Putting the B(ees) in Buzz

Swarmteams is a project led by Ken Thompson exploring whether the same sorts of processes that insects and other biological entities use to organize group behavior through short term low range signaling can be applied to human social groups such as fans. It bills itself as a

new type of community-engagement platform, which was designed around communication principles used by social groups in nature such as ants, bees, geese and dolphins.

It’s an interactive approach, which aims to connect musicians with their dedicated fans, by enabling them to manage, grow, develop and montetise their own fan bases.

Thompson is testing this with a NESTA-funded pilot project using bands in the UK:

Swarmteams enables musicians to communicate directly with their ‘Alpha fans’ – a core group of about 25 dedicated fans. It works by allowing Alpha fans to create and manage their own “swarm” of dedicated fans. These fans are then encouraged to recruit and reward their own swarm of fans, and so on.

As the number of swarms expands, the speed at which messages are spread throughout the community becomes faster – and more effective.

Their success depends on the ability and commitment of the musician/band to grow and manage a viable and passionate fan base, which they can use to sell their music, recruit other fans and promote their concerts and gigs.

He’s got a few bands signed up now, but is still signing more up if you’re in the UK and interested (click that link just above to sign up).

My friend David Jennings, author of Net, Blogs & Rock ‘n’ Roll, a book I wish I’d written but will settle for having blurbed, is working with Ken to assess the effectiveness of the pilot. And with my grad student Ryan Milner I am helping David some of the background — going through the fandom research looking for things that look like swarming, even if they weren’t called that. Says David:

I wrote last year about Swarmteams cross-platform messaging service, and its application for coordinating networks of fans. Swarmteams is running a pilot project for the music industry this year, supported by NESTA, and going under the name of SwarmTribes®. For many musicians, getting the first 10 or 20 dedicated fans is easy enough — but when it comes to multiplying this number things become more difficult. If and when their fan base does increase, they’re faced with the challenges of managing it.

Musicians need a communication system to interact with their fans, which is adaptable and instantly reactive. They need to engage with their fans, using a means of communication that can be scaled up. This is where Swarmteams can help.

I’m pleased to say that I’ll be working alongside Swarmteams as researcher, reporter and evaluator for the project (also funded by NESTA, but as an independent project). And I’m looking forward to working with Nancy Baym of University of Kansas and her colleague Ryan Milner.

The core of the Swarmteams concept is the combination of a “back to nature” communication patterns and the latest cross-platform messaging technologies.

Swarmteams founder Ken Thompson has researched biological/ecological perspectives on team organisation and coordination (laid out in his Bioteams book). Then Swarmteams have designed a communications system around this, combining SMS text messaging, email, instant messaging and RSS.

Starting with those 10 or 20 dedicated fans, bands and artists can use the techniques and technology first to build a broader base of fans and then to motivate and coordinate these fans around gigs, releases and special events.

I kind of inherently dig the idea of thinking about biological/ecological models for our behavior, especially in the context of the oh-so-techie internet/mobile phone world. It’s cool to see some creative thinking and I’m looking foward to seeing how the project pans out. In the meantime, if any of you can think of examples of things that look like “swarming” let me know. Thompson describes the theory behind it as based on these four points:

1. Any group member can take the lead: Any member can broadcast to the group, create their own swarms, invite others to them and create links and content.

2. Integrated Messaging across phone and web: The ability to message every member of your swarm in one click on any device without worrying about how they are connected.

3. Small is Beautiful …..and Big is Powerful: “Swarm Communities” are multiple swarms on common topics of interest providing scale yet maintaining the small group dynamic.

4. Reach the many through the few: Engage individuals within their communities via their trusted relationships.

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Comments (2) to “Putting the B(ees) in Buzz”

  1. Hi Nancy – thanks for blogging this. We’re really pleased that you are involved and supporting the Swarmteams project. It will be interesting to see how it develops in light of twitter and other technologies. The ‘learning from nature’ component is particularly interesting. Best, Roland

  2. swarming sounds like Hardt and Negri’s “multitude”–its nice to know that the practical stuff meets high theory from time to time. dt