On Feb. 13, 1997, the ship Tokio Express was bound for New York when it was struck by a huge wave about 20 miles off the coast of England. As a result, dozens of shipping containers were thrown overboard and into the sea. Among the lost cargo was almost 5 million Lego toys and pieces.
Almost immediately, these Legos began washing up on shore in nearby Cornwall, England, and still do even today. At first local beach-combers began to discover the unexpected treasure, but then additional possible findings were made in other locations. Eventually, it led to the creation of an online community devoted to finding the lost toys, led by the appropriately-named Legos Lost At Sea Facebook page. Here, passionate collectors come together to share what they know and have discovered about this event and the 5 million or so Legos that were lost at sea. Due to the group’s research they have secured cargo manifests and know how many of each item were on the ship.
This event has become a rallying point within the Lego-collecting community. Fans from around the world are now comparing notes in an effort to locate as many of the Legos as possible. The majority of the findings have been on the shores of the UK, but it is believed that toys from the lost stash have been found on beaches as far away as California and Australia.
As I talk about in my book Think Like a Rock Star, a community is a group that has a shared sense of ownership in something larger than themselves. If you’re wanting to build an online community, it’s often very difficult to do based on the product itself. It’s far better to focus on something that brings the group together. The Legos Lost At Sea community is a good example of this, they share the common bond of trying to locate as many of the lost Legos as possible.
So how could a brand or company become involved in an existing community like Legos Lost At Sea? Well the first thought would be that Lego should sponsor or participate in this group. But there might be some valid legal reasons why this wouldn’t be a good idea, perhaps participation could somehow be tied back to an admittance of fault in some way for the lost cargo, who knows? Another idea is what if local beaches in England sponsored ‘Lego Treasure Hunt Days’, where collectors could meet and work together to clean the beaches, and at the same time (hopefully) find more of the lost Legos! The local beaches benefit from becoming cleaner, and the local collectors benefit from not only finding Lego-booty, but also they get to meet their fellow collectors and bond over a common love of all things Lego.
Whenever you’re thinking about your community-building efforts, think about how you can work with an existing community to them it reach its goals. The goal isn’t to join a community so you can promote your product, the goal is to join the community to help it reach its goals. Helping an existing community reach its goals and better itself is the best promotion possible for your product. Keep that in mind the next time you are thinking about how your company can ‘leverage’ an online community.