case studies, guest posts, social media campaign

Follow the Leader: Innovative Social Media Activism

3 Comments 24 February 2011

The Get HandsOn (GHO) campaign, a project of the Points of Light Institute and managed by HandsOn Network, is a three-part interactive service challenge to inspire people to become involved in community service that includes the games Tag, Follow the Leader, and Break the Record. The first challenge, the world’s largest game of virtual Tag, launched in November 2010. Over 7,000 people “tagged” friends to make a commitment to making a difference, and GHO offered donations and prizes for participation.

Follow the Leader, the second GHO challenge, launched in late January.  As with Tag, Follow the Leader (FTL) utilizes social media innovatively. The campaign site includes game dynamics (leaderboards, leader prizes), commenting and tagging (tagging, group project journals with commenting features), and community aspects (members, group projects, project forums). This challenge again leverages real world social ties and virtual ties that, most importantly, move people to action. The results are measurable: projects created (supported videos, photos, written blogs), number of individual commitments to an action, meetups about a project (number of meetups via, and service stories (online journal entries). This game, only three weeks old, already has 93  volunteers committed to lead projects. Follow the Leader runs through the end of May.

This is no slacktivism – this is activism

Michael Nealis, Interactive Strategy Coordinator for HandsOn Network, answered my burning questions about Follow the Leader and Tag in the interview below.

How did the idea of the Get HandsOn campaign originate?
HandsOn Network worked with an outside marketing agency to develop the plan for a campaign that harnessed the power of social networks to inspire people to create positive change. We were interested in how online communities and the psychology of gaming and contest behavior might be leveraged for social good. The first phase, Tag, was designed to inspire people through commitments to service.  Follow the Leader is working to equip people with tools that can help put projects into action and make a difference.

What was the goal of Tag, and how is it different than Follow the Leader?
The goal of Tag was to identify service leaders across the nation, either by self-selection or by having a friend or colleague identify them as a service leader.  Tag was a lot more passive than Follow the Leader.

Follow the Leader builds on Tag by asking the people who have been identified as service leaders to lead volunteer projects in their communities. We’re asking a lot more of participants in Follow the Leader.

What did you learn from Tag?
One of the most interesting things that we learned from Tag was who drove the competition.  While there was a large body of participants, a very small group was responsible for almost a quarter of the activity during the campaign.  Service leaders engaged online in ways that were consistent with more general statistics about online behavior. We also learned that people don’t often self identify as service leaders even though they regularly exhibit all the behaviors we associate with one.

What is the primary focus of Follow the Leader? What are the primary goals?
From a player’s point of view, the goal is to be able to plug in to a community of people that are dedicated to service in order to support the individual’s own service.  There are also game aspects, including a prize structure including grants for players’ favorite charities and trips to Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Atlanta. We’ve also provided project playbooks, which are “how-to guides” for easy to implement, volunteer projects that anyone can organize.

The end result of FTL will be to increase and mobilize the number of Americans involved in volunteer service, to identify and connect with volunteer leaders within their communities, and to help those who want to get involved in volunteering implement impactful projects in their neighborhoods. We’re looking to channel the energy and excitement from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day into a longer term commitment to service.  We hope to bridge the gap between a one-day commitment to service and a more sustained commitment to service.

There are a lot of elements of social media throughout Follow the Leader—can you highlight a few?  What are you most excited about and why?
There are a lot of ways Follow the Leader incorporates social media: sharing commitments to service on Facebook and Twitter, community forums where people can share their commitments to service and get feedback from the community, and space for users to blog about their service commitments and include photos and video from their projects.

We’re most excited about the members’ journals.  We’re only three weeks into Follow the Leader, and we have some really great stories about people’s commitment to service—from initial planning steps to one person’s story about a nation-wide service vacation. We really love reading the different stories about how people are making service a part of their lives.

What is HandsOn Network trying to learn from Follow the Leader?
We’re hoping to learn more about how service leaders engage with one another and how we might be as helpful as possible in supporting their efforts.

What is the expected participation of Follow the Leader?
We don’t have a target number for participation in Follow the Leader, but we do have an expectation of what participation means.  We hope that people will make a service commitment, download one of the Project Playbooks to guide their own service projects, then share their photos, videos, and experience with their service projects.  We hope that by sharing their experience, others will be inspired not just to serve, but to lead others in service themselves.

How will you follow-up from Follow the Leader?
We’re having fun with the playful nature of the games and are looking to further explore inspiring service activity using the theme of games.  Additionally, we’re looking towards Tag version 2.0.  We’ll take the lessons learned from the overall Get HandsOn campaign and we’ll be using them to make a stronger support structure for individual-driven community service. Long term, we’d love Get HandsOn to result in a vibrant online community where service leaders exchange ideas and inspire each other to change the world.

Michael Nealis is the Interactive Strategy Coordinator for Get HandsOn.

He can be reached on twitter @MikeNealis.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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