Sep 2010
09:30 AM

From social media to social movement, the story of the Stewart/Colbert rallies

Stephen Colbert Rally

How a grassroots movement calling for a satirical D.C. rally, in response to Glenn Beck, grew from a simple idea to reality (backed by Comedy Central stars Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert) through social media and the strong backing of the Reddit community.

This is the story of a brushfire. An early morning spark in the mind of an anonymous internet user, an idea kindled by an inspired web community. A movement that spread across multiple platforms within a day and received mainstream attention within four days. A raging fire that grew from inception to reality in just two weeks.

Embedded in this story are lessons on how a good idea, a crowd of motivated people, and a powerful medley of social media tools can spawn an entire movement.


August 28

Conservative pundet Glenn Beck hosts a rally labeled “Restoring Honor” on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. The rally is criticized both for its chosen date (on the anniversary of the MLK “I have a dream” speech) and for its fear-based motivations. The rally receives substantial media attention and buzz across social network.

In the days leading up to and following the rally, the web community Reddit had multiple negative links and discussions regarding the rally including disgust over a YouTube video that featured interviews with a handful of ignorant and/or bigoted attendees of the Beck rally.

August 31

Reddit user mrsammercer has an epiphany and shares it with Reddit. He proposes that satirist Stephen Colbert should lead a faux rally in Washington in response to Glenn Beck. The community embraces the idea and “upvotes” (Reddit allows posts to be upvoted or downvoted to determine their prominence on the site) it to the front page of the site.

Members of Reddit spring into action and begin brainstorming ways to get Colbert’s attention. An unidentifiable number petition Comedy Central executives to garner attention.

Lesson 1: Movements need passionate and motivated organizers behind them in order to get any traction.

September 1

A website is setup to facilitate communications surrounding the rally and a Facebook group entitled “100,000 Strong to Restore Truthiness to the US Capital” is created. The term “Restoring Truthiness” is widely adopted by those impassioned by the movement.

The movement is also getting notable attention on Twitter.

September 3

The buzz gets loud enough to get the attention of a few major bloggers, most notably the Huffington Post. Reddit user mrsammercer creates a “subreddit” (a category on Reddit) named /colbertrally to facilitate all rally communications.

September 7

Through the website, Facebook group, and the /colbertrally subreddit, supporters of the movement organize and execute Operation Restoring Truthiness. The movement’s goal is to have the collective participants search for and post about the rally on Google and Twitter simultaneously in order to get the topic trending. It was an incredible success.

This spawned far more media coverage including Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Sun-Times, and NY Daily News.

Stephen Colbert first mentions the existence of the movement on his show. There are also hints by Jon Stewart that he will be making an “announcement” soon.

Lesson 2: The big key to unlocking media coverage for an internet-based movement is to become a trending or hot topic on major social media platforms. These are the modern press wires.

September 12

The New Yorker publishes an excellent article detailing their time spent observing Jon Stewart and his staff at work on The Daily Show. The article reveals that Stewart and his team were discussing the idea of hosting a rally in response to the movement, possibly calling it the “March of the Reasonable.”

September 13

Another coordinated movement is conceived. Operation Truthy Classroom coordinates Reddit users to contribute money to DonorsChoose.org, a charity that Stephen Colbert is personally invested in as a board member. The movement gets official endorsement by the Reddit Admins and surpasses its initial goal of $29,945 (to beat what Hillary Clinton was able to previously raise) within 8 hours. It would eventually go on to raise more than $250,000.

The administrators at Donor’s Choose vow to pass on news of the campaign’s success to Mr. Colbert.

Lesson 3: Putting your money where your mouth is legitimizes your movement and puts tangible numbers behind it.

September 14

Stephen Colbert sends a personalized letter to the Reddit administrators to share with the community thanking everyone for their generosity and proclaiming “we could stage a hundred rallies” with the momentum of the movement.

September 16

Jon Stewart announces that he will be hosting the Rally to Restore Sanity on October 30, 2010 at the Washington, D.C. mall during The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert then announces the March to Keep Fear Alive “competing rally” on the same date and location on his show, The Colbert Nation.


Reddit administrators create a special logo to commemorate the achievement and changed the site’s slogan to “Reddit – Where dreams come true.” Users still utilize the website to coordinate travel arrangements and share press surrounding the event.


This story is both inspiring and revealing. Social media has changed the political and social game and paved the way for unprecedented reach. In particular, communities such as Reddit have shown, on many occasions, the ability to organize and focus the power of the collective towards single causes. Sometimes they are inspired by the desire to help, other times they are inspired by a longing for change, and still other times they do it for the lulz (to laugh about it).

In the end, possibly the greatest unknown arising from all of this is how an organizer can petition the community to support their cause to begin with. A good idea that meshes with the hive mind’s beliefs is necessary. But what is the ultimate catalyst for a movement? Or will it always be a matter of luck? Maybe.

What I do know is this: Reddit should savor the deliciousness of their monumental achievement. I will see you all on October 30th.

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Jul 2010
07:33 AM

The Man Your Man Could Smell Like

old spice man isaiah mustafa

Editor’s Note: If you have yet to see the latest Old Spice commercials be sure to check out their You Tube channel prior to reading on.

Hello ladies. It’s me, a somewhat average looking man sitting behind a computer writing a blog article. And while I don’t look like the Old Spice man, I can smell like him. That is, of course, if Proctor and Gamble can convince me to shell out my cash for a brand my grandfather probably used, and in an extremely competitive market none-the-less.

There is no doubt that the efforts of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy have made tremendous strides in rebranding Old Spice for a whole new generation. Unfortunately it would be impossible to quantify success in terms of sales for any one particular campaign given the extremely diverse promotional mix Old Spice has utilized. As many bloggers and media outlets are recently reporting, Old Spice body wash sales have more than doubled in the wake of their recent social media push (having Old Spice man Isaiah Mustafa answer fan questions in near real time via hilarious YouTube videos post over Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other social networks – click here to learn more). If causation were truly established, this would be a major landmark in propagating the legitimacy of social media as an advertising medium. It is already exceeding email advertising in terms of ad dollars spent; however, there are still many nay-sayers out there that don’t respect its potential.

But not so fast. As Fast Company points out, in the same period, sales of Gilette and Nivea increased tremendously as well, without the help of a brilliant social media campaign. All growth companies utilized a strong coupon campaign in the same period, which many argue is the real cause of that tremendous short term growth. As much as it pains me to say (full disclosure: I am a big advocate for new media), the data may not be there to support the proclamations of success after all. As advertising legend John Wanamaker famously stated; “I know half of my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half.” The recent Old Spice advertising blitz is a perfect example of this.

However, whether or not there is proof that Old Spice has ultimately yielded groundbreaking success in terms of sales is almost irrelevant to me. There are so many factors that go into converting that final sale, from the effectiveness of the advertising to the packaging to (obviously) the product itself. As I previously alluded to, they are still hard at work trying to wash away that “grandfather” smell from the brand image.

The important take away here is that Old Spice had astronomical reach in their campaigns using social media, a relatively inexpensive format. Their YouTube uploads have garnered more than 115 million views to date; numbers analogous to a multi-million dollar Superbowl spot. Yet, even a small business could easily recreate such a campaign with the right creative partners. Sure, it is hard to reach the same notoriety without the supporting traditional media that a mega corporation like P&G has at their disposal, but imagine the sales potential in reaching even a hundred thousand users in your target market. We have seen many examples for years now. Old Spice has just introduced a great conversation piece in our industry and arguably the most well executed social media campaign to date.

Look at your social media strategy, then look at theirs, then back at yours, then back at theirs. You are undoubtedly envious of their success no matter what size your company is or what product or services it offers. The beauty of it all is that social media is unlocking advertising potential never before seen for the little guy. Imagine what you can do with a HD camera and a clever idea. If analyzing this campaign has taught us one thing, it is that creativity wins on the internet. I may not look like the Old Spice guy, and I don’t really want to smell like him, but I am certain that I have the potential to execute a social media campaign just as successful, and you do too.

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Jun 2010
11:01 AM

Twitter Proof Your Site

Twitter's Fail Whale

As we all know, Twitter goes down very frequently. Twitter has released a useful tool to inform users about outages, planned or otherwise, but this is no help to the many websites that syndicate their Twitter feeds.

Too often the script that is pulling the Twitter feed triggers an error that can take down the entire page. One of the common culprits is the XML parser, such as DOMDocument. When Twitter goes down, all status feeds return the infamous “Fail Whale” HTML. This, of course, does not validate as XML and causes the parser to throw an error.

The best method to deal with this is to wrap all XML parsing in try/catch blocks and cache the Twitter feed. If Twitter goes down, you can display the cached copy of the feed.

This is good advice for anytime you find yourself syndicating a feed.

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