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SwarmTribes Evaluation Report

SwarmTribes Evaluation Report

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Published by davidjennings
Report of the evaluation of the SwarmTribes cross-platform community building project, conducted by David Jennings, with Ryan Milner and Nancy Baym, and funded by NESTA.
Report of the evaluation of the SwarmTribes cross-platform community building project, conducted by David Jennings, with Ryan Milner and Nancy Baym, and funded by NESTA.

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Published by: davidjennings on Jun 08, 2010
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10/27/2011

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L
ESSONS FROM THE
S
WARM
T
RIBES
P
ILOT
Contents
1 INTRODUCTION...............................................................................................................................2
1.1 B
ACKGROUND
..............................................................................................................................21.2 C
UTTING TO THE CHASE
..............................................................................................................21.3 O
BJECTIVES AND METHODOLOGY
...............................................................................................31.4 O
VERVIEW OF REPORT
.................................................................................................................4
2 PROJECT OVERVIEW....................................................................................................................6
2.1 S
WARM PROPOSITION
..................................................................................................................62.2 T
HEORY
........................................................................................................................................62.3 N
ARRATIVE
..................................................................................................................................82.4 C
ASE STUDIES
............................................................................................................................17
3 LESSONS...........................................................................................................................................23
3.1 C
YCLE OF INNOVATION
.............................................................................................................233.2 T
EST
,
REVISE AND KEEP COMMUNICATING THE PROPOSITION
.................................................243.3 K
EEP THE BRANDING LOW
-
KEY UNTIL IT HAS MOMENTUM
......................................................253.4 K
EEP PLATFORM OPTIONS OPEN
................................................................................................273.5 E
XPLORE MULTIPLE POSITIONS IN THE MARKET
.......................................................................283.6 B
UILD EXPERIMENTATION INTO PLANNING AND RESOURCING
.................................................293.7 E
ASE OF USE IS CRITICAL TO BUILDING MOMENTUM
................................................................293.8 P
RIORITISE EXEMPLARS WHERE CONCEPTS ARE HARD TO EXPLAIN
.........................................303.9 U
NDERSTANDING THE ECOLOGY OF A NEW SECTOR TAKES TIME
............................................31
4 CONCLUSIONS...............................................................................................................................335 POSTSCRIPT, APRIL 2010............................................................................................................35
5.1 S
WARM
T
RIBES FOR
S
PORTS
F
ANS
............................................................................................355.2 N
EW
S
WARM
T
RIBES FEATURES
................................................................................................355.3 S
WARM
T
RIBES
B
USINESS
M
ODEL
/S
TRATEGY
..........................................................................36
APPENDIXFANDOM’S BIOTEAMS: APPLYING KEN THOMPSON’S THEORY TO FAN CULTURE1 BIOTEAMS BASICS........................................................................................................................372 FANDOM BASICS...........................................................................................................................373 BIOTEAMS AND FANDOM..........................................................................................................38
3.1 L
EADERSHIP
Z
ONE
.....................................................................................................................383.2 C
ONNECTIVITY
Z
ONE
................................................................................................................403.3 E
XECUTION
Z
ONE
......................................................................................................................423.4 O
RGANIZATION
Z
ONE
................................................................................................................43
4 CONCLUSION..................................................................................................................................455 REFERENCES..................................................................................................................................46
David Jennings
DJ Alchemi Ltd 
Appendix by R.M. Milner & Nancy K. Baym
Kansas University 
5 May 2009/8 June 2010
 
Published under Creative Commons licence at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/ 
David Jennings, DJ Alchemi Ltd2
1
 
Introduction
1.1
 
Background 
Swarmteams is a cross-platform communications tool for supporting people working indistributed teams. One of its target applications is marketing through fan and supportcommunities. The technology is designed to encourage the rapid growth of word of mouth focused on ‘social objects’ – basically anything that people care enough aboutto discuss with others over time, so that a community can form, or ‘swarm’, around it.Led by Founder and CEO, Ken Thompson, Swarmteams Ltd aimed to develop anddemonstrate this application of the tool within the field of music marketing and audiencedevelopment. Popular music was chosen for two main reasons:
 
bands and artists are pre-eminent social objects, inspiring considerabledevotion from fans who want to spread the word about their favourite acts;
 
the numbers of fans available to take part in swarming are large, as musicculture is very strong in the UK, rivalled only by sport.Swarmteams Ltd secured funding from NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology on the Arts) to pursue a pilot application of its technology to the musicsector, and this application was later branded as SwarmTribes, in an attempt to reflectthe culture of the sector as well as differentiating it from the ‘parent’ platform
1
. At around the time this pilot project was beginning, I was introduced to Ken Thompson,and then by him to NESTA. My proposal to conduct an evaluation of the project wasaccepted in March 2008. This report is the culmination of the evaluation. It aims tocapture the central points that have been learnt, for the benefit of the stakeholders inthe project, including Swarmteams Ltd, NESTA and the music sector (artists, fans andindustry).
1.2
 
Cutting to the chase
Within a few weeks of my evaluation getting under way it became evident that the take-up of SwarmTribes by bands, artists and their managers was going more slowly thanhad been projected on the basis of an early case study. Several remedies and newdirections were experimented with during the months that followed, but these havehitherto failed to ignite significant interest. This is reflected in almost any measure you take. One crude indicator is the number of SMS messages sent on the SwarmTribes platform over the course of the project. Theprojected figure in April 2008 was 500,000. In August this was revised down to100,000 in August, and then further to 50,000 in September (I understand this is closeto the total actually sent at the time of writing in May 2009). Another measure included in my original proposal was the proportion of responses toeach message sent. Unfortunately this proportion was so low as to rule out meaningfulmeasurement. 
1
Throughout this report, then,
Swarmteams
may refer to either the company, led byKen Thompson, or original application and service.
SwarmTribes
, meanwhile, refers tothe music-specific offshoot of the Swarmteams service, which was developed anddeployed in this project.
 
Published under Creative Commons licence at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/ 
David Jennings, DJ Alchemi Ltd3
Central to NESTA’s interest in the project – which was funded as part of the ConnectProgramme – was the extent to which a technological innovation could foster a morecollaborative relationship between bands, artists and managers on the one hand andgroups of fans on the other. The idea was that the most committed fans hadoverlapping objectives with the bands and artists (these latter two terms are usedinterchangeably in the report). These committed fans – known as ‘alpha’ or ‘VIP’ fanswithin SwarmTribes – have such passion for their favourite bands that they feelcompelled to spread the word and enlist their friends as fellow fans,
 because they  believe their friends will thank them for it 
. Bands can clearly benefit if they can stokeand harness this enthusiasm, and SwarmTribes offers them a tool to accomplish this.Over the course of the pilot, for which my data collection was extended from an originalend date of December 2008 to April 2009, I was unable to find any cases of meaningfulcollaboration between bands and fans. I could not find a definitive evidence of a fanrecruiting another person to a fan swarm. This stands in strong contrast to the case study of using Swarmteams (as it then was)with the band Kharma45, which reports 25 alpha fans signing up hundreds of fans toswarms in a few weeks
2
. This account quotes one of the band members:
It’s now big kudos to be a Kharma45 Alpha Fan because you also get to distributethis information to others, and are rewarded for signing up new fans. So it was agreat way to increase our fan base and also to let them feel more involved with theband.
 The Kharma45 swarm experience took place prior to my involvement, and wascurtailed when the band split, so I was unable to study it directly. One potentially keydifference between this case and those I studied was that Kharma45’s manager washimself retained by Swarmteams Ltd, in a business development role, at around thesame time, which meant there was significantly more leverage in securing the band’sinvolvement.
1.3
 
Objectives and methodology 
Since the SwarmTribes pilot did not progress as planned, my objectives andmethodology had to adapt significantly. Out went innovative and finessed measures of engagement in social media, and out went any focus on reputation managementsystems in music communities or the limits of scale in swarms. (My initial groundwork on measures of engagement and some related issues is included in the Interim Report Iwrote in October 2008, but not elaborated here as it is ended up having little directbearing on the evaluation). These were replaced by an emphasis on understanding the barriers to, and dynamicsof, take up of the SwarmTribes service by bands – and that is the main focus of thisreport.Some elements of the planned methodology remained relevant to this purpose. Via theSwarmTribes site, I tracked numbers of members and messages for each band atfortnightly intervals. As reporting functionality for the service was underdeveloped – seeSection 2.3.3 below – this was a largely manual and moderately labour-intensive task. 
2
Available at http://www.bioteams.com/Kharma45CaseStudy.pdf, last accessed 27 April 2009.

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