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EmilyIf you were at the Echo conference in Dallas this past July, you may recognize the face to the right. It belongs to Emily Hearn from Dothan, Alabama. Emily started a Twitter campaign at the conference with the hashtag #GetEmilyOnStage. Her goal? To simply get on stage at one of the main sessions. And of course, it worked. What’s surprising is how and why. Before Echo 2013, Emily didn’t even have a Twitter account. By the time the conference was over, people were asking her about her social media strategies. This is how it all went down.

Emily is a church secretary. She’s also asked to sometimes do some of the announcement slides for worship services. She has no design background, and uses Publisher as her primary tool. In other words, she’s not exactly been at the cutting-edge forefront of creative church communication.

But Emily’s design instincts are, in fact, really good. I know, because I work with her. When she said she’d like to go to a conference to develop some skills, she asked me which one would be best. The Echo Conference seemed like our best bet, and I knew it was one I would get a lot out of, too. I worried about Emily, though, and wondered what she might take away from it. Little did I know she would become possibly the best-known non-presenter at the conference.

So how did she do it?

Emily’s pretty fun. And maybe she’s got just a little bit of crazy in her. So she just decided, after seeing various people pulled up on stage to be in some of the games, that she wanted to get on stage. She had heard about this Twitter thing, and decided then that that must be the way to do it.

I was with her at lunch when she announced her plan. She got everyone else at our table on board – six or seven women she had just met (I was the only man at the table). They thought it was hilarious. She announced that she had just gotten a Twitter account to accomplish this purpose. So there at the table, the campaign took shape. We decided having her face attached to as many posts as possible would be important. Why? Well, so the emcee would recognize her when she sat on the front row that night, of course. And then the hashtag. This was my small contribution. Originally it was going to be “EmilyOnStage”. I suggested adding “Get” to the front to remove any ambiguity. It wasn’t a nickname, or a celebration of something that had already happened. It was our goal, stated clearly and succinctly.

Emily smiled for the camera as she leaned in to all of her new friends, who gamely posted her photo to their Twitter accounts and added #GetEmilyOnStage #Echo13. Some added additional text, but the hashtags and face made it clear enough even without any additional text.

This became Emily’s modus operandi. She’s extremely outgoing, and it actually became a fantastic way to meet new friends. She’d say hi, and then say, “Can you help me out with something?”

So sure enough, at the conference that evening, they put Emily’s face up on the big screen. And then they had fun by quickly moving on, ignoring her request to get on stage. It became a gag throughout the evening. They’d ask if Emily was still in the house, then simply move on and ignore her. But finally at the end of the evening, she was invited to come up and simply stand with the emcee for some closing announcements. Mission success!

Here’s where it gets funnier: I knew a couple of the presenters in advance of the conference, and was familiar with the work of others. I couldn’t wait to connect with some peers and some people who really inspire me. Emily had never heard of a single person connected with the event. But who do you think connected with more people at Echo 13? Me, or Emily? Who was hanging out with Donald Miller at the hotel lounge? Huh? I don’t really want to talk about it.

Emily gained tons of followers for her brand-new Twitter account. Someone asked her, “So what’s your social media strategy?” This is a funny question, because it wasn’t a strategy, it was a lark. But Emily explained how it started at lunch. “Interesting,” the person said, stroking his chin. “We start by connecting with people online, and hope to make the face-to-face connection eventually, but you went about it the other way, and it really worked.” Interesting indeed.

So why did it work? Let’s break it down.

  1. The personal connection. It really was an important part of her strategy. She’s funny, engaging, and non-threatening. Why wouldn’t people want to help her?
  2. Her goal was simple. She wasn’t asking for a relationship. There was no mailing list. She wasn’t looking for money. She just wanted a tweet, a pretty low threshold that people could get behind.
  3. She made it clear what to do to reach the goal. She would say, “Take my picture, and use this hashtag when you post it.” Easy enough.
  4. Everyone could share in the success. For everyone who sent a Tweet on her behalf, they were all wondering, “Will it work?” And when it did, everyone got to celebrate that victory.

Emily started Echo 13 without a Twitter account. When she left, she had people asking her about her social media strategy. Like her eye for design, she had good instincts. Her “strategy” was brilliant and simple: Relationships matter. Have clear and simple goals. Give instructions. Let everyone share in the success. Way to school us, church secretary. Well played.