Cross posted from The Huffington Post | October 20, 2008 08:02 AM
by Nicholas Sabloff
Social and environmental activist Van Jones felt he had important message about the economy, energy prices and global warming to impart in his book “The Green Collar Economy,” which was published this month. What he didn’t have, as a first time author with an almost non-existent marketing budget, was the kind of money and name-recognition that typically helps place a book on the best sellers list and in the national conversation. So he improvised.
Using a Web-based, viral marketing strategy, Jones and Green For All, an environmental organization he recently founded, worked to get the word out about his book far and wide. The result was a place — number 12 to be exact — on the New York Times best sellers list in the book’s first week.
“Everyone is stunned,” Jones told the Huffington Post. “Usually to get to number 12 the first week as a new author you’ve got to spend a million bucks or be on Oprah.”
Through a combination of emails and phone calls to friends, bloggers, and a network of activists, Jones estimates that the viral campaign he and his co-workers launched resulted in emails being sent to millions of people, many of whom surely forwarded it along. The initial commercial success of “Green Collar Economy” proves that Internet buzz combined with online activism can push a book onto the best sellers list.
It also helps to have something original and important to say, which Jones clearly does. His book is an innovative and impassioned account of how transforming America into a greener society would not only address the global warming crisis but also generate enough jobs to help turn the around the economy around and provide work for the Americans who need it most. As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote last year in an admiring profile of Jones:
Mr. Jones has been on a crusade to help underprivileged African-Americans and other disadvantaged communities understand why they would be the biggest beneficiaries of a greener America. It’s about jobs. The more government requires buildings to be more energy efficient, the more work there will be retrofitting buildings all across America with solar panels, insulation and other weatherizing materials. Those are manual-labor jobs that can’t be outsourced.
So how do you achieve success in viral marketing? Green For All contacted around 150 different organizations, large and small, national and local, according to Alli Chagi-Starr, the Grassroots Publicity Coordinator and Business Partners Manager for Green For All. They reached out to everyone from community gardening groups to labor unions to the Hip Hop Caucus. They got the Environmental Defense Fund to recommend the book to its 500,000 members; they got the organization who owns the domain name greencollareconomy.com to promote the book on its website. They contacted big environmental blogs like Treehugger. And they called everyone they knew.
“I’ve never personally called or emailed this many people in my life,” said Chagi-Starr, who had spent the previous year cultivating these relationships. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. People got out their rolodexes and really went to town.”
“Not having this book reach a lot of people was not an option,” Chagi-Starr said. The book’s success, “reaffirms once again the power of the grassroots.”