The 2013 FIRE Sessions Recap: part conference, part movement, part conversation.

This time last week Brains on Fire was welcoming kindred spirits and clients from around the country to Greenville to do some thinking, talking and celebrating at the 2013 FIRE Sessions. Heather Whaling, known to many in the social sphere as @prtini, was one of the kindred spirits on our guest list. We invited her to write a recap of key learnings from FIRE Sessions for those who were unable to attend. Happy reading (and reliving!) -Amy


When Brains on Fire reached out and asked me if I’d be interested in attending FIRE Sessions as a “social media correspondent” of sorts, I jumped at the chance. It was a no-brainer really: an opportunity to leave the chilly Midwest winter behind for a couple days in Greenville, South Carolina surrounded by some of the smartest word of mouth marketers around? Yes, please!

I began my Greenville adventure Monday night as the BOF crew welcomed early arrivals at The Lazy Goat Restaurant. Guests were treated to Mediterranean nibbles, cocktails and an evening of pre-event mingling. It was great to finally put real faces to the many people I had only known by name or Twitter handle for so long.

bof logo

After a good night’s sleep, FIRE Sessions kicked off bright and early at Genevieve’s on Tuesday. The room was packed with “kindred spirits” from near and far. (As one BOFer explained, that’s the Brains on Fire term for people who share their commitment to community building and authentic word of mouth marketing.) After a brief welcome from Brains on Fire Chief Inspiration Officer Greg Cordell, it was time to get down to business.

jackie huba

After a quick breakfast and a couple cups of coffee, the learning got underway with Jackie Huba’s ode to Lady Gaga, Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics. Jackie’s talk focused on how Lady Gaga has harnessed the massive power of her most engaged fans, the 1%. By letting her values become part of the message and making herself accessible to those who relate to what she stands for, Gaga has given a voice to her fans by helping them connect and create a community of Little Monsters. In the process, she has not only created a love connection, but a love transaction between herself and her community of loud and proud advocates. As for her Twitter following (nearly 34 million strong and growing every day…), it’s topped only by Justin Bieber.

geno church

Up next Brains on Fire’s very own Word of Mouth Inspiration Officer Geno Church took the stage (in an apron, no less) to share his thoughts and insights on how building community is a lot like baking chocolate chip cookies. Two major themes throughout the presentation revolved around the idea that no two communities are exactly alike–and in order to grow something truly remarkable, marketers can’t stand on the sidelines; they have to be willing to dig in and get their hands dirty. Geno also shared several community case studies from Brains on Fire clients including DeVry’s DriVen Class, Anytime Fitness’ Fitness Rebellion and The National Center for Family Litercay’s Wonderopolis. Not only were attendees treated to some great ideas, a handful of helpers passed out warm chocolate chip cookies to drive the message home. Yum!

After a morning of feeding our minds, it was time to feed our bellies. We headed across Main Street to Devereaux’s for a true taste of the south. (Along the way, we even met Greenville’s new city mascot, Joey the Mouse.) Our table spent as much time talking about the morning’s lessons as we did eating, and judging by the energy in the room, so did everyone else.

jonah berger

Wharton Marketing Professor Dr. Jonah Berger was ready to roll after lunch. Along with advance copies of his new book Contagious, Jonah shared his insights on what makes things go viral. If you’ve ever wondered why some things catch on, this was the presentation to demystify the mystery. Jonah’s talk was packed with interesting tidbits, including insights on “triggers,” the things that are linked in our mind. Just like “peanut butter is a mini-advertisement for jelly” and it’s hard to think “rum” without “coke,” triggers play a role in marketing, too. (If you’ve ever found yourself tempted to Facebook Rebecca Black’s “Friday” on a Friday, thank triggers!) Another key point from the talk focused on the role emotion plays in sharing. Different emotions influence how and when we share something. Sadness inspires less sharing, while anger and outrage inspire people to share by harnessing their desire to take action in the heat of the moment. Last but not least, Jonah explored storytelling. His advice was pretty simple: sneak your message into a story. (Great example: Dumb Ways to Die.)

rob morris

Unfortunately, I had to hop a flight back to Columbus after Jonah’s presentation, so I wasn’t able to stick around for what was undoubtedly a great brainstorm for Love146’s Rob Morris, but I returned to Columbus (and cooler temperatures) energized and full of great ideas to share with my own team.


If you’re feeling extra inspired to share some of the lessons learned at the 2013 FIRE Sessions, here are my Top 10 Tweetable Takeaways. Just click “CLICK TO TWEET” to share them on Twitter.

Want to spread content? Focus on the message, not the messenger. – @j1berger CLICK TO TWEET

It’s easy to measure a “like.” Much harder to measure love for your company. But, it’s the love that’s really important. CLICK TO TWEET

If you’re going to walk with them, you have to talk with them. — @genochurch on the importance of getting to know customers CLICK TO TWEET

Give fans a name. There’s a difference between fans and Little Monsters. — @jackiehuba on lessons from Lady Gaga CLICK TO TWEET

A comment is a gift. Respect it with a response. CLICK TO TWEET

Like chocolate chip cookies, community comes in all shapes & sizes. Beautiful, no matter what it looks like. CLICK TO TWEET

“If it’s built to show, it’s built to grow” — @j1berger on the importance of observability CLICK TO TWEET

Your top 1% want to talk about you, but YOU need to give them something worth sharing. CLICK TO TWEET

It’s more important to have 1 million die-hard fans than 54 million likes. — Tony Carter, @LadyGaga’s manager CLICK TO TWEET

Companies that lead with their values outperform the market. CLICK TO TWEET

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