Saturday, January 20, 2018

The 15 Social Media Posts that Work, with Examples from Whataburger

by Steven S. Vrooman

In my IAEE ExpoExpo talk on social media strategy (bonus: you can see some of the data analysis from that presentation here!), I showed a list of 15 types of posts that my accumulated social media research since my TEDx talk on the subject have shown work best to drive audience engagement. In this blog post, I will show them all to you, with an example from the fantastic social media team behind Whataburger's social media.

A quick note, first: engagement is not the same as reach. If you only want reach, you will want to read things like the post I saw on LinkedIn yesterday that suggested finding your competitor's most liked and shared posts and just stealing them. Change the picture and the specific text, but basically just crib your social media content, hashtags and all. I'm sure that will get you reach. If all you want is numbers of eyeballs (so the dashboard you show your boss to keep your job looks good every month), well, I guess that stuff might work. 

But, I've been railing against plagiarism as a college professor for years. Eventually you get caught, you know (in case your personal ethics aren't robust enough to get you to abstain from this). And then you get burned. Someone will see that you are doing this. All it takes it one tweet filled with the comparative screenshots and you're done. 

And is this really your strategy???!!??? Is THIS the story of your organization or personal brand? Is this why you get up in the morning? 

Engagement IS more important than reach. You can see my last post or listen to my INBOUND17 talk if you need to hear my arguments on that. I'll assume if you're still reading you agree. Here's what works:

Wanna be a pal and click HERE to tweet this for me?

Again, the links up above are for the why. Here's the how. These are examples of what it looks like using my recent favorite, Whataburger:

See? That works.


I know, this is "professional" social media. We're not supposed to do this, are we?

This is Whataburger's central social media style. It works for them. They like to do it. But even if it is not your go-to style, it will work sometimes. Before you tell me humor isn't professional think back on the history of marketing and advertising for just a second . . . . okay, good.


Make it about you or your team. We want to see this more than you think. Doubt it? If you can tell me what color turtleneck Steve Jobs always wore, I'm right.


This is the Internet. Nerds live here. Be one of us.

Those are It and Harry Potter references, muggles.


This is a bit of a stretch with Whataburger tweets, sure. I'll give you better examples in a later post using my other favorite social media content lately, art museum Snaps.


If you don't have this content, it's a bit of a red flag for your organization. *Nothing* I post gets as much attention as this kind of thing on LinkedIn, which is supposed to be the boring, self-promotey, personally remote social media platform. So imagine how well it works for other venues.


Pictures, folks. We love pictures. This is usually the part of a keynote someone queries me about afterwards. "Like, funny cat pictures?" Well, no. It should be relevant. But funny pictures of your cat at your office? Maybe. How about pictures like those in the rest of these Whataburger posts? 


Your people. 

Doing people things. 

In your space. 

If you have a place on your website where you allow us to "Meet the Team!" with boring headshots, then you need to show us pictures of those people looking at the eclipse or bowling or working a soup kitchen or setting up the trade booth, etc. 

We want a picture of real things. Not memes. Not quotes. Not cats. Maybe dogs, though:


Look, this stuff works with college students. For a time. Then they get tired of it and move on. Their Boomer and GenX elders hate this stuff. Don't you? So don't do this too much. The last game/contest from Whataburger was 3 months ago. And it worked in its context:


Food hacks, like the one below, are easy. In other contexts, yes, this is harder. But when I've done research on college students and twentysomethings in general, this kind of thing works. They share these posts, too. What can you offer as hack-worthy wisdom in your world?


Videos are pictures that move, eh? See above. Whataburger actually needs more video, I'd say. Especially given their snarky tone, a bit of something that moves besides ironic GIFs while you scroll through their tweets would be a nice touch. Like this next example...


This is usually going to be pictures and videos, but there are other elements here. Successful social media presences like The Blogess give us that backstage pass all the time. It's our reason to tune into your livestream early. It's how you humanize yourself without resorting to funny cat memes. It makes everything look less slick, less like soulless marketing cranked out by bots. There's a reason we watched Mr. Rogers or Unwrapped or Dirty Jobs or Behind the Music or any celebrity gossip blogEvery time I post behind-the-scenes stuff it gets double the eyeballs of regular posts. Here, check out the feels:

Connect Locally

You should have a friendly and collaborative social media relationships with important, allied local businesses and organizations. Likely you have this in real, non social media life, so why not reflect that online? Do you sponsor the local Little League team? Are you rooting for the HS volleyball team to make State? Are you excited for the county fair?

Remember that we're supposed to share and play nicely. If you have concerns about retweeting, make your own content and tag them.


This will usually flow organically from connecting locally, but it also comes from interactions with clients and consumers. Whataburger is pretty great at this:

Social Proof

"Social proof" is the idea that our opinions are formed by interacting with others. Sometimes even when it doesn't really make sense. Just look at the fashion history of pants. In social media this generally means that when we see posts with zero or few likes and shares and comments, we assume the content is not as valuable as posts that are heavily marked as popular. We DO judge books by their covers and tweets by the small bits of metrics that we can see just below them. 

If you're Whataburger, you get a lot of social proof on your stuff without worrying too much about it. You're a beloved local fixture and your brand of humor in social media is well-known and generally well-received. 

But this is for the people or organizations or businesses with lots of content that passes by in the scroll with big 0s on the metrics. If you've connected locally, make an effort to acknowledge and like each other's content. Proactive work here will lift all boats. 

The best example of this is with sub-units of organizations, like universities. Most schools have different social media accounts for their divisions or groups, from admissions to the campus police to the mascot to student groups to sports teams to campus dining. Schools that are successful in getting student eyeballs on their content tend to have those units pay attention and like/share/comment on each other's stuff. It passes the initial social proof filter for scrolling students. Sure, if you click to see who has liked it, you might notice that every sports team on campus liked the new jersey sold by the bookstore. But . . . aren't you still going to like it anyway?


I'l bet Whataburger gets a lot more social media attention than most us us, and still I think they have a few things they could do better (more video, more local connections). So there's no shame in having some work to do. Hopefully this post helps to spur thoughts and generate some new possibilities for your social media practice. 

This is a win-win. It makes the social media landscape more interesting and it will improve engagements with your content. Good luck!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Social Media Tactics and Strategy: What We Can Learn from Chess and Nonprofit Association Social Media Data

by Steven S. Vrooman

When I spoke on social media at the IAEE #expoexpo, I tried to emphasize strategy. My thinking on this was informed by my love of chess and by the sayings of one of my all-time favorite players:

The problem with an Analytics approach to social media is that it is tactical and reactive. You spew content into the world, measure what works, and then try to make more of it. That's okay, I guess, but it speaks to a lack of vision or mission and a lack of understanding of your audience. 

To put it another way, there is a price to pay for outsourcing our social media strategy to your followers. When you use them as live guinea pigs for user testing, by the time you've figured out your message, they've moved on. How can you be sure they will bother coming back if you are not a celebrity? You can't.

In Tartakower's version of things, what he is talking about really is responsive versus generative thinking. If you hang a knight in a chess game or the other player hangs a knight, well, you respond to that. That's the baseline of chess competence. You respond to the needs of the position. There is something to do.

Strategy is what do do when there is nothing obvious. You need to push the position, to create imbalances you can take advantage of, to set the stage for some later tactical fireworks. You plan. You generate vision. Purpose. Meaning.

Social media to me often feels like chess in this way. And there are other similarities. It feels, occasionally, like a competition for eyeballs. You are responding to the shifting nature of the communication landscape and hoping to move first into an opportunity, maybe even to create a new opportunity.

So I am interested in strategy. I will outline some of that thinking in my next blog post, but you can also get a taste of it in my podcast episode of my talk at INBOUND 17:

I'm tired of the blog posts and conference breakout sessions devoted to tactical-only considerations, as if that is the only way to deal with social media. So we run from meeting to meeting or reading to reading, desperately trying to outcompete Facebook's feed algorithms, perhaps hoping to be lone wolf Bobby Fisher against the collective Cold War era Soviet chess machine?

Still, tactics can't be ignored. And I spent some time in some tactical analysis of 10 social media presences of associations attending the IAEE Expo (which is like an association of associations). They remain nameless in this analysis, save for a few examples below of good practice. I figured they'd be okay if someone saw what they were doing right. 

The rest of this post will take you through a lot of that tactical material. But you will find sneaky bits of strategy in here, as well. 

To start with, here's the coding system I worked out to help you interpret what will be a set of heat tables:

I developed this coding scheme iteratively, and some of it is very idiosyncratic to this particular data set. For example, pdfs are not commonly tweeted, but they were in this selection. There are many other bad practices that would go into the red category, and a few more good practices that would go in the green, but this is a start. I have been developing this general structure of analysis of good and bad social media work over the past few years as I present on social media and develop custom analyses for the groups I speak to. New things come up and surprise, but the things that work generally remain constant, and that is what this chart is based upon.

Let's move through a few key lessons learned from this data.

Should I Post the Same Content Across Platforms? Yes (Sorta).

Here's the overall picture of the 10 associations on the right. All have Facebook and Twitter presences. 6 also have Instagram, as well. 

Just looking at this image, which has been coded according to the scheme noted above, you can see at least one thing very clearly: no one is using a consistent strategy across all the platforms. This is interesting for a variety of reasons, but primarily, I get the sense that this was not done strategically or even tactically. The 3rd through 5th associations on the left have a vague pattern of similarity between Facebook and Twitter, but then Instagram is a totally different animal. This is a reflection of how easy it is to automate dual postings on Twitter and Facebook with services like Buffer, but how hard it is to do that on Instagram.

After my IAEE talk, one of the questions in the mass of people who came up to talk afterwards was this question of whether or not they should repeat content across platforms. It's a good question, as we've all probably seen those moments on Facebook when people asked each other to stop cross-posting tweets and then later, Instagrams, onto Facebook, since we all are connected with each other on all platforms and are tired of redundancy.

I had two responses to that. First, looking at the pattern of response when the same content is used across platforms in the sample above reveals no clear difference in terms of effectiveness, which is especially important given the data above, where it looks like the Instagram accounts above are filled with more personal pictures and memes than the other platforms. In the following example, which was par for the course across this data set, you can see that the patterns of interaction are similar across platforms. It looks like the pictures get more traction on Instagram, but in comparing these two posts with the platform averages (the numbers below) for this association's posts, you can see that it is not THAT much better on that platform.

In fact, the pattern of responses here is really quite similar. The dark green bar is a contest put on by the association which was advertised by a child's crayon drawing. The lighter green bar is a picture with a minor celebrity at one of the association's events. Although I coded the child's drawing as more effective with the dark green, in general, in this case the celeb won the day to about the same degree across the platforms.

Thus, my second response to the repetition question, if response structures are the same across platforms, is about that redundancy and fatigue issue. I suggested that if they are posting, say, a picture of the association staff looking at the eclipse outside their headquarters (I saw a lot of these, and I generally like that idea), that a) they should repeat that across the platforms, but b) they should use a slightly different shot for each platform, and c) they should cross advertise platforms in the post contents or comments. For example, "Here's Maria and Kim using their eclipse glasses for safety. We put a picture of Steve on Twitter doing the same thing, but his glasses are upside-down. Shh. Don't tell anyone." This gives value in seeking out the full story across platforms, and it reduces redundancy exhaustion. Let's face it -- if you are taking events pictures, you have more than you will use. You already have the resources to do this, perhaps even at this exact minute on your phone.

Should Our Content Always Be "Professional"? No. (Sorta).

This was a key issue. In fact, a lot of people came up afterwards and told me they agreed with what I was arguing but that they'd never convince the C-suite to go along with it. The people in charge wanted it "professional" and no cat pictures. 

I hear this a lot.

This is a false dichotomy. I know I wear cat suspenders to these events, but that doesn't mean everything has to be GIFs of cats jumping in boxes or conference schedule PDFs. There is an in-between.

I showed this example in the presentation. I was doing a webinar on game design and play in the classroom and did this Facebook live bit. I also did one later, showing the camera setup and other things in the studio. I told some jokes and had some fun.

Doubled my audience.

Have fun. But have "serious fun"? Don't waste people's time, but, on the other hand, your social media stream should not look like copy from the back of the brochures you have sitting on the endtables in your waiting room, either. This is advertising people are opting into. Reward them for opting in.

Here's how that works. This post crushed it for the IAAPA:

They took a popular meme image, memed it up and then dropped their logo onto it. Here's how the likes (red), shares (orange) and replies (yellow) fared in comparison to their typical results:

Big bars. I think the shape of the graphs for Facebook and Twitter are also interestingly congruent. Yet another piece of evidence that there is less of a magic formula of certain content for certain media than we tend to think.

Another way of thinking about this question of "the professional" vibe is demonstrated below on this table of Instagram likes and replies for another association:

You might think the polished (posed, poised) celebrity pictures (highlighted in purple for this moment of analysis) or the professional looking finished booth on the trade show floor (You know how this post goes, on the conference hashtag: "Come visit us in booth ### today!"), which is the yellow line, would do better. 


People would rather see pictures of regular people from the conference or backstage images (the one dark green line), in the aggregate, than the more polished ones. These conference pics, by the way, for this account, were very very casual. These were not pics of speakers on stage. These were clusters of people talking around the coffee service, etc. Those are the things we want to see. 

I want you to put the social back in the social media.

Should I Draw a Line Between My Professional and Personal Accounts? No. (Sorta).

This is hard. If I am right about all of this, it puts a lot of pressure on work-life balance issues. Well, it can, but only with a certain set of assumptions in mind.

If you assume you need to post frequently and at regular intervals because some other social media guru told you that was best practice, well, the idea that you need to arrange some sort of funny but relevant personal and quasi-behind-the-scenes peek at the organization sounds like a bit of a nightmare to do, especially when you are the one person on marketing/advertising/public relations/social media in your small nonprofit.

But do you really need to post so often?


I know, you can throw a zillion blog posts at me by people who will tell you otherwise. You know . . . . I think the likelihood that someone who is telling you that's how to do social media ALSO happens to have a financial stake in your doing just that is high. They have a subscription/consulting service or an app or a template or a book or a keynote to sell. Look, I get it, so do I. There is no way in an all-marketing world to avoid this kind of problem, but I am skeptical of an approach that tells us best practice is beyond our reach to do it alone. I think we should use extra scrutiny in such cases.

What if, instead, we built social media content for a different, and more durable and strategic purpose? If you weren't desperately trying to push quantity out of a vaguely understood sense of how this puts you into people's feeds, how much would you post? A lot less. If you only posted when you had something good to share, well, how often does that happen? 


Below I will explain why that is okay. For now, if you ultimately believe it is okay to do less to get better results, isn't that relaxing on its face? And doesn't that take some of the sting out of time stresses of getting more personal?

I am telling you you can do it alone. In much less time. I know lots of social media professionals that do. Here's what that looks like:

Let's take these in order. 

Notice? Look, you can't beat the algorithms. I always get versions of this meme looking back at me when I say this to a room of professionals who have been trying to do just that for years (and who may have had some moments of viral success):

Everyone I know whose job it has been these past 8 or 9 years to beat the system has crashed into diminishing returns. Facebook is a rich FAANG company because it hires lots of people to beat you at this game. They profit when you fail to program your content to show up on a lot of screens without resorting to paid ads. So they will beat you. Now they own Instagram. They will beat you there, too. Too many hashtags to do what used to work to get views? Shadow banned. Twitter is a bit more wild west, but in the firehose of Twitter data, do you really think the old Guy Kawasaki tip to repeat each of your posts 9 times is really going to make that big a difference in getting new eyeballs before it alienates your quality followers, your "whales" (thanks, Seth Godin), who put you into a curated list and will lose patience with your shenanigans? I just dropped 8 people from my own main Twitter list for just such behavior, even though I usually liked their stuff. It crowded everything else out.

I had this conversation with about a dozen people at the IAEE Expo and asked how long their patience extends for such things. The first thing to know is that they needed no explanation here. They knew EXACTLY what this kind of posting looked like. The second thing to know is that, although I suggested my patience wore thin and I unfollowed in a few weeks, not one of these dozen gave me more than an hour or two before they unfollowed. 

Back to basics, eh? Do no harm! Don't alienate people.

Thus, make "destination pages." Make your social media stream "sticky," to use the words of web designers. When I finally get to it, I will stick with it. Don't make social media posts which advertise themselves. Make posts which drive people back to your collected stream of posts. A scroll-by liker doesn't do you much good. You want someone to go and find your Instagram and look at all of your stuff. And stay. And comment. And tell someone else. Quality of interaction over quantity of epiphenomenal browsing is what we want. Here are some examples of social media feeds that are destinations: this and this and this and check out the San Antonio Museum of Art on Snapchat.

Engage? That's what we've already done. We've done some simple analytics designed to show us patterns of what people engage with and what people don't. The other thing I spend time on in these keynotes is that there is no such thing as quality content. We have shifting needs and are generally bad at processing information. We want to build a relationship on social media so that we don't feel like total waste-of-time failures when we are scrolling through our feeds on our phones. So there is no way to know whether you've made "good stuff" until you find out, tactically, and then build a strategy for deepening those connections with your followers. 

Of course, maybe you always had a vision, a strategy, and you just kept working away at building an organic following. So now, when you do analytics, you are not surprised. You know them well enough to know what will work. There's a good metric for you: The quality of social media strategy is inversely related to the number of surprises in your analytics data.

Share? Here's the key to this whole section. 

Make every post shareable and ad-worthy. In other words, make each post awesome enough (based on what you found out above) that people will want to share it. Maybe you strike viral gold and you feel good about your views and connections. Maybe not. But then, once you have some social proof (likes and shares are not sad 0s staring at us, telling us the content is not worth our attention), you can then make that content into a paid ad. Most platforms, including LinkedIn, push you to build ads based on posts you promote. You don't want to promote content with a small number of likes and hope people will add likes via their exposure to the ad. Yeah, right.

If you can't beat the algorithms you will need to turn to ads. Your ad strategy should be built out of what works organically with your fans in this way. 

In case your eyes are blurring with this longish blog post, here's the general set of of things years of analysis in various audience and industry contexts has shown tend to work. You can hold onto this at the end of this post and feel like a winner even if you spaced out a bit at the end there. In my next post I will detail this list with examples of what this looks like and by connecting it to a larger strategy discussion. 

Good luck out there!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Puzzle Boxes at the IAEE Expo! -- "At First It Was Hard, Then It Was Easy"

by Steven S. Vrooman

Does a blog still exist when you don't write a post for months? This, my friends, has been the busiest semester I've had in almost twenty years. Things seemed like they would balance when I agreed to speak at INBOUND17 and the IAEE ExpoExpo! Then we fast-tracked the Data Analytics Master's Program at TLU. That meant I had to overload with an additional class, a new prep at the graduate level, Data Visualization. Then some staffing shuffles meant I needed to step in as Interim Student Media Advisor at TLU, in which role I am in the process of leading the students in a strategic planning process for the future of their student media. All good projects, but when I started sinking in the swamp, I put my podcast and this blog on hiatus to catch up with my grading.

Well, I am finally writing a small post, mostly in service to the people who come to my "Can You Escape This Session?" program at ExpoExpo!

I ran the puzzle boxes workshop for the biggest group yet, and I did so in order to teach the participants how to do this themselves. For background on this project, which I do for education and professional settings, see my other posts here

The session was great, as you can see above in the video segment IAEE TV did on the session! Awesome participation and some really interesting decompression discussion afterwards. I asked groups what was easy and what was hard, and that's where the title quote came from. One participant said "At first it was hard, then it was easy." Isn't that perfect? That's what ALL education feels like. That's what all group communication things feel like, from small groups and teams up to whole conferences!

In response to their comments, I am developing ideas for a conference-wide escape/puzzle experience as well as either exhibit room wide or individual exhibitor experiences that would bridge the gap and enable more fun conversations in those spaces, which often live in between "Hey, don't take my pens/candy/logo merch without talking to me; I'm sitting right here!" and "Seriously, I can't do this right now; stop pressuring me to give you my email for a pencil." A few more ideas are percolating as a result of those conversations, so stay tuned.

Below you will find two things of use. First is the takeaway document I made for them. While you read it, how about taking my quiz on it, which would give you a combination code output for correct answers you can use to open the next lock. Second is a set of two templates for how to construct the boxes. These are real live versions of boxes I have in use, so, you know, SPOILER ALERT!!! To build your own, you need to keep track of everything and be able to answer questions from the floor. This is how I do that.

IAEE’s Annual Meeting Take-A-Way

Topic: Can You Escape from this Session?

Presenter(s) Information: Dr. Steven Vrooman, Professor of Communication, Texas Lutheran University

Date: 11/28/17

Time: 9:00am-10:00am

This session will show you how to make modular, portable puzzle rooms in the form of puzzle boxes, while you solve a box in a small group yourself. What you learn here could be scaled up to a full-on escape room at your next conference, but a locked box on a table provides quite a bit of fun, as well.

First, the spine of the thing:

  1. Have a clear learning objective. Tactile, puzzle-based learning is some of the best learning we have. Use these opportunities to get participants involved in interesting ideas.
  2. Create a takeaway text. Well, just like this one, really. They should have a bit of something to read and explore.
  3. Build a quiz or two online. Using Google Forms or some other service, make them use their knowledge of the takeaway text to finish a quiz which gives them a clue.

Second, the construction of the boxes:

  1. Think Russian dolls. Nest layers inside each other. Each layer is locked, but it should take some thinking to get through it.
  2. Delay gratification. Key locks have keys hidden in the outer layers of the box structure that you can only use later. Combination locks work the same, with clues hidden in plain sight (like cards, books or thematic artifacts), as outputs from your quizzes, or with tricks (code, invisible ink they get a blacklight for later, etc.)
  3. Map it out! Have one structure for all of the boxes, even if the theme of each (carry-on, briefcase, tackle box) changes, so you can help them when they get stuck. Put that map on paper or spreadsheet so you know what opens what lock. Because they will get stuck and text you. And you want to be confident about your answer.
Finally, the results! Association meetings and conferences and expos can be exhausting. So many slidedecks, so many business cards and pitches and logoed pens. Your schedule needs more fun. This is fun, with a hard-to-forget Tootsie Roll center of learning inside. I’ve never met a person who regretted attending a session like this.

And now for the templates. The idea is that a column is a level of the box, a sense of what is accessible at any given time in the experience. A row delves into subsequent levels and what is inside. Although these are small boxes, if you've ever done a big escape room, you will see the similarity in structure in the levels of puzzle. So this should provide a reasonable guide to scaling this kind of project [or, you know, hint, hint, you can always hire me to do it for you :) ]. Good luck, and please send me any questions you might have if you are ready to try this yourself.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Puzzle Boxes in a Professional Workshop Context, An Update

by Steven S. Vrooman

A month ago, I wrote about creating escape room style puzzle boxes to teach communication skillsI recently adapted this method to work with adults in a professional training context as part of my One-Day Communication Reset Workshop. I wondered, as I was building the experience for college students, whether or not it would work with non-students. 

It did.

That's good, because I am going to be rolling out a bigger version of this experience at the IAEE ExpoExpo! this fall, and it's nice to know that I have a fighting chance of getting some people who might enjoy this activity at my session.

They were *super* intense about it and were in it to win it. I thought there was a chance they would disengage, especially when they got to the hard parts, like reading and taking online quizzes, but they all really wanted to get those locks open.

Graphic created by Patricia Stelter

Of course, it was time for revision.

I improved on the method from the last time, generating a spreadsheet to keep track of the boxes and lock levels. No more confusion!

I also created some Google Forms quizzes that gave lock code outputs for successful completion. This shorter quiz worked well, but the longer one was a problem. I set it up so they had to retake the quiz instead of individual questions, which led to a frustrating time for some during that part. I will work on that. But the online quizzes meant they didn't have to report to me to get clues. 

That was good, because it changed our relationship during the activity. I was the hint-giver only, not a necessary interactant. Obviously I created the puzzles, so they might have directed frustration with them toward me, but I had primed them with the idea that I would give each group a limited number of hints. They couldn't know the number, so at a certain point they couldn't know, their hints would be exhausted. They had some discussions, when faced with difficulty, about whether or not to use me as a "phone-a-friend." It displaced some of the negativity they might have had about the process in a way that improved my interactions with them during the activity.

Here's a few of the things I saw:


They had two quizzes they had to complete to get codes for locks. One was on material that we had already gone over together. The other was new material they had to read and work through for the first time. Although they told me that they only learned the new material in small pieces to ace the quiz, this wasn't true. We applied those skills, on group facilitation, immediately after a break, and they definitely knew what to do. Do we under-report our learning when an activity is interesting and engaging?


They continued to show the kinds of groupthink barriers I saw the first time around. It was SOOOOOOO helpful to have them experience that, as it is groupthink that actually makes a physical barrier to success in this case! It is visceral, and we usually like to deny that we suffer from groupthink! One example of this is with the code to a text-based combination lock. One group got this combination on some tiles and had to figure out the order of the letters on the lock. They could NOT got any combination of M, D or I to work. I had to come and flip that M over to make a W. Two of them literally facepalmed.

"Win Conditions":

Groups began creating fictional "win conditions," very assertively, after a group finished first and crowed that they were in first place. One group suggested that they were the first group to have finished the longer quiz, etc. This proved an exceptionally interesting finding for our session on negotiation that would come after lunch.


I utilized this activity to prime them with failure. Games like this provide a fun experience of failure that gets subsumed into eventual success. We used some ideas from a recent Atlantic Monthly research review, "Power Causes Brain Damage,"  to talk about asymmetrical negotiation sessions. The article, by Jerry Useem, reports that merely priming people by asking them to remember a success, makes people less effective at things like accurately reading other people. So we practiced a bit with priming our failures. I'm not sure we did it systematically enough to draw conclusions from, as we had many other goals for the day, but it is interesting!

I'm still processing some of what I saw. (I still have boxes of open locks to sort through!). But I think this is a positive experience in the development of this method.

Stay tuned for more reports, especially after I use these boxes in a session at #EXPOEXPO in the fall. I have done it with pre-existing groups only thus far, students and now a team at a nonprofit. In my upcoming session, there will be a lot of strangers coming together to experience this. Should be interesting!