#BI4Gov: How a small, but deeply engaged community can have HUGE impact


This case study is about how a new Twitter account with no followers and no paid media budget got a niche topic trending and reached over 2 million people in less than two weeks.

In late 2018, Treeshake helped launch #BI4Gov, a conference focused on how to use behavioural insights to successfully shape and implement policy, in a socially beneficial way. Through a partnership between the Western Cape Government (WCG) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), experts from throughout the world came together to discuss the ins and outs of using BI in Government.

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Starting with a brand new account with no followers on Twitter, and just two weeks to launch we knew that we’d be reliant on the voices of others with larger followings.

The first step was to set up the account to look as credible as it was - partner logos, clean design, and 3 high quality posts were set up. We then sent the page around to the team of collaborators and asked them to engage with the posts and follow so we’d have a bit of traction.

The next step was to tap into BI communities on Twitter, and identify thought leaders. We directly engaged around 60 followers ahead of the conference and directly asked them to follow us and help us get the #BI4Gov discussion going. We did this by email and direct message rather than publicly.

We found the BI enthusiasts supportive, warm, and welcoming to a new entrant to the space - this is partly thanks to declaring our agenda upfront, having the backing of the OECD, and introducing ourselves directly to the main thought leaders. This got the conversation rolling, and even with a relatively small following, everything we posted got a response.

The official Twitter account quickly gained around 150 followers. Without any paid advertising budget, we relied solely on consistent, authentic engagement with each member of the community. These followers were all highly skilled BI experts, each of whom had very strong links to the overall online BI community. This allowed for a higher degree of sophistication in the commentary and posts we put out, along with a much higher than average engagement rate.

On the day of the conference, the hashtag was visibly promoted at the conference, attended by around 300 people - many of whom had been contacted by the social media team ahead of time to let them know the importance of sharing their views. The result was that virtually everyone who attended participated in the online discussion, sharing substantive content that attracted public interest and media attention.

But it wasn’t all serious, either. As participants got to know each other, playful Twitter banter emerged in the form of ‘the sock saga’, with various speakers and organisers of the event comparing their funky sock choices. With the perfect mix of serious, insightful and fun, the #BI4Gov community blew us away with their deep engagement and commitment to the conversation.

Most importantly, the conference and public support for the issue has led to the establishment of South Africa’s first Behavioural Insights Unit in Government - #BI4Gov is here to stay.

The main take away from this? A small group of deeply engaged people can make a huge impact. Inspired by Cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead, this is something we call The Mead Principle:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

The #BI4gov conversation continues on Twitter @bi4gov, if you’re interested in the topic please do add your voice.