Save Teecycle

What do you mean by “activate”? The house that Twitter built

Flickr Photo Set: Tracy Apps

This post is a preview of a section of The Social CMO Book which I’ve been asked to write (just a section, not a book), about activation and what that means. Coincidentally, the story of #saveteecycle seems to me to play right into this topic. Consider it a work in progress.

What do you mean by “Activate”?

To activate something means to set it in motion, to make it active or more active. In chemistry, it means to accelerate a reaction in something, as by heat. That is exactly what we’re talking about here. Once you have established a social network and begun to engage, you need to determine ways to set it in motion, light it on fire, add catalysts. In other words, get it actively working towards your goal.

To illustrate the concept of activation, I’d like to share a story.

This is The House that Twitter Built

On July 22, 2010, torrential rains hit Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the USA, flooding neighborhoods and destroying homes. One family that lost its home was that of Tim and Jess Cigelske and their baby, Clara. For more backstory, here’s Tim’s original post with the story of their loss, The (Not So) Great Milwaukee Flood of 2010.

Tim and Jess were the owners of, a website they created to sell used, reclaimed T-shirts and donate a portion of the proceeds to urban trail restoration. This, in part, had helped them build strong social networks in their community, both online and offline. And, thankfully, it also set up an engine for them to quickly start generating funds.

So, when their home was destroyed, they were highly engaged, but not yet activated. Katie Klein-Murphy, (@bootyp on Twitter) one of their engaged Twitter followers, and I “overheard” a conversation Tim was having on Twitter about their situation and asked how we could help. We thought of a fundraiser including a T-shirt sale and a silent auction. And then, we set it on fire, or more accurately, we created ways for our community to set it on fire, and offered facilitation. (I had met Tim once or twice, before the flood, and he and Katie had never met.)

With the help of Tracy Apps, a brilliant local designer engaged in the cause, we launched a website,, to serve as the hub of activity. Our unwritten strategy centered on providing as many ways as possible for people to take action. They could donate online, buy a T-shirt, contribute space, drink or food for the event, donate an item for the silent auction, volunteer to help the day of the fundraiser, or simply raise their hand as someone who wanted to help as the cause moved forward.

Once the hub was in place, not only did donations start coming in, members of the community began taking the initiative to pour gasoline on the fire. They began creating beautiful original artworks for the auction, and tweeting their progress. They auctioned off sports tickets on Twitter to raise money. They launched promotions through which they would donate a percentage of sales to the cause. They created a spinoff fundraiser run – the Runraiser – which the Cigelskes paid forward to their neighbor because so much was happening on their behalf.

It was amazing, and beautiful, and golden.

In a nutshell, all we did was activate the activists.

Another strategy was to ask local businesses to get involved as sponsors to add to our resources. Some of them joined us mainly due to prior relationships with Tim Cigelske, the homeowner. This included Sprecher Brewery, a prominent microbrewery that learned about the situation via blogs and Twitter and provided event space free of charge, and Kashou Carpets, which provided lovely new rugs for the home. Others miraculously said “yes” due to prior relationships with us that were originally forged through social media channels including Twitter and blogs. This included COA restaurant, a popular Mexican eatery that provided all of the food free of charge. We asked Renewal by Andersen of Milwaukee to provide all new windows for the house, and miraculously they said “yes” too.

Sprecher and COA activated themselves to help promote the event through posters and flyers. And, one local business was exceptionally activated. Craig Vermuelen of William Ryan Homes knew Tim Cigelske from and Twitter. They had never met in person. A natural activist, Craig took it upon himself to start getting materials to restore the Cigelske home at low or no-cost, and donated the labor to do most of the restoration. When we asked Craig why he decided to help, his reply was: “Because I could.” That, my friends, is the true spirit of social marketing, or at least what it should be.

All of this activity also activated the media. We did no media outreach other than organically occurring media conversations on Twitter, yet the effort was featured on television several times in the weeks leading up to the fundraiser.

Eight weeks after the flood, the main fundraising event occurred. More than 200 people attended. Including online donations, online and offline T-shirt sales, and proceeds from the silent auction, the activism raised more than $10,000. Due to costs being lowered by William Ryan Homes, this was enough to restore the Cigelske home to even better than its original condition.

At the fundraiser, we live streamed video of the restored house so all could see.

Happy ending: Tim, Jess and Baby Clara moved back home on Sunday, September 19th, 2010. : )

A million thanks, again, to every one who helped activate #saveteecycle. We all wish we could do this same thing for every single person that was devastated by the flood. Let’s continue doing our best to help, one person, one family at a time.

As a marketer, ask yourself: how can I activate my (brand) activists? Hint: it requires encouraging participation. And participating as an organization or brand. Activation and activism go hand in hand. More about this topic in the days to come.


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