Just Add Apples: 3 Social Media Lessons from an Entrepreneur

Last Updated Apr 22, 2010 4:45 AM EDT

Tom Dickson makes a living selling high-powered blenders. So what better way for the US-based entrepreneur to promote his products than to show them in action?

He's done exactly that with his "Will it Blend?" social media campaign, where he puts golf balls, marbles and, lately, the latest Apple gadget in a blender to see what happens, films it and posts it on YouTube. In the past four years, sales at Dickson's company, Blendtec, have risen by over 1,000 percent.


Great if you're running a small business that needs to differentiate itself with crazy stunts, but you can't do that sort of thing if you're a big established organisation, can you?

According to H James Wilson and P J Guinan, you can -- in fact, they demonstrate at least three ways that Dickson's experimental approach is supported by Babson Executive Education's findings on successful social media initiatives take shape in big businesses.

Here's a summary:

1. Play with what you've got. Experiment with existing processes or initiatives, add to or tweak them like Cisco, which redesigned its employee directory with Facebook as its model. This 'shrinks the change', making it easier (and faster) to implement and more likely to gain favour among users.

2. "Act, reflect, then expect". Dickson didn't start his campaign with the expectation of specific results. It was a case of just doing it, then capitalising on the opportunities that arose as a result. While the 'if you build it, they will come' motto may not always work, it can do much to ease the fear of failure and encourage people to take risks. The 'see how it goes' approach to social media might be costly in terms of people's time, but it also offers a live coaching platform and a mini-intrapreneurship programme that's relatively easy to manage.

3. Allow self-selected leaders to emerge. Dickson's experiments first attracted young consumers, who might then get their parents along to watch a (tamer) in-store demonstration of Blendtec's blenders at work. Babson's experience of larger business, too, was that where social media's concerned, 'communities' tended to spring up around a problem and self-selected 'leaders' would naturally emerge and take over the work. As the article observes, this means allowing a project to grow organically, without assigning roles to an organisational chart.

I imagine this last idea being the hardest to implement, since it demands an absence of top-down direction and a culture where leadership can come from the middle (or the back).

But does your experience differ?