One year ago, a social media collective run by three Bay Area women learned the Make-a-Wish Foundation had a wish: To turn San Francisco into Gotham for 5-year-old “Batkid” Miles Scott as he fought against leukemia.
The Clever Girls Collective offered to create a pro bono strategy to get the word out. Patricia Wilson, the foundation’s director, accepted, and within 24 hours they had a plan in place. Within 48 hours, they secured the @SFWish Twitter handle for real-time information and the @PenguinWish “villain” handle to simplify the story.
Within five days, their social media plan was launched and promotion was underway.
As Miles swished through town in a Batmobile, helping the caped crusader foil an enemy, tens of thousands of people lined the streets to watch the events unfold, and more were turned away.
Helping big commercial brands who want to go viral was nothing new for Clever Girls.
“Our staff members were on the ground taking pictures, updating,” said co-founder Kristy Sammis of Napa. “We didn’t do anything differently for this than we do for our regular clients.”
But something very different happened, as most of the world now knows. The women got the attention of TV networks and President Barack Obama, generated almost 2 billion online impressions in 117 countries and spurred 25,000 people to publicly cheer for the Northern California boy, Miles Scott.
They established a Facebook page and a detailed blog post distributed through a single URL. They set up #SFBatkid as the official hashtag and set up Simply Measured social media listening tools to measure activity.
The scope of social media was planned in advance by writing a Twitter script based on Batkid’s itinerary, identifying where and when to use key photos and videos.
“By the time we woke up on Nov. 15, it was already trending No. 1 worldwide before our team was on the ground,” Sammis said. “Once it started trending, the local and national news stations picked it up, and that’s when it went crazy.”
Starting at 6 a.m. the day of the event, a dozen people worked in teams to take photos and send support Tweets, including a photo retweeted by Obama. They stayed on top of the story by watching news feeds and Tweet streams, responding to many high-profile tweeters.
The effort proved the global power of social media.
More specifically, it showed the collective skill of social media collectives like Clever Girls, which uses thousands of bloggers to serve its clients, said Sammis.
Because adult women make 85 percent of the purchasing decisions in America, sellers who want to reach those women are coming to Clever Girls and their bloggers for help.
“We’re reaching the consumers who already use these brands, and they tell the brand story,” said Sammis, a 39-year-old wife and mother of two. “We’re letting the people who benefit from the products tell their stories. The motivation for them is truer, and it takes the yukkiness out of advertising.”
For Dremel, the craft tool company, Clever Girls asked bloggers to discuss crafts they created using Dremel tools. For food companies, they ask bloggers to write about recipes that included the product.
Twenty-two Clever Girls employees work with thousands of bloggers who are part of its network. Bloggers can earn between $50 and $5,000 per assignment, doing anything from sharing an advertisement on Facebook or Twitter to visiting a store, buying an item, using it and writing about the experience. Interested bloggers fill out applications, and Clever Girls puts the best candidates to work.
Most of the bloggers are women.
“That is who the companies want to talk to,” Sammis said. “But we (also) have hired men.”
The company’s employees collaborate on Skype teams, in virtual offices, without a paid-time-off policy.
“We are all adults, so there is no limit to how much time an employee can take off,” Sammis said. “Our culture is extremely important to us, and we treat our employees the way we would like to be treated.”
The founders — Stefania Pomponi of Palo Alto, Cat Lincoln of San Francisco and Sammis — started the company nearly five years ago, and “after all this time we are still best of friends,” Sammis said.
Raised in Connecticut, she was an early computer nerd, logging into computers as a college freshman in 1993. She came to San Francisco in 2001 after a divorce, started blogging about funny Craigslist dates and found her second husband, Peter Bartlett, who was performing stand-up comedy at the time.
In 2006, she attended a conference in San Jose and learned how big the blogging world was. “There were a lot of women blogging, and brands understand the power these women and moms have. Some have 300,000 readers.”
She went to work as a marketer for BlogHer, but soon missed blogging.
“I wanted to be a chef but had to manage the restaurant. I wanted to be a featured speaker for blogging, but instead I was feeding the bloggers.”
She left BlogHer, got engaged and moved to Napa, where Bartlett found a job.
That’s when she came together with partners Pomponi and Lincoln, and the trio formed an agency.
“I knew the bloggers, but it was still the very Wild West,” she said. “The partners came to me to focus on connecting blogs with brands.”
Clever Girls is a small piece of the public relations business that is trying to help companies reach influential women, Sammis said.
“We offer a way to approach bloggers; they did it the same way they approached journalists, which is not very effective. We know blogging and connected with what bloggers could and couldn’t do.”
Clever Girls now competes with BlogHer, which has a loftier goal she describes as shining a light on women and amplifying their voices. Her agency has helped thousands of groups of women became influential online, Sammis said.
“This is why technology is good. It allows us to be part of something bigger than us, sharing life’s events.”