A few weeks ago one of the projects Bivings works on, the Pickens Plan, won a Reed Award for best use of social networking technology.  Since its launch in July, the Pickens Plan has recruited 1.4 million supporters and built a social network, Push.PickensPlan.com, consisting of 200,000 hardcore activists. 

Following are a couple of the key elements of the Pickens Plans’ social networking strategy that helped ensure their success:

(1) Internal Social Network


Push.PickensPlan.com, an internal social network built in Ning, launched immediately after the Plan itself was announced in July of 2008.  Push was not originally seen as an integrate part of the overall strategy.  This excerpt from an interview with Pickens Plan online strategist Heather Lauer, shows how the strategy evolved:

“Our expectation was the other networks (like Facebook) would be stronger because they have a built-in audience, but it was just the opposite … Ning turned out to be much stronger” in terms of community-building and driving people to the Pickens Plan site.   The further surprise was that the community, originally conceived as a sub-objective, is now the most important platform for effecting the political change sought by Pickens and his staff.

I think having the internal social network available right away was a key to the networks eventually success.  Push allowed the Pickens Plan to immediately provide supporters with a way to self organize around the Plan’s principles.

(2) Active Participation in Community

A key component to the success of an internal social network is an active staff presence.  To keep things on track, a network must have active administrators that resolve disputes, remove objectionable content and spam, and lead discussions.  The Pickens Plan has a community manager that is charged with keeping Push on track, and a series of regional leaders whose job is to organize support for Pickens Plan in different areas of the country.  Having staff participate in the community helps the Pickens Plan get the most possible out of their network.

(3) Recruit and Reward Volunteers

Volunteer activity on Push has played a key role in the success of the community.  A volunteer Welcome Wagon  greets new members when they join the community.  In addition, the Pickens Plan has recruited Congressional District leaders through Push that are charged with using the network to organize in every district in the country.  Lastly, the Pickens Plan has recognized outstanding bloggers within the community and features their work on the homepage of the Push website

(4) State  Homepages

The Pickens Plan has made a number of customizations within Ning in order to get the most out of their network.  One of the key features that was built are homepages for each state (Texas example).  These state homepages feature blog entries by the state’s regional leader, the ability to look up your Congressional District group in order to connect with other members and links to the latest actions items from the Pickens Plan.  By adding a state structure to Ning, Pickens was able to encourage activists to connect with others in their area, increasing the chances for offline activity. 


(5) Pickens U

Along similar lines, the Pickens Plan launched a Ning customization called Pickens U, which allows students to organize in support of the Pickens Plan on their college campus.  The feature includes links to Push groups for each school, as well as links to relevant Pickens groups on Facebook


About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.