Friday’s 4-1-1, What a Social Media Road Trip Can Teach Us Style

Chevy SXSW Road Trip Tracker

I starting writing this post a couple of days ago while we were in the middle of the road trip. It has since ended, all of the road trippers made it to Austin safely, and they’re still talking about it. I planned the first Chevy Road Trip last year, too, and this is one of the most rewarding initiatives I’ve ever worked on. I’m proud to share this work and my learnings.

My last few days have been spent on a huge activation for one of our clients (Chevrolet) at SXSW. Correction – my last few months. But over the last few days, the activation that I’ve been leading (The Chevy SXSW Road Trip Challenge) has been in full force. We identified some of the top digerati, entrepreneurs, and filmmakers from 9 cities in North America, provided all of them with Chevy vehicles, and asked them to document their journey all the way down to Austin. We’ve developed 11 challenges for them to complete, and over the last few days, we have literally been unfolding them in real-time. The road trippers learn more and more as they’re going and it’s making for some great content and most of all, great experiences.

I am continuously amazed at the power of people and technology. And even more specifically, technology that enables connections – like social media platforms. A couple of weeks ago at DSE, in Shelly Palmer’s keynote, he said the biggest change in technology today is the speed and scale that it enables connections and amplifies voices. It’s so true. I have experienced this first-hand over this road trip.

Every time I do something – small and large scale – I try as hard as I can to be aware of and absorb what is happening in the weeds and all around. I call on many things from past experiences and even still, I learn something new in every circumstance. And learning is only so good when you don’t use it to teach others. So, here are some of those learnings from this road trip. I hope you find, at least some of it, helpful and/or insightful.

1. The brand is not in control – regardless of how much you literally prescribe a journey, it is harder and harder to predict exactly how much of it will go according to plan. You can set up the best, most defined parameters and structure it in a way that has the most potential to yield positive results, but in the end, you are not in control. The people are. The best thing you can do is to be there, be open, and be willing to offer encouragement and/or help.

2. Flexibility, if not THE key, is a critical key to success – you can always bank on curveballs when people are involved and you turn the experience over to them. If you don’t have a plan B, C, D, E and F, you’ll quite likely be scrambling to solve problems that present themselves regularly. Foresight is certainly important, but if you’re not willing to be flexible, you shouldn’t participate in social media. The key, really, is to be responsible in your flexibility.

3. Over communicate, over communicate, over communicate – there is no such thing as enough proactive communication, especially for something like this that is so intense and occurs in a specified timeframe. Everyone involved behind the scenes – the community managers and the brand team – have many things on their plates to deal with. To assume someone knows something or will take care of something is death. I’m sure you’ve heard it before – communicate early and often.  It’s a simple concept, but difficult to practice.

4. Interpretation is pesky thing – how members in the community interpret various components of an initiative like this is going to be different than how you, as the organizer/manager, interpret them. Our road trip centered around 11 challenges that each team had to complete over their 3 days on the road. While we wrote those challenges to be loose and open to interpretation, we found out very early on that how we expected the teams to interpret those challenges was completely different from how they actually interpreted them. In this instance, it was a good thing. It made the content more unique and diverse. But the real important thing here is – you must be crystal clear in your communication with the community if you don’t want anything to be misinterpreted. Even then, it’s bound to happen.

“Uh-huh” – we worked with a non-profit called Adopt-a-Classroom and scheduled stops for each of the teams along their way. It was, by far, the most inspiring thing to watch how the teams embraced the classrooms and the impact that those classrooms had on the teams. The teams were asked to raise $200 for their classrooms and every single one of them took it as a collective call-to-action and got their own communities involved and raised much more than they were asked. One team even raised $5,000+. This was a good cause. It’s one of those  causes where just a little can make a huge impact. Social media – and the connections that it enables, the speed and scale – is a powerful doin’-good machine.

“Duh” – I’ve heard many people ask, “what is the brand getting out of this?” And from my perspective, the answer is simple – get people to experience the cars and people behind the initiative and then tell their communities about it. Good and bad. This is a learning process and what better way to learn than have 40+ people essentially living in the cars for 3 days. The road trippers have been open and honest and in order to provide value and get better, that’s what the brand needs.

It’s all quite simple, really. It’s just a matter of doing.

Here’s a cool site to check out everything road trip-related and a video to boot. As always, thanks for reading! If you have any questions about this or anything else, I’d love to hear from you!

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