Lean In: How to organize a social movement and make it home for dinner

Posted on April 25, 2013


I’ve been incredibly fascinated by Sheryl Sandberg ever since last year when I read about her vow to leave the office at 5:30 pm and then watched her TED talk about “Why we have too few women leaders.” Her messages about leaning into your career certainly apply to an industry like public relations, which has traditionally been dominated by women (at least here in the US). That’s why I was eager to read her new book, the PR phenomenon, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

A lot has been said about Sandberg’s book, which launched amid backlash from prominent journalists that had never actually sat down to read it. If you haven’t been following the drama, I recommend catching up with “Maybe You Should Read The Book: The Sheryl Sandberg Backlash” in The New Yorker.

I’m not here to write a book review, although I do think that Lean In is worth reading. What’s more interesting to me is the movement that’s sprouted up around it, seemingly overnight. As part of the launch, Sandberg announced Lean In circles – groups organized organically around discussing personal and professional goals – and launched an aggressive, consumer-generated, social media marketing campaign.

Here are a few things that we, as brands and marketers, can learn from Sheryl Sandberg’s amazing ability to organize a social movement, online community and social media campaign (all while making it home in time for dinner):

  1. All publicity is good publicity: Lean In didn’t launch to rave reviews – quite the opposite. Sandberg was criticized right out of the gate – primarily personal attacks about her inability to relate to women in a different income bracket; and then there was that backlash from a PR snafu – but at the heart of the firestorm, she kept her head up and stuck to her key messages about leaning in rather than getting caught on the defensive.
  2. Keep it simple, stupid: “Lean in” is a simple message. You can easily explain it to friends and colleagues who have never heard of Sandberg or read her book. If you’re trying to organize a social movement or even a simple online marketing campaign, it should be easy for anyone to jump into the middle of the discussion and follow along. Anything that takes too long to catch up or is too complicated to explain will lose the stickiness factor.
  3. Fuel the fire: You can find Lean In on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn as well as on a dedicated website. It’s clear that the social media marketing campaign was well mapped out prior to book launch, and that the PR team has been collecting stories to fuel the discussion. Consumers don’t easily give up PR-worthy content until they feel a strong bond with a brand. So, if you want to keep the conversation moving, you need to start with a stock pile of pre-produced, authentic content.

Putting your feelings about the Lean In movement aside for a moment, it’s hard to argue with the fact that Sheryl Sandberg is a tour de force in the marketing world. Along with a seasoned team of marketers (I’m sure), she’s fueled an integrated and highly coordinated PR and marketing campaign and Lean In is truly taking on a life of its own.

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