On February 1, 2012/02, the first edition of #bglsr closed with 28 contributors donating more than Rs1 lakh for a charity - impressive because some donations came from people who have never met each other before!
The social media angle
The entire movement is a perfect example of an awesome marketing effort. Knowingly or unknowingly, the Big Loser movement seems to have touched every nerve with the right pressure and has built an online community only through social media!
There was a purpose. A purpose that everyone could identify with - that of healthy living married to charity. This is almost like the movie Lagaan, which combined love, patriotism and cricket. Couldn't get any better! Having identified the purpose and having put it out in the open, the role of the community builder was just to channelize the energy.
Regular offline meetings/tweet-ups were held and each person amongst the coordinators had a distinct role to play. And, the best part was that the role of each participant was made sufficiently clear, only through Twitter and the website built for this purpose (www.bigloserindia.com).
Sub-events like #BLOTW (Big Loser Of The Week) were created to keep the momentum going for the entire year. Some kind hearted corporates (including The Bombay Store, Staeta Soy Milk, Placid Hairdressing and Skin and Popsci Magazine) chipped in with goodies for #BLOTW winners.
Participants were motivated to update their data online. An application to track the lost weight was built and could be accessed through Twitter credentials.
At its peak, the number of participants soared beyond thousands and averaged about four-five tweets every second, carrying the #bglsr tag. People started tweeting about their morning walks and hash tagged #bglsr. The momentum was achieved, spiralled/viralled - whatever you call it, what started as a germ of a thought had become a community movement and had followings from across the world.
A key point to be noted is that the only offline support that this movement received was through a bit of press coverage. What is impressive is the fact that it got coverage in Forbes, apart from Hindustan Times, DNA and Mumbai Mirror!
1. Some really healthy individuals. Proof: https://twitter.com/#!/b50/status/166047187468435456
2. A tally of Rs1,04,750/- as donations to charities designated by the organisers.
3. Some people who 'sponsored' haven't met the people they were sponsoring. Either there was a sense of belief on the amount of weight lost or they just went by images of 'before' and 'after'. This was a strong message in terms of community building. The belief that was blindly placed on the 'Big loser' was nothing less than awesome.
4. A successful community, which is now on its way to starting Season 2.
5. Clear vision on the events, sub-events, groups, the roles that each one had to play and a meaningful purpose that needs to be chased!
As @b50 says, "We didn't have to monitor the number of people who joined the movement. The usage of the hashtag wasn't restricted and was free flowing. But what mattered was the result. Healthy people and a healthy amount to support a good cause!"
The introduction of the book Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities outlines the following nine clear steps to build successful communities on the web.
1. Define and articulate your PURPOSE
2. Build flexible, extensible gathering PLACES
3. Create meaningful and evolving member PROFILES
4. Design for a range of ROLES
5. Develop a strong LEADERSHIP programme
6. Encourage appropriate ETIQUETTE
7. Promote cyclic EVENTS
8. Integrate the RITUALS of community life
9. Facilitate member-run SUBGROUPS
There's little doubt that the #bglsr movement is an awesome case study in executing a very successful online community. A great lesson to be learnt!
(The author is head, marketing and customer service, Bharti AXA Investment Managers)