No Budget? 10 Brilliant Tips for a Killer Streetwise Social Campaign



How Brands Can Leverage Personal Interaction to Build Stories That Spread

Each year millions of dollars are spent on brand activations at SXSW, some work, some don’t. A lot of speculation and banter online exists on whether or not the festival that turned 30 years old this year is worth it. Has it ‘jumped the shark’ or is the interactive portion worth it for startups, lifestyle brands, and large companies to invest marketing dollars, or should they be looking to other events or channels to allocate those dollars? My definitive answer is yes, given the right strategy.

This year at SXSW 2016, I wanted to see how much attention could be created from a very lo-fi, no-budget activation using a stack of Post-it notes, a small crew of University of Texas film students and twenty-seven clothespins. I was supposed to be down in Austin, working on another street level marketing activation that was canceled at the last minute. Since I was already coming down, I decided to run this experiment, I called it Operation #Woodpin, and in less than three days we created some serious traction!


Before I jump in too deep on the how, let me provide some backstory. In 1995, I created a grassroots campaign for $300 that reached over a million people, almost a decade before Twitter and Facebook. I didn’t realize that this was a big deal until a few years ago at an SXSW party,  Marcus Nelson (ex. Salesforce, Addvocate, Uservoice) was explaining the story to a group of social media luminaries, and they were stunned. One of them remarked, “we spend lot’s of money to get that kind of response, how did you do it?” Fast forward a few weeks ago, when Marcus’s twin brother (link to angusnelson.com) Angus challenged me to make the Combat Chuck project relevant and repeatable. I accepted that challenge and #woodpin was born.


I’m Shawn Matthews, and I have spent twenty-five years as a creative professional and working on campaigns for startups to billion dollar brands like O’reilly, Upwork (formerly oDesk), and eHarmony. Whenever I build a campaign, I always start with a list of goals, this not only helps focus the campaign but informs the architecture of the game plan as well.


For Operation #Woodpin, the goals were simple:

  • Goal #1 Take 100 photos of #woodpins
  • Goal #2 Leverage traction with major influencers.
  • Goal #3 Pass out #woodpins and see if it carries.
  • Goal #4 Spread message online via video.
  • Goal #5 See if we can get media coverage.

Goal #1 Take 100 photos of #woodpins

Taking photos was a key aspect of this experiment. We needed to spread the word through social media, and what better way than pictures with the right hashtag being spread by the people at the event?

Instead of spending marketing monies to try to promote your brand, why not have the public do it for you? We are in a world where everyone has a smartphone, tablet, or camera of some sort at the ready. Early on, an interesting phenomenon occurred, the general public began sharing posts on their own through their networks. We leveraged this love of public sharing providing social proof. This amplified the motivation for more people to share because we were giving them something to interact with.

Goal #2 Leverage traction with major influencers.

By using social media channels, like Twitter and Periscope, you can partner and use major influencers out there to promote your brand, while helping them to promote theirs. While promoting Operation #woodpin, we had several other influencers put their weight behind our message by taking pictures with us, tweeting about what was happening, and helping to make our experiment a success. The more influencers you have sharing your campaign, the more you can expect to see some a return from their involvement, and a return on your investment, no matter what size the budget.


Goal #3 Pass out #woodpins and see if it stuck.

This was part of the test. If we passed out items like wood clothespins, would it stick? Would people really engage with a simple wooden clothespin? The answer was, YES! People like getting things for free, they like the interaction of talking to the person that gives it to them. Having personable, easily approachable people on your team on the ground is very important to the success of your campaign. On a side note, total strangers become instantly possessive of an object handed to them.


Goal #4 Spread message online via video

Spreading the message with appropriate tagging is imperative. During Operation #woodpin, the other hashtags that were used were just as important in the text as the #woodpin hashtag itself. Having the proper tags to convey the event you are at, like #sxsw and #atx, help to make sure your content trends as it should. In addition, it is important to capture as many pictures and videos of all the happy people at the event with your visual icon, leveraging OPS (other people’s social.)


Goal #5 See if we can get media coverage

Media coverage is always great for free advertising. If you have a message people will get behind, and enough people get behind it, you can spin it out as a relevant news story for traditional media coverage as well.

Through the use of the Core Elements of a Streetwise Activation, I went out among the crowd of SXSW armed with twenty-seven wooden clothespins, a Post-It note pad, and a team of three to see if I could make twenty-seven clothespins and get as much or more media attention than other corporate advertising budgets.



1. A simple message

  • A point you are trying to get across to the public. Whether it’s an item, service, or even a social movement you have to have a message.

2. A strong emotional hook

  • Give the public something to care about. That is the key to having a strong emotional hook. How does your campaign benefit them? Does it provide a service they strongly need? A movement they want to support? Is it appropriate for the whole family? These are all things to keep in mind. The reason people come to these events is to have fun, try to keep the mood light and entertaining.

3. A visual icon (the bigger the better)

  • In this experiment, we simply used 27 clothespins, a Post-It Note pad, and a hashtag. You want something that catches the eye. An item, mascot, or something that can double as a prop for the public to take pictures with to help spread your word. Something that can be easily recognizable. You could also you something completely different, like a clothespin. People are curious by nature, they will try to figure out what that “thing” they keep seeing is.

4. A team of personalities on the ground

  • A ground team needs to be chosen carefully. You want a team of people that are of all walks of life. Different people are drawn to different personality types and physical attributes. You don’t want people that give off an intimidating vibe, but rather someone who seems easily approachable, fun, and outgoing. Finding the perfect mix of these attributes will make things smooth as events go on.

5. A Documentarian (video, tweets, etc.)

Having someone to follow around your group of representatives on the ground and take pictures, videos and operates the social media feeds as the day goes by helps to share your campaign in real time, as the event goes on.

6. Supporting materials, swag, etc

  • Handing out items to the public whether t-shirts, magnets, bags, or the endless lists of things you want to hand out is good at getting something in their hands. This is dependent upon the budget of the project. You could hand out something as simple as a sticker, or in our case, a #woodpin and people will still get excited.

7. A blog post or wrap up video or posts (SEO)

  • Making sure to further document the event by writing up a blog post or putting together a video to put on your sites’ website, social media, and even to use for other advertising methods could help your business by showing that you stay involved with community happenings. Let people know what you did, let them see the smiling faces of the crowd. These things help build up your brand and enhance the way the public views your company.

8. A team of influencers supporting the effort

  • Influencers spread the word of what you are doing, and with their support, you could be trending in no time.

9. A clear call to action

  •  Keeping the call to action clear and simple is incredibly important. If you are wanting people to fill out a questionnaire or even cards the size of a postcard, you are asking for too much at an event such as this. The general public wants to be kept entertained, they don’t want to take time out of their day of fun to answer questions. Having them take pictures to share on social media? They will do that! In an age where everyone likes to document their activities throughout the day at an event, having something fun to post on their twitter page, facebook wall or Instagram wall will make them stand in line to take part! Making sure that they are having fun interacting with your people on the ground and the props you are using gets you great advertising while they are continuing to enjoy their day.

10. A summary report with metrics & data

  •  A summary report is needed with metrics and data from social media to keep your business updated on what worked, and what didn’t. What went viral? What flopped? You can figure out which aspects of the campaign worked through this data. Were there enough people on the ground to get your word across? Was your message too difficult to get across? These questions can be answered by the data you collect from each Streetwise Activation Campaign with these metrics.

Using these 10 core elements of streetwise activation will get you the public’s attention, and have them wanting to see you again at another event. Let’s face it, everyone wants to jump on the next new thing, the next sensation. They want to be involved and say, “Hey, I was a part of that!”

Take to heart what was said by Mark Devito, President and Executive Director at the Gigawatt Group, “Honestly, I think it’s about the environment and the culture that it creates. The smaller, simpler campaigns typically resonate more with people because it’s more intimate. Digital campaigns that have an analog core are strong. It’s also about intrigue. That’s what I like most about it. People like to craft stories and fill in the gaps. Giving people just enough so that they can fill in the blanks is interesting.”


To prove this, I followed these core elements at SXSW to promote my experiment, Operation #woodpin. It turned into a fun experiment, not only for myself but for the people we interacted with. We met with people from all walks of life, other brands that wanted to get the free advertising that social media will give them by taking part in the fun, and many other influencers who were interested in the project itself.

Madalyn Sklar, the Twitter Marketing Strategist behind www.madalynsklar.com said, “Organic reach on social media is alive and well. Shawn Matthews proved it so powerfully at this year’s SXSW Interactive. Armed with his wit, an iPhone, plus a bag of wooden pins, he connected with attendees day and night and reminded us all that ingenuity and a cool hashtag (#woodpin) will take you far.”

With one day of preparation before SXSW started, a total of 5 people on the ground and three days on the ground at the event we were able to generate over 170 tweets and at least 25 Instagram posts. Can you image how much coverage you could get if your company took the time to prepare beforehand? You could get people ready for the campaign, have them specifically looking for you, and they are promoting you, without having to pay for additional advertising.

“Twenty years ago, it did cost a lot to market something because you had to disseminate your messaging through expensive channels, like TV, newspapers, and radio, says Vult Lab founder Kelly Ann Collins.

“But, now, thanks to social media, a campaign doesn’t need to be extremely expensive to work. All you need is a market, clear messaging, a good plan and some chutzpah. Shawn and his plastic bag of wooden clothespins hit every mark.”

She adds, “Twenty seven wood clothespins and a friendly war on corporate America’s multi-million dollar marketing that has nearly taken over SXSW, an event that used to feel more authentic and less commercial what could be better?



While on the ground I paid close attention to what the other brands were doing to get the word out about their services, products, and messages. Some had great follow through and Streetwise Activation going on. For example @budweiser offered a free pedicab ride if you were to tweet ideas to their hashtag. Not only does that give their brands a clue into what the average person finds important and gives them new ideas to further their reach in the future, but it also gave people the chance to get something they could use or not use, whichever the case may be.

By serving needs versus just passing out flyers, companies can get more back from their time. Roadie was passing out cool tote bags, and while the idea of passing out tote bags is nothing new, it reinforces the idea of getting your stuff from point A to point B. That serves a great purpose at any event such as SXSW because there is always something being handed to you or bought. To further reinforce the idea of Streetwise Activation, put a hashtag on your tote bags. When people see the hashtag after they’ve taken their photo as a group, they are more likely to use it when posting to twitter or Instagram.

This type of marketing can also be used to help promote things like rides within your event. For example, Mr. Robot was a pretty awesome ride with a good marketability. To promote this ride more, the brand could have hired people to wear robot costumes and had them walk around the event to spread awareness that it was available and give information to where it was located. It would have also been a great photo opportunity for people who wanted to take pictures with the Mr. Robot suits on. There is much you can convey with people who walk around the events to promote..well just about anything.


As a startup company, you can absolutely get results by using a similar tactic to Operation #woodpin. While obviously travel is an expense you will have to deal with, you can still compete with companies who have huge budgets. You can do this by leveraging the local communities, influencer communities, and other people’s social media. Put yourself out there with a catchy hashtag. You’ll need to find your hook to stand out in the crowd. This is a creative effort, but try to pull something together that will draw out a crowd like hiring a street performer, or have people wearing t-shirts with your hashtag on it.

If you could hire a street performer to wear a t-shirt with your hashtag on it, you could really get the message out considering how many people will be taking pictures and video and sharing it through their social media. Or you can go a more low-key route like I did with Operation #woodpin.

The key to any of this is planning. While I got good results with no planning, just think what you could do if you planned months in advance. How could you promote your idea before hand and get the ball rolling in the right direction? Social has so much to offer a start-up, because you are using the general public as your advertising. Let them sell you.


If you aren’t into trying the steps I’ve listed out in this article, or you feel like you need more help, my services are always available to come and teach your team how to make this work. I can teach you how to plan, market, and get your brand out there without having to worry about a huge budget.

If you really think about it, moving in the direction social media is taking us is a much more streamlined way of getting yourself out there and building relationships with the people you are trying to reach. People can avoid watching commercials, listening to them on the radio, and the like, but letting them see these things in their streams and sharing what they like is a much easier way to go.

Shawn Matthews