From Boston revolutionaries and mad hatters to Sarah Palin, tea parties are no longer the chamomile and crumpet affairs they used to be.
The tea party today refers to an upstart political movement that captured the attention of the world as it challenged the status quo and influenced the ouster of incumbent politicians in record numbers in the 2010 midterm elections.
This type of organic grassroots phenomenon has its origin in social causes and politics, but today it is often harnessed to advance corporate interests as well.
Organizations of all shapes and sizes aspire to create movements of loyal ambassadors who will carry their banner and help achieve their objective. For nonprofit groups advocating a specific cause, it's easier to rally a group of people around an ideal that they are passionate about. It's far more difficult for corporations to do the same. Profit-seeking can sometimes taint the motives of commercial interests and breed suspicion about sincerity.
Nonetheless, many corporations understand that if they do their homework and engage with stakeholder groups and their customers openly and honestly, they can build a legion of disciples who see the brand as more than a product. A brand with meaning and mission can inspire consumers, instill pride, and deepen loyalty.
It doesn't always have to be about some purpose or societal benefit. Many of the world's most admired brands have created zealous followers by simply evoking a lifestyle or a certain philosophy without any overt linkage to a higher good.
With the explosive growth and popularity of social networks, organizing online has become more efficient and powerful. Yet while it may be easier to identify and engage potential advocates online, it's imperative to tread carefully.
It's much easier to make mistakes that can prove fatal to the brand. Cultivating communities online or offline is akin to raising a Siberian tiger. The community needs to be nurtured and fed and cared for with sincerity. One false move or fumble, and you'll lose trust and suffer injury.
Whether you're seeking a vote, a donation, or a purchase, understanding the dynamics of grassroots organization and mobilization can be a powerful differentiator for any organization. By building a brand with meaning, engaging and educating openly and honestly, and cultivating a community of trust, you can grow a movement of loyalists that will support your efforts and advance your mission.
David Vermillion is EVP and the New York public affairs practice leader for Edelman.