Six Marketing Lessons You Can Learn From #SaveSweetBriar

By Ted Wright March 23, 2015


By Ted Wright

The mission of Sweet Briar College is to empower and educate young women to build and reshape their world wherever their passions lead them. If you’re unfamiliar with the most current chapter of their story, here it is.

On March 3, 2015 the board of directors of Sweet Briar College, an all women’s institution located in Sweet Briar, Virginia, just outside of Lynchburg, announced that it would be closing the school in August due to “insurmountable financial challenges.” The news was surprising to the staff, students, and alumnae of Sweet Briar, as they had no idea the school was facing such issues, especially since the school never mentioned anything about it and still has an $84 million endowment.

Disagreeing with the boards’ decision to close the school, the women of Sweet Briar immediately jumped into action and within days had created Save Sweet Briar, Inc., an organization which sole purpose is to save the school from closing and has since raised $3 million in pledged donations to help save the college. Rallying the Sweet Briar community, the alumnae took to social media creating a Save Sweet Briar Facebook page, and #SaveSweetBriar hashtag that has gone viral with publications such as Business Insider, Newsweek, and the Washington Post, all picking up the story.

There is a lot to be learned from the women of Sweet Briar College as they have created a movement that has not only spread throughout the Sweet Briar community, but has garnered support from people around the world, in less than 3 weeks. How did they do it? Here are six “word of mouth” marketing lessons we can learn from the women of Sweet Briar College, and the #SaveSweetBriar movement.

1. Story is #1

What is the story you’re telling? For the women of Sweet Briar College, the story was clear and they made sure it was a part of every conversation — save their beloved Sweet Briar.

Various methods were used, from the creation of the @SaveSweetBriar Twitter handle and #SaveSweetBriar hashtag that floods the internet, to the official Save Sweet Briar, Inc. organization and You know what the story is, and it comes first, “Save Sweet Briar.”

A great story is relevant, interesting and authentic. The story of #SaveSweetBriar covers all three and makes the sharing of the story the number one priority. Your brand’s story may not be so apparent, but the key is to figure out what sets your brand apart and makes it talkable so that when you share your story, others will want to become part of that story and share it as well.

2. Know their norms BEFORE you build a community

Sweet Briar College was established in 1901 and has been building a community for the past 114 years. The thousands of Sweet Briar alumnae and their families, current and former faculty, current students and supporters of the institution all come together to form the Sweet Briar community. Taught to carry themselves with class, but fiercely follow their passions, the women of Sweet Briar College will ‘put you in your place’ in the politest way possible with a smile on their face.

Members of the Sweet Briar community know this, so in their fight to save Sweet Briar, they are respectful, strategic and tactful in their opposition of the schools’ board of directors. Although your brand may not have been building a community for the past 114 years, what we can learn from the #SaveSweetBriar movement is the need to find your brand’s community, understand the way it does things and tell it your story in a way that feels familiar to it.IMG_0060-

3. Every community needs a rally point

On March 3, 2015 when the Sweet Briar College board of directors announced that it would be closing the school citing “insurmountable financial challenges,” it gave the Sweet Briar community the spark needed to bring everyone together for a common goal, saving Sweet Briar. Upon hearing the news, Sweet Briar alumnae jumped into action immediately creating Facebook groups, websites and pledging donations, doing whatever needed to be done to help save the institution and fuel the #SaveSweetBriar movement. Every community needs something that will ignite it and encourage it to take action. What is central to your community and will inspire it to come together, take action, and of course, share your story?

4. Press follows community

Create an authentic story that the community actively shares and the press will follow. When the news of the school’s closing sparked the Sweet Briar community, it took to the internet to share its story and rally to save Sweet Briar. One day after the announcement of the board of directors’ decision to close the school, news outlets began to pick up the story. As more of the Sweet Briar community got involved in organically sharing the story, it became hard to ignore. Because the #SaveSweetBriar movement’s story is relevant, interesting and authentic, and the community is so actively involved, the press picked up the story, continues to follow it and continues to share the #SaveSweetBriar story.

5. Non-Central command can work

If you search ‘Save Sweet Briar’ on Google, the first thing that comes up is not an individual, but the Sweet Briar community and everything it is doing to save the school.

There is not one “Save Sweet Briar leader” making things happen, but a community of them. Individual influencers within the community are coming together to do her or his part to progress the movement. Some have donated money and time to create Save Sweet Briar, Inc., the nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing what’s important about Sweet Briar College and collecting pledged donations to help save the school.

In the last three weeks, over a thousand different alumnae have traveled to the Sweet Briar campus in Amherst, Virginia just to be with current students during this time as a show of support and solidarity. Others have created Facebook groups or have simply made it a point to tweet #SaveSweetBriar once a day to help share the story. The fact that there is no chain of command, or authority in charge of the entire #SaveSweetBriar movement, allows for the influencers within the group to do what she does best, but also leaves room for anyone and everyone to step up, contribute and make an impact.

6. Little Things Matter

It is the little things that the women of Sweet Briar have done to build a monumental movement in such a short period of time. As our first lesson instructs, story is #1.

The way they continue to tell an authentic and relevant story, making that story a part of every interaction, has been key to the movements’ growth and spreading of the #SaveSweetBriar story. It’s little things like the creation of the Save Sweet Briar Facebook group that initially established a central meeting place for the community to come together, along with members of the community tweeting #SaveSweetBriar consistently and encouraging others to do the same that matters. It wasn’t a giant billboard in Times Square, or a celebrity endorsement that spread the movement — it was an authentic story, and a community of individuals willing to come together and do the little things to authentically share that story.


Ted Wright is the founder of Fizz, the world’s leading word of mouth marketing (WOMM) agency. Ted is also an acclaimed WOMM keynote speaker and the author of Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth

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