Social Media Lessons From Jonathan's Card: The 6 Things He Did Right

This is an update to my earlier post: Social Experiment: Get a coffee, give a coffee on Jonathan's Card about Jonathan Stark who successfully launched a crazy successful (if short-lived) viral "Pay It Forward" campaign with his Starbucks card.

It was a beautiful thing: about $9000 was loaded and spent on the card in a matter of days, all starting with one $100 donation by Jonathan. Hundreds of people got or gave coffees. There was tons of chatter about it online and all was good.

Until a hacker used a script to monitor the card, laundered $600 and Starbucks ended up shutting down the experiment.

I was disappointed that this is how the story ended. Oh, I knew that the run was limited, but I was hoping that it wouldn't be theft that would shut it down. I honestly thought Starbucks would step in and say, ok people, enough is enough. But no, it had to be some hacker with a chip on his shoulder.

How did it succeed?

In the end, though, there is much we can learn about running social media campaigns from the Jonathan's Card experiment. Here's what I think contributed to the success of the experiment:
  1. One simple idea.: Brilliantly simple, understandable by anyone: give or receive.
  2. Ease of use: Download a pic to your smartphone and show it to the cashier at Starbucks. They scan the barcode and you get or give a coffee. Painless, very little work on your part.
  3. Multichannel promotion: Jonathan's card had a website, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a hashtag. And once us bloggers (and subsequently the mainstream media) got a hold of it, there was no stopping the message.
  4. Real-time status updates: At any moment, you could find out how the card was doing. If you followed @Jonathanscard, you got to see first-hand updates from the card itself (about its balance) and from the community as they used the card. If you plugged into the API (which in the end was its downfall), you could receive balance updates. The updates were fast and furious as the card got more and more popular. Watching the volume of tweets grow was completely mesmerizing.
  5. Giving the Community Control: Jonathan turned the card over to the community. He donated a total of $300 but the other $8000+ came from the community. At no time did he try to impose rules or try to regain control over the card. Even when it got hacked.
  6. Post-campaign communication: Even though the experiment is over and the original webpages are down, the Twitter account and Facebook page remain active. They provide fans with a forum to discuss the outcomes of the experiment. A number of copycat experiments have launched along with other "Pay It Forward" actions (people paying for the coffee of others in line, people paying for other people's parking, etc.). The community is continuing the conversation, taking it upon themselves to spread the message and the spirit of the experiment.

The Key to Social Media

In addition to the whole "social" part, the real key to social media is to embrace it as a strategic component of your ongoing communications mix: commit fully and recognize that there is (very often) no short-term exit strategy. Dedicate the resources and the time to building and nurturing your community, but also let it breathe. Once your message is out there, it will be appropriated by your community. Your job is not to control it, but to ensure that you are communicating your message clearly, where and how your intended audience will hear it. And once you have reached your audience, you need to maintain your efforts; you can't suddenly stop and leave them hanging. They will find other ways to engage without you. Wouldn't you rather be part of the conversation? Yes, community management is time consuming, but the rewards can be great.

Take Jonathan. Sure Jonathan's Card is no longer buying people coffee. But I'll bet Jonathan's mobile app consulting business is pretty darned busy. He might even qualify for an actual social media guru label on his Twitter account ;)

(Source: Mashable)