About a week ago, Bob Merlotti–unrepentant funnyman and founder of the innovative advertising organization Skeleton Crew–posted yet another one of his casually hysterical status updates on Facebook. It read simply “Bob Merlotti wears the scarf of indignity.” Now I don’t know what life event prompted this thought–if any. And aside from the fact that as a huffy sort of adjective, ‘indignity’ falls into that wonderful linguistic subset of intrinsically funny words, little distinguished this specific update from dozens of his other witty posts. And yet it clearly struck a chord. Within minutes, four people had chimed in, offering absurdist sartorial builds on his initial bit, ranging from ‘the english derby of righteousness’ to ‘fez of futility’ and ‘bathing suit of exasperation.’ By days end, that simple post generated sixteen replies.
In the massive numbers of the internet, sixteen replies equal the approximate register of a single leaf falling in a thousand-acre forest, but for those of us who jumped in (and you bet, I jumped in too), the experience was like a taking a few turns on a swingset–simple, silly and undeniably fun.
What was it about this particular post that made it such an irresistible invitation to play? Why did such a relatively high number choose to add to this particular thread?
In his highly accessible and brilliantly informed book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky details how today’s widespread communication tools radically reduce the cost of participation, fueling social upheaval around how quickly and powerfully groups form and act today. Whether a group forms to disseminate information, drive political change, or crowdsource large scale projects, reducing the cost of participation increases the likelihood of success exponentially. In a time of more change and fewer absolutes for both the marketing industry and society as a whole, Shirky’s informed analysis helps provide a framework for adapting to this new reality and the financial repercussions it creates.
Getting back to Bob’s post, his clean, easily imitated gag structure clearly lowers the cost of participation. With Facebook, that cost refers not to time or money, but rather fear of extremely public failure. Anything you post on Facebook instantly pops up on the newsfeed of hundreds and even thousands of others to see and judge, intimidating many from jumping in. But in this instance, Bob provided an initial gag structure that was both delightfully clever and easily replicated, requiring only a silly, alliterative clothing/emotion combination. Once you free associated say, ‘hot pants’ with ‘hussiness,’ you could play too. And so ten people did almost immediately.
Unlike a very special episode of ‘Family Ties,’ we didn’t all learn something. Still, it was a day-brightnening experience and an intimate lesson in community building–if you make something easy and fun, all sorts of people will want to play with you. Thanks for that Bob.