Think like a scientist – experiment with your members

It was the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving and I had a sudden idea. After months of Instagram frenzy among my friends, I wanted to see how Instagram might work as a storytelling device. Sure, we’re all storytellers in our own right, but how would we fare when asked to share our stories as a community experiment?

I admit that I didn’t think far in advance about what the experiment would entail, what it would prove, or even what the purpose was, really – but I was nevertheless curious. I was curious to see who – out of the 19 people that I BCCed at around 6 pm on November 21 – might read my plea and feel compelled to participate.

Focus Group: The 19 people I chose were all friends who had Instagram accounts. All of them were what I would consider semi-active to very-active on Instagram, posting 1-10 photos per week. I chose professional bloggers, business consultants, a psychologist, a hairstylist, and a few musicians.

Materials Needed: Just an Instagram account and a #TurkeyHaha hashtag. (No stuffing or gravy required.)

Instructions: The group was instructed to add 1-5 photos of their Thanksgiving story within a 48-hour window. They were also told that 1 person would be randomly selected to receive an “exotic gift in the mail.”

Challenge/Opportunity: I knew that the last-minute nature of my request might work in my favor – or against it. People are often excited about projects for a split second, so I decided that by sending it at the last minute, people would have just enough time to read the email and begin participating (realizing, of course, that not everyone checks their email 150 times a day like I do). And by time-limiting the experiment, participants would not have so much time to act as to become bored by the exercise.

Results: 47 photos from 9 participants were shared from participants around the country within 48 hours. Photos of grocery shopping carts, Black Friday anticipation, pie-eating contests, Metro rides, cocktail recipes, and table settings were many of those shared.

Less than half of the focus group participated (9 out of 19). However, many contributed more than 5 photos, while 2 users only contributed 1 photo. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have put a limit on how many photos were shared. Of the 10 invited participants who didn’t not contribute to the content, many of them “liked” the photos that were shared; so, while they weren’t contributing, they were lurking and supporting. In addition, I received positive feedback from the focus group (both those who participated and those who didn’t), who enjoyed the random opportunity.

By leading this quick exercise, I learned:

  1. how one can implore users to participate in a campaign or on a social network (we can talk about the tools all day or just get our hands dirty and learn in the present);
  2. a simple way to quickly generate content from your audience; and
  3. how to test an idea with a focus group before investing more time, money, or energy in a campaign.

What sort of quick-and-dirty experiments have you conducted to involve your members in social programs or storytelling?