How to Mobilize Your Online Community. Lessons From #SFBatKid


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This began as the story of a child with a wish. It grew into a story about a community. Ultimately, it developed into a story of people being human; a story about community in the broadest sense, where people innately take time from doing things for themselves to support other people.

On Friday, November 15th 2013, the city of San Francisco was turned into Gotham and a boy, named Miles Scott, emerged as the masked super hero, Batkid. Miles, a 5-year old who has leukemia that’s currently in remission, had his wish to be a super hero for a day granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.


While Miles bounded determinately around the city rescuing people in distress and receiving commendations from city officials, the streets filled with cheering citizens. The people of San Francisco took time away from their busy workdays to cheer on Miles by showing up, volunteering to be victims, and creating and carrying signs of support. While this was doing on in “Gotham,” the online community (in the broad sense of the phrase) rallied people from across the globe to Batkid’s crime-fighting cause.

Online Community Engagement and Mobilization Lessons From #BatKid

image credit: Make-A-Wish® Greater Bay Area

By the end of the day, little Miles (with his sidekick brother dressed as Robin by his side) had received several keys to the city, lunched with Batman, and received shout-outs for high-office holders in Washington DC, including President Obama.

So, before you go any further, make sure you check out the coverage of Batkid. It will make your day!

Next, let’s talk about lessons that online community managers and social business strategists can learn from this event and massive mobilization. Let’s face it. We can’t all have the opportunity to take down the Riddler and Penguin in the same day.

What Can Mobilize Your Online Community?

My wife worked for Make-A-Wish for several years and I have been a volunteer “wish granter.” While the children, their families, and their friends very much appreciate the wishes that the organization helps to make come true, very rarely does a wish mobilize people from the entire local city and online community.

However, it is possible and, even if your organization can get one tenth of the engagement that Make-A-Wish and the city of San Francisco drew, you’d receive measurable dividends for you and your community.

Though “Batkid Day” is an extreme, heartwarming, and occasionally tear-jerking example, its lessons can help companies and nonprofit membership organizations leverage their online community to advocate for their organization, improve products, or move important legislative priorities.

Based on takeaways from Batkid’s big day, here are five ingredients to mobilize your online community:

Element #1) Work for Good

Take the advice of Abraham Lincoln and appeal to your community members’ “better angles of their nature.” For those of you not familiar with the last line of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, this means that people seek and are attracted to works of altruism, empathy, and cooperation.

In your online community, you’ll notice that messages that have a higher purpose and serve a greater good tend to receive a higher response rate. Though it is not always possible, try to align the initiatives where you need the highest level of engagement with things that are clearly for a specific or common good.

Element #2) Tell the Story

Imagine if the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Konnect PR, the agency behind much of the initial publicity, had announced that they are granting a superhero wish in the Bay Area on Friday and that they needed people to help with the event.

Would they have seen the same level of excitement, volunteerism, and media coverage (social and otherwise)?

Luckily for all in this story, Make-A-Wish is a skillful storytelling organization. They showcased the story behind the call-to-action. They highlighted the people and their needs. Make-A-Wish and Konnect created a story that appealed to the human side of social media and people’s need to support something greater than themselves.

In the midst of managing the data, conversion ratios, and content production that drives your online customer or member community, don’t lose site of the people. Analyze your content through the lenses of their stories. Adjust your community messages that direct, advise, and convert to align with the human experience that connects us all.

Element #3) Don’t Go to the Well Too Often

It is important to recognize that the story of BatKid is a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. The elements listed in this article came together in a way and at a time where the community had not come together on such a large-scale in quite a while.

If Make-A-Wish had similar events each week or month in different cities, the local reaction would be positive, but the exceptional outpouring of enthusiasm would quickly wilt. While the stories would be heartwarming and meaningful, the online community would certainly not continue to spread and add to the story.

Element #4) Make It About Helping Others

According to The Social Mind, a 2012 research project from Leader Networks and the Society for New Communication Research, 78% of people participate in online communities to help others in the community. People join and engage in online communities to help other people by sharing ideas, information, and experiences.

When you create content, engagement opportunities, or a call-to action for your community members, you have three options when conveying its benefits:

  1. It helps the organization.
  2. It helps you, the community member.
  3. It helps others in the community.

Which one do you think has the most appeal and gets the most responses?

As evidenced by the story of Miles Scott and the aforementioned online community report, to get the highest engagement from your target audience (e.g. customers, members, employees, partners, prospects, etc.), focus on how members can help members, rather than making it about your organization or the benefits to each individual member.

Browse your messages from the last 3 months and categorize them into these three groups. Which ones got the highest response rate?

Element #5) Keep It Simple

The final ingredient of mobilizing your community the way that Batkid did is simplicity. From your story to your appeal to people’s altruistic nature, keep your message and intent clear. People are busy and don’t have time to weigh the commitment costs, motives, and value of your call to become engaged in your community’s online or offline initiative.

Consistently test your strategy, messages, and calls-to-action with your target audience to ensure that they are simple enough to be acted on using split-second emotional decision-making, rather than the analytical side of their brains.

Online Community Takeaway

You may not always be able to engage your community and mobilize your online network with the scale and attention that Batkid did. However, by incorporating the elements listed above into as many of your online community processes and messaging as possible, your organization may begin to see higher engagement levels, along with a community that is ready to be mobilized for important moments.

Lastly, your ability to bring together your customer or member community can not only have a positive effect on your organization, but also have a profound and lasting impact on your community. Just ask Miles, his family, Make-A-Wish, the people of San Francisco and the online community.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joshua Paul
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at


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