The Power of the Individual

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You never know who you’ll meet. Attending an awards ceremony for social media campaigns, I met a very witty and charming writer, Todd Wilms. We chatted social media and advertising for a bit before I brought up my favorite topic, cheetahs. He was intrigued with how social media influence is leveraged for this very specific cause of wildlife conservation. My story was intriguing enough to blog, so a big ‘Thank you!’ to Todd… lets keep spreading the word for the cheetah!

Social Media: The Power of the Individual

December 14, 2010 by Todd Wilms

When it comes to the numbers, bigger is better. 500 million active facebookusers – impressive. 65 million tweets a day on Twitter – wow! 85 million people in 200 countries trust their business profile to LinkedIn – astounding. However, in our rush for all things “bigger,” “greater,” or “more” we have missed the biggest number of them all – 1. One. The gender neutral, third person singular. Uno. Never before have we had a greater opportunity to tap into thepower of the individual, the power of the one. Influencers to obsessives. Let’s face it: a dedicated someone has more sway than the largest group of uninterested followers or disinterested bystanders.

While attending the Bees Awards with a group of colleagues in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I was pondering how they could make a goat cheese pizza the size of my thumbnail (complete with tiny slice marks) while admiring the obvious signs on the statues in the Legion of Honor – “this is not a coat rack” next to the Degas or “please do not place your drinks here” next to the Rodin. Before I do like so many of us do – taking refuge in my Smartphone – I met Marcy Mendelson. Marcy is an acclaimed Bay Area denizen and photographer. She is also a passionate cheetah conservationist. Intrigued, I set down my goat cheese pizza on the nearest Faberge‘ egg I could find and engaged in an actual conversation.

Marcy is fascinated by cheetahs (I know, you have heard the “while-attending-an-award-ceremony-I-met-cheetah-girl-story” before, right?) However, Marcy had no outlet for her passions. Not a lot of wild cheetahs in the Bay Area (the rents are just too high!) Through some basic social media searching and looking at profiles, she comes across a book by famed safari guide and conservationist Peter Allison “Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of aBotswana Safari Guide.” Marcy reached out to him through facebook for help and guidance. Within 5 minutes of her message, Peter responds from his laptop in the Brazilian Amazon. In short time, he agrees to strap on his boots and khaki hat to come out of “guide retirement” and lead a safari. With the help of Rebecca Klein of the Cheetah Conservation Botswana, they plan to lead 2 safaris to Namibia and Botswana in August 2011. Groups like Cathaven and the Tsavo Cheetah Projectnow seek Marcy’s help and guidance from photography to press assistance. She continues to help cheetahs – one conversation at a time- from her own group to a photojournalism project with conservation organizations and local farmers to implement predator safe practices.

Bacon SaltI know the irony from moving from Cheetah Conservation to Bacon Salt, but bear with me. Bacon Salt is the brainchild of two Midwesterns who have a passion for . . . well, bacon. Like Marcy loves cheetahs,these guys love bacon. So, in their mind, there are not enough bacon flavored foods out there. The idea was simple “what if you could have the same great taste of bacon on . . . everything?” Most of us have ideas like this in our 20s and usually starts with the phrase “We should open our own bar and that way we can drink for free.” Dave and Justin – our Bacon Salt barons – took the idea to the next level using social media. Using several popular networks, they found similar people around the globe who publicly claim to like bacon and then asked them to test their products. The results astounded everyone – feedback was instantaneous and viral. These committed bacon lovers spread the word to anyone who would listen. They have bacon groupies (Bacontologist, the Bacon Salt Society). You can now buy Bacon Salt and Baconnaise everywhere from Costco, Kroger, Winn Dixie, and Albertsonsaround the country. They have quit their day jobs and now are building a bacon flavored empire, thanks to a small, but enthusiastic group.

Do the big numbers have a place? Yes, there is no doubt that both Marcy and our Bacon-preneurs can achieve new successes by tapping into new groups and enthusiasts. However, their journeys started with individuals – committed, passionate individuals who became the catalysts for their successes. Social media can now be what eBay was in the ‘90s – a way for enthusiasts (in eBay’s case “collectors”) to find like minded people with an obsession for everything from Pez dispensers to vintage couture. I love that Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) has more followers than the population of Sweden, but I will put my energies into one committed conservationist or two guys with an obscure love for cured meat flavored seasoning. In our rush to the goal, let’s start with the one and build from there.

Todd Wilms is professional marketeer, published writer and poet (yes, poet), blogger, father, and husband. He currently has 3 “patents pending” and hopes to someday make the “unpending.” He resides in Palo Alto, CA. You can follow him at@socialb2p or on the blog


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Currently I'm working on my new film, Chasing Cheetah, based in Namibia; a documentary road trip searching for the cheetah in the midst of human-wildlife conflict.