When I was leading Upoc we would create “Themed” social networking groups around different holidays. We had particularly interesting groups, and results around Thanksgiving, Valentines Day, New Year’s, Hanukah, Kwanza, MLK’s Birthday and Halloween. The most interesting, and memorable group was the Christmas group of 2007.
Each social network had a particular question that the members were asked to answer and comment upon. For Thanksgiving the question was simply, “What are you giving thanks for this year?” For Christmas it was, “What do you want from Santa this year?”
These social networks were created from the existing Upoc community. We used our in-house tools to invite members to join. When a network reached a critical mass of between 500-1000 members, we had a vibrant group. Since I enjoyed the social networking, group psychology, and the pure fun of these networks, I was often the group moderator and owner. The majority of the messaging within the group was done via SMS text messaging. It was not unusual for one of these group to generate millions of messages during its life.
So you probably guessed by now. I was “Santa”. I would watch the group discuss their various needs and wants, and then once or twice a day, as “Santa”, I would interject some pithy (hopefully) comment. My username was “Santa”. As Santa I would also boot from the group anyone who wanted nothing more than carnal contact with Santa!
This pattern continued for about a week, when a particularly classic desire bubbled up from a member. She was a single Mom, with another baby on the way. She lived in a very rural section of a Southern State. To protect her identity I will call her “Virginia”. Either Virginia thought she was text messaging with the real Santa, or she was really good at role-playing.
She texted Santa and said she “really believed in Santa”. We had several text conversations about her living situation and she would ask about the reindeer.
After communicating with Virginia for two days I decided it was time for Santa to practice some real holiday spirit . I messaged her that if she really believed in Santa, then she would get a call from one of Santa’s helpers, “Charlie the Elf”.
In terms of full disclosure, “Charlie” worked in our customer service department and was eager to play the role of an Elf. Charlie called Virginia and got her address. She was a little curious why Santa did not already have her address since he visits every house on Christmas Eve, but we and she let that one slide.
Once we had her address, I went to the web page of the real Santa helpers – Toy’s R Us. I purchased various items to brighten her holiday- some toys, books, and baby clothing. These items were shipped directly to her home.
After I made the order I checked out her home on Google Maps. Using the Satellite view I discovered that the address was in fact a trailer on a secondary dirt road, connecting to the main dirt road, that connected with what may have been a paved road about 5 miles away.
Santa sent a message to Virginia to tell her that her package was on the way and that it would come from Toys R Us. She messaged back asking why Santa needed to use Toys R Us. I thought about sending an explanation about outsourcing and the global flat economy, but instead just told her that Santa needs a little help in reaching the most rural areas.
As Santa, I used another of Santa’s helpers – UPS- to track the package. When the UPS service send me a message that the package had been delivered, I texted Virginia to ask her about her gifts. She got back to me and messaged that there was no package by her door. I went back to the UPS web page and it informed me that the package had been left behind the carport. Santa then messaged Virginia to look behind the carport. She messaged back in a couple of minutes, totally amazed that I was able to tell her exactly where to look.
If she did not believe in Santa as a magical figure before that, with the help of text messaging, Charlie the Elf, Google, Toys R Us and UPS, she was clearly a believer now!