If you been bah-humbugging the power of Facebook and other social media, take a glimpse at a story that's posted on the Newsweek Web site. It's "The Cookie Crumbles," by Kurt Soller, a New York-based technology reporter who went online looking for Girl Scout cookies and found Asheville's very own YouTube'ing Girl Scout, Wild Freeborn.
Mountain Xpress first reported the story back in January. The saga goes like this:
• Asheville Girl Scout gets her dad, Bryan Freeborn, and college students to hawk her cookies on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit,StumbleUpon and del.icio.us.
• It works: Combined with some traditional door-to-door and booth sales, Wild Freeborn gets almost 1,000 sales.
• Some Girl Scout parents call for an end to the project, arguing that the organization’s rules prohibit online sales.
• Although the Freeborns aren't selling online and are merely taking advance orders, they agree to pull the YouTube video in which 8-year-old Wild urges people to buy the cookies because they help Girl Scouts everywhere ... and because they're yummy.
• Subsequently, the national Girl Scouts office starts its own cookie-hawking Web page (http://girlscoutcookies.org/).
When the Newsweek reporter called, Bryan Freeborn says his first reaction was, "Wow — the time we spent with social networking [for Girl Scout cookie sales] works! It shows what we can do." While speaking to Xpress, he got a message that the story had already been picked up by other networks.
The digital cat is out of the bag, and Freeborn says the whole thing started when he was faced with two daunting tasks: 1) choosing which online project to assign local college students he was instructing; and 2) figuring out how to help his daughter sell all those cases of cookies. The students at UNCA needed "a project that benefited a nonprofit," and his daughter had just come in "and hit my office up for Girl Scout cookies," says Freeborn, chief operating officer of Asheville-based Web-design company Top Floor Studio. His daughter had also asked him why not apply his professional know-how to her goal of selling 12,000 boxes of cookies. "We had no idea what kind of response we would get," Freeborn says.
He points out that the online effort didn't interfere with on-the-ground, door-to-door and booth sales — hallmarks of the Girl Scout Cookies Program, the primary entrepreneurial project for girls in the organization. And he argues that the strategy didn't violate the organization's prohibition against online sales. "We were just taking orders for future sales," Freeborn says. He also contends that the Girl Scout’s fine print on the issue sends mixed signals and is confusing.
In the Newsweek article, Soller points out some of those signals, observing that few of the Girl Scout badges deal with new technology (the CyberGirl badge requires the Girl Scout to send an e-mail — a "paltry" task for any of today's girls). He concludes that the national organization's "digital strategy seems confused and behind the times," and that it seems to be squelching entrepreneurial spirit rather than encouraging it.
For his part, Freeborn emphasizes that his daughter has learned a great deal from the experience. "She knows what social media is. She knows the difference between going door-to-door versus working your network," he says. And she knows how to up-sell — that old-fashioned technique of asking buyers to take just one more box and make it an even $14 for four boxes of cookies.
Wild also knows the value of networking with everyone who can help you accomplish a goal — even her little brother. "She helped him carrying lots of boxes of cookies," says Freeborn. Perhaps these skills will serve Wild well on her way to another dream, learning fashion design. Says her dad, "You're going to be more successful if you use your network."
— Margaret Williams, contributing editor
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