MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Mike Bonifer at the SMASH | April 14, 2011

On April 7th, 2011, the MHB program hosted a social media summit at the USC Davidson Center in downtown Los Angeles. The first-ever SMASH, or Social Media Advanced Skills Huddle, amassed industry professionals, graduate students and professors for short lectures and brainstorming huddles. In the continuing MHB Weekly coverage of the event’s distinguished speakers and key ideas, today looks at director, producer and author Mike Bonifer.

Mr. Bonifer is a proud veteran of Los Angeles — his first publicity job was on the set of the original Tron — and an expert in fusing the strategies of entertainment with those of social marketing. His 2008 book, GameChangers: Improvisation for Businesses in the Networked World, explores the movement of improv from the 1930s schoolrooms of Chicago teacher Viola Spolin to the stages of the city’s legendary comedy troupe Second City — and now into corporate social strategies, where improvisational endeavors open lines of communication and etch narratives into the public consciousness.

Mr. Bonifer, a proponent of fun at all costs, started his talk with onomatopoeia: the convention’s attendees were urged to generate animal noises from the names of popular web tools like Twitter and Wibbitz. From there, things got much more serious. Mr. Bonifer explained that the nature of good storytelling is in conflict; that social narratives, which come from stories, define communities; and that communities exist in the real world, in virtual space and in the coveted conceptual space, where the most effective companies find the opportunity to establish a narrative presence. He stressed the necessity of participation with an audience over rote authorization when it comes to online communications, which turns routine storytelling into story making — a process that involves flow, generative power and the acceptance of serendipity as a business model, not a hindrance. To illustrate how the preparation behind a marketing strategy is more valuable than the strategy itself, Mr. Bonifer quoted the William Gibson novel Zero History: “Love the planning,” he said, “fear the plan.”

To conclude his presentation, Mr. Bonifer shared several case studies in which major corporations embraced the unexpected. The most powerful was one of last year’s paramount news items in the arena of human interest, in which 33 Chilean workers were trapped for more than a month in a collapsed mine. Upon their triumphant rescue, Mr. Bonifer noticed that each miner sported sunglasses as he emerged back into the world — an essential safety measure given their sensitivity to light after such a prolonged period underground, but nevertheless intriguing because each pair of glasses wore the well-known Oakley emblem. After speaking with various Oakley reps, Mr. Bonifer got to the bottom of the coincidence: while sitting in on a meeting leading up to the liberation of the miners, embedded journalist and sunglasses enthusiast Jonathan Franklin recommended the Oakley name to Chilean officials. In an unprecedented move, the local government allowed Franklin to handle communications between Chile and Oakley; weeks later, each miner wore branded sunglasses during the massive celebration of the rescue. By its own estimates, Oakley earned $42 million in media coverage for less than $6,000 worth of sunglasses. Improvisation and serendipity, two of Mr. Bonifer’s key ideas, were fundamental in the achievement.

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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