Participation Lab Notes: The Power of Swag

It doesn’t take long, once you’ve entered the Mozilla community before you notice that swag is a big part of Mozilla. Stickers, t-shirts, lanyards are everywhere and for many Mozillians these things have become a kind of currency with emotional and physical value.

Photo by: Doug Belshaw on Flickr

Photo by DougBelshaw/CC BY 2.0

In 2014, Mozilla spent over $150,000 on swag to engage contributors across four major initiatives: Maker Party, MozFest, Mozilla Reps, and Firefox Student Ambassadors (FSAs).

However we rarely stop to examine what we are learning about the results, benefits and challenges of this investment.

In order to surface and capture these insights the Participation Team interviewed four groups at Mozilla, for whom swag is a core part of their activities, and identified the most interesting insights and challenges faced by each group.

As a result, we discovered that many of the groups face similar challenges but have found distinct solutions and strategies for managing them. The two major insights were that by encouraging local production of swag, and creating swag that is tailored specifically to the needs of the community, costs can be minimized and value to the community increased.

Maker Party

Although in the past year, swag has become a much smaller part of Maker Party as the campaign has become shorter (17 days vs. the previous 2 months) and more contained. In 2014 thousands of people spent the summer throwing events, and swag was an integral part of growing and motivating the Maker Party community.

Insight : Swag Legitimizes Hosts & Events

Much more than a form of recognition for event hosts, in many communities swag is perceived as a vote of confidence from Mozilla that legitimizes both the host and the event. Many communities feel that if we are willing to support an event host and their event through physical things, and it marks them as “officially sanctioned” by Mozilla and this alignment with the brand dramatically increases the influence and reputation of the contributor and the event.

For example, in South America, a Maker Party host created Mozilla branded mouse pads to legitimize their events in the eyes of local internet cafe owners who let them use the space for free in exchange for Mozilla branded mouse pads.

Challenge: Cost of Shipping

For Maker Party, shipping swag across the world, often to extremely remote areas, was very expensive and problematic. Certain countries charge enormous taxes on clothing and have been known to detain parcels with t-shirts – to the detriment of volunteers who often cannot pay the high customs fees.

MozFest

While MozFest, as a short-term festival is a bit different from the other examples,  it identifies another way in which we use swag to build and support community.

Insight: Swag is Key to Partnerships

Every year MozFest partners with other like-minded organizations to put on the event. As part of this relationship, partners are offered the opportunity to distribute swag and some promotional material to attendees. As a result Mozilla can produce a small amount of swag like a tote bag and water bottle, and have partners add their swag to create fun gifts for participants that also act as promotional pieces for partners and Mozilla.

Challenges: The Right Swag

Finding swag that is re-usable and has value outside of the event is challenging, but water bottles and tote bags have proven popular and effective, and have the added benefit of reducing the event’s environmental footprint.

Mozilla Reps

Unlike Maker Party or MozFest, Mozilla Reps is a community where individuals participate in multiple ways over a sustained period of time. For this group, it is often the variety rather than quantity of swag that drives excitement.

Insight: Creating A Collectors Culture

Within Reps, swag is a great way to acknowledge contributors and support events. However, in some circumstances, swag can come to be seen as a symbol that represents value and status in the community. Therefore as more of a swag item is produced the value of each item diminishes, and collectors culture has developed. While rare swag is a very powerful tool for driving engagement and recognizing achievement in the Reps community, it is important to be aware of the number and variety of an item that is produced, and to carefully manage expectations to prevent swag becoming an end in and of itself.

Challenge: Mitigating Expectations

As swag is a large part of the Reps culture, it is important to be careful about the expectations that are set around the value of swag. Limiting the kinds of official swag that is produced to t-shirts, stickers, and posters and having clear value attached to each, may be one way to keep expectations low and guard against increasing expectations.

FSA

The Firefox Student Association has many parallels in it’s structure and its relationship to swag as the Mozilla Reps program. However by carefully controlling the value of swag, and encouraging local production, many of the challenges faced by other groups have been avoided.

Insight: Careful Curation & Local Production

The FSA’s have solved problems related to shipping swag, and reduced the “freebee” quality by having FSA’s create their own swag locally and then be reimbursed for the cost. Like the Reps program they also have a collectors culture but set formal expectations on the “value” of different kinds of swag ie. t-shirts are something you have to earn, stickers are freebees you can give away at your event, and posters are something you have to produce yourself.

Challenge: Tracking Designs

Because unique designs are a large part of what gives t-shirt swag it’s value, there is a struggle to find and keep track of the many ways t-shirts and designs are being used across Mozilla. In order to coordinate the FSA program suggested creating a central repository of t-shirt designs and what/when they should be distributed so that the use of swag can be better aligned across all of Mozilla.

Overall, across Mozilla there is a great deal being learned and experimented with around swag as well as many areas for growth and improvement. Our hope is that by surfacing these lessons and insights, we’ll spark new conversations and gain more insights into the swag processes and how it can be improved. If you have experience or thoughts around swag at Mozilla please share them in the comments here, or on the Participation Team Discourse page.