Ok, so you have an idea. How do you gather a swarm around it?
A traditional method would be to go about an advertising campaign to generate interest. Swarmwise, two words are in order: Forget. It. If your idea doesn’t generate enthusiasm on its own, no amount of whitewashing is going to create the grassroots activism that you need to form a swarm.
On the other hand, a swarm will form as long as you present a compelling enough idea that people feel that they can be part of. You don’t need to spend ten million on an advertising campaign. It can be enough to mention the idea just once in passing in a chat lobby.
To traditional checkcutters, this sounds ridiculous. But that’s what I did to kickstart a brand that’s now well known in the IT sector worldwide and has local presence in fifty countries.
When I started the Pirate Party in Sweden, I took the ugly homemade website online, and wrote two lines in a file sharing chat. This was on January 1, 2006, at 20:30 CET.
“Oh, look, the Pirate Party has got its web site up now after New Year’s.”
That’s it. That’s all the advertising I ever did. The next two days, the site got three million hits. (Sweden has nine million people.) Media caught on quickly too. Worldwide. On the third day, my photo was in a Pakistani paper.
My point here is, if you’re thinking hard about how to gather a swarm for your idea:
Don’t worry about advertising.
Word of mouth is much more efficient than any campaign can ever be, but that requires that your idea meets three criteria.
First, it must be interesting.
Second, there must be room for participation by people who find it interesting.
Third, you must set out to change the world, and publicly provide an outline of the goals you intend to meet, when, and how.
If these three steps are good, then the swarm will form by itself. Usually rapidly. If they are not good enough, no amount of advertising is going to create the volunteer activist power that you want.
A BAD EXAMPLE OF A PROJECT PLAN
Oh boy I am so starting a new project t0talli for Das Lulz!!11!!!oneone!!six!!11 lololol
I wonder what I will put in it?
ANOTHER EQUALLY BAD EXAMPLE
We are seeking a synergy between results-oriented actitivies related to dynamic business intelligence and competitive social media. Particularly, we are pursuing a path of cost-efficient achievements in quality predictability and static client satisfaction, measured by coupons used and referrals given. The means of achieving synergy is to strive for interaction with consumer focus groups in the field of cross-brand social communication and with student specialist groups in a study of networking revenue potential. The goal of the project is to raise the quarterly operating profits by up to 2 per cent.
A BETTER EXAMPLE
We will dropkick the politicians’ worldwide crusade against anonymity by deploying one million TOR exit nodes and get a TOR client into the default-install codebase of at least 25% of browsers used worldwide by user count.
We will do this in seven stages, increasing the number of TOR exit nodes by a factor of five every 60 days. One stage of installed exit nodes will commit to recruiting five of their friends for the next stage of exit nodes to change the world in this manner. We will provide worldwide network recognition for the best contributors.
Halfway through the project, in stage four, we get the Mozilla and Chrome developers to sign up on including the TOR client by default in the code base. If completed for deployment by stage five, everybody who wants to can be completely anonymous ever after.
We are going to change the world for the better and make it impossible for the stone age politicians to put the cat back in the bag. Want to be onboard for first stage of signups? Sign up HERE (link).
Now, we need to go back to our goals here. We want to gather tens of thousands of energized activists around an idea to change the world. Having an idea is not enough; the idea and its plan must energize people.
So don’t worry about advertising. Mention your idea and plan in a couple of places where your intended activists would typically hang out. That’s enough. If it’s good, people will pick it up and talk to their friends in turn. It snowballs very quickly from there. If it doesn’t energize, no advertising is going to change that.
If your idea is good and people can contribute, change the world, and see how it can be done, then you will have the first wave of hundreds of volunteers in less than a day. You will literally see hundreds of people holding out their hands, palms up, at you and say, “here, use my hands! I want to be a part of this! Give me something to do!”
Which brings us to the next problem.
(to be continued…)
This is a draft part of the upcoming book Swarmwise, due early 2012. It is an instruction manual for recruiting and leading tens of thousands of activists on a mission to change the world for the better, without having access to money, resources, or fame. The book is based on Falkvinge’s experiences in leading the Swedish Pirate Party into the European Parliament, starting from nothing, and covers all aspects of leading a swarm of activists into mainstream success.