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The Facebook effect and Surfrider

September 18 2010 | Activism, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

I love the first few pages of this book. It tells the story of a Colombian in 2008 who was sitting on the beach with family and friends. They were talking about FARC, a drug-trafficking / regional terrorist organization. FARC had oppressed the entire country for years. What follows is a notable story of how one person engaged millions of others to take on that oppression. The keyword in that story is engagement. The keyword in this whole book is engagement. That's why I like it. I've been involved with more than a few web/software startups in the past. So the rest of the book is familiar to me as it documents the colorful events that surround you when you immerse yourself into a new concept. I'm sure that the upcoming Hollywood film will focus on that journey. Taking something from a concept to reality is one of the most challenging and satisfying things a person can do in business. But it's also very personal. Of course this story is different from any other due to the rocketship market acceptance. The net result is that it's a killer story for the masses. Mark Zuckerburg would tell a greater story. He started Facebook to change the world. And he has. He, and his team, have done that by focusing on one core principle--engagement. He wants you to join Facebook and become a lightweight user. But that's not the win in his eyes. The win is getting you to move up the ladder of engagement by posting photos, connecting with friends and family, playing some games, etc. The win is creating stickiness to get you to spend hours on the site every day. You get value from a site that you've never had in your life. Zuckerberg's done all those things in spades. If I had to summarize Surfrider Foundation in one word it would be engagement. That's what we do. We engage people in coastal conservation efforts. I see Surfrider in much the same way as I see Facebook; they are both platforms that offer a context FOR engagement. No, we're not a technology company... but who cares. What matters is how much we engage a person in our movement. Like Facebook, we rely on crowd-sourcing and user-generated content. I've said before that more than 95% of our value stems from of our volunteer and activist network. How you initially engage a person is interesting, but it's not the whole point. The point is that you are enabling large crowds of people to work together, have fun, and build value. Our entire next strategic plan could be distilled to that one word--engagement. Five years ago we had about 40,000 people connected to our movement. Today we have 300,000+. Those numbers offer only a simplistic view regarding their relevancy. The real value comes from the answer to the question what are those people doing? What campaigns are they engaged with? How are we moving them up the ladder of engagement? Good read and, from where I sit, applicable to Surfrider's future.
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