The Big Flea Thrives on Word of Mouth

The fifth annual MV Big Flea was held last weekend in Alexandria, Virginia.  This year the annual flea market raised an impressive $30,619 from nearly 2,000 attendees.

Since 2007, the MV Big Flea has raised $93,481 for the Mount Vernon Community School PTA. Not bad for a public elementary school where 2/3rds of the kids qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

But what’s even more surprising is the role word-of-mouth communications have  played in the Big Flea’s success.

“We don’t have a big advertising budget,” said MV Big Flea spokesperson Maria Getoff.  “We’ve spent less than $1,000 on advertising, and about $7,500 total, to organize and promote the event since 2007.  Instead, we’ve relied on inexpensive grassroots and word of mouth communications tactics to spread the word.”

Local community listservs are the MV Big Flea’s primary means for reaching thousands of potential donors and event attendees.  Organizers do their best to to make the messages “sticky” so they have staying power and spread throughout the community (see here and here).

Organizers rely heavily on other online resources: Craigslist to sell items (and promote the event), Freecycle to get rid of the leftovers, a WordPress blog for a website and targeted Facebook ads to raise awareness in the week before the event.

Old fashioned tactics like personal meetings with community leaders, yard signs and photocopied flyers also help spread the word.  As a result, despite a very limited presence in the local media, the MV Big Flea is widely known in Alexandria and attended by thousands each year.

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OMG! Look at the Video on this Website!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t get many emails with that subject line.  So when they arrive, I tend to open them.

It was from my friend Maria.  Our kids were in a snitch because of cancelled recesses.  It had been raining, and the Mount Vernon School’s gym is overcrowded, so the kids had recess in their classroom for a few days.

And they weren’t thrilled about it.

“I was searching online for indoor recess ideas to give to the principal.” she wrote.  On Peaceful Playgrounds, she noticed “a video featuring two Mount Vernon” kids playing the Dr. Pepper Handclapping game.

My kids.

When I first wrote about the Dr. Pepper Handclapping game, I marveled about the commercial.  How could the lyrics of a 1970s television commercial live on?  The spot hadn’t aired in thirty years, but my girls managed to learn it on a Mexican beach from a British girl living in Texas.

As Phoebe said, “what a coincidence.”

I was so interested in this example of organic word-of-mouth  communications that I recorded Mein and Phoebe performing the game.  I uploaded it to YouTube and played it for my class at Georgetown. Then I mostly forgot about it.  That is, until a few months later, when I noticed it was getting a lot of traffic.

How much? It’s been seen 42,280 times since late January 2010, about 3,000 per month. To put that in perspective, the MV Big Flea, which we’ve hawked relentlessly for four years, has had 53,397 visitors (about 1,000 views a month).

And here was the video I shot, on the Peaceful Playgrounds website, for anyone to see.  How it got here, I have no idea.  And I think that’s what makes social media kind of cool.

mvbigflea.com

Kids Raise $1,216.17 for Haitian Relief

Blessed with clear, crisp weather, four elementary school students and their friends raised more than $1,000 at a bakesale to help with Haitian relief efforts.

The bakesale, held on Saturday, January 23rd at the Del Ray Farmer’s Market in Alexandria, Virginia included dozens of homemade cookies, cakes and other sweets for purchase.

“It was fun!” exclaimed Diane Wood, “and the cookies were really good!  I bought some and planned to give them away but ate all of them myself.  That was a very generous endeavor,” she said, ‘and a wonderful way for kids to help.  I’m glad it was such a success!

Leading the effort were Del Ray’s Skylar and Rain Camerlinck (8 and 6 years old) and Mein and Phoebe LaMountain (10 and 8 years old). They were greatly assisted by Jackie Camerlick, who spent many hours organizing and packaging, many of their friends and community members who donated baked goods to sell.

The group was also aided by a video made by Phoebe LaMountain.  The video, which was shot on a Flip video camera and uploaded to YouTube with minimal editing, received more than 400 views in the 24 hours leading up to the bakesale.  Many who attended the bakesale mentioned seeing the video and learning about the event because of it.

All proceeds benefit the non-profit organization Doctors without Borders.

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