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PotatoStock And The Lessons Of Looking Past Platform

Putting Your Brand First

It’s easy to forget that it’s not just the Facebooks and Twitters of the world that comprise the web of social media which makes up our online life. Everything, from commerce to charity, is based around social networks and mass participation – sometimes it just takes those things coming offline to remind us of that.

One such industry revolutionised by social engagement is that of small business funding, an area which has seen its most high-profile figure in Kickstarter. Last week the power of crowd-funding was amply demonstrated with PotatoStock, the result of one of Kickstarter’s biggest surprise hits.

In July 2014, Zack Brown turned to the crowd-funding site to ask for $10 for the ingredients for a potato salad, which he had never made before and didn’t want to waste money on. This isn’t a usual request on Kickstarter – proposed projects range from smart networked home security devices to wireless GoPro chargers. Nonetheless the idea caught the public zeitgeist, meeting its $10 goal in minutes and then going on to raise $55,492 (donations on Kickstarter can, and often do, exceed the goal set by the proposers – although rarely to this degree).

This was clearly more than enough for Zack’s original plan of a potato salad for one, so he stepped up his ambitions and in the process demonstrated the strength of social media when it finds itself in the perfect storm of public support and individual ingenuity. Launching off the back of his Kickstarter success, Zack turned to other social media networks like Twitter and Facebook to crowdsource not money but ideas. He appealed to the public for suggestions of what to do with the excess funds, including not only in his original backers but new people who had read media coverage of the event and wanted to get involved.

This was a textbook example of not just how social media can ignite seemingly mundane ideas and turn them into something extraordinary (if a little ridiculous) but how riding the wave of public engagement can create a radical public profile out of thin air. Zack used the funds to throw what he termed ‘PotatoStock’ – what he hoped would be the first of many – in Columbus, Ohio. Everyone who initially donated was invited, of course, as well as anyone else with a hankering for some delicious carbs.

The idea’s development went beyond this, however. Zack was interviewed by media outlets, both traditional and digital, and produced and sold merchandise at the event, like t-shirts with the logo ‘Peace, Love & Potato Salad.’ What funds weren’t used up in the production of 450lbs of potato salad for the attendees were invested in the Columbus Foundation, a charity fighting hunger and homelessness. He was endorsed by the Idaho Potato Commission and Hellmans Mayonnaise; a prime example of established brands entering into mutually beneficial collaborations with more nimble digital entities.

Following the success of the event, a second PotatoStock is planned for next year and Zack is allegedly in talks with a publisher about a book about how to succeed in online fundraising.

The whole happening is an excellent example of how to look beyond context in social media; Kickstarter is a site for socially funding business ventures, but in Zack’s hands it became a tool for charitable endeavour and self-promotion. For your business, once you’ve mastered the basics of social media promotion, try and look beyond what’s in front of you. Look beyond ‘Twitter is used for this’ and ‘Vine is used for that.’ Allow your brand’s identity to dictate output, rather than conforming your content to the expectations of the platform.


Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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PotatoStock And The Lessons Of Looking Past Platform Reviewed by Douglas Clarke-Williams on Monday, October 06, 2014 Rating: 5
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