You guys I'm like really smart now. You don't even know. You could ask me, Kelly what's the biggest company in the world? And I'd be like, "blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah." Giving you the exact right answer.

-Kelly Kapoor
The Office

Friday, December 10, 2010

Social Media and Motivation, DARPA, 99 Luftballons

   The pop group Nena put out a music video in the early 80s called "99 Red Balloons." The German version is actually much better, but only if you don't speak German.

The war machine springs to life.
Opens up one eager eye.
Focusing it on the sky.
Where 99 red balloons go by.

   DARPA, well known for being a fan of 80's pop, launched a red balloon challenge last year. In a nutshell, they put 10 large, (red), weather balloons in undisclosed locations throughout the US and offerred $40000 for the first team to find all 10. A team from MIT was able to accomplish this feat in under 24 hours by using social networking technologies.  Rather than the "one eager eye" Nena references, the MIT team was able to engage 10000 eager eyes - 5000 people helped them.

   The solution to such problems, however, lies in the ability to attract a motivated, focused audience, not just churning out tweets. MIT accomplished their goal by establishing a financial incentive for each person who assisted them, which rewarded sources proportionate to their contribution's value in locating a balloon. They also provided a simple interface for participants to report this information.  In addition, the team was able to foster an atmosphere that gave many participants a sense of belonging.  While there is no way to control social media, the DARPA exercise demonstrates that it can be directed and channelled through a system that engages and motivates participants.

   The key to channelling this resource seems to be identifying a powerful motivator and selecting an appropriate platform.  John Orlando identifies in his article "Harnessing the Power of Social Media in Disaster Response"  how disasters have spawned spontaneous creation of social media sites used to provide information or direct volunteers. In such instances, the motivation is the strong degree of sympathy and emotion elicited by the event.

   The folks at Forrester divide social media participants into specific categories, each with different ways of participation and motivations for doing so. They stress understanding these motivations as the first phase of any social media strategy.

   I am really fascinated by methods to engage the audiences of social media for a specific goal and will continue to share my findings. Please feel free to share yours as well.

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