Social Lego Principles – The first ten

Hello, FTP’rs…  earlier this week we started the Social Lego Principles.  Well, we’re up to ten great ones already… they’re below.  Thanks David, Carrie, Justin, Mat, Clare, Katy and Vijay

I’ve uploaded the deck so far to here:

The Social Lego Principles
View more documents from John v Willshire.

If you want to join in, there are TWO things you can do now…

  1. add another principle – have a read at the ones below, and suggest one of your own in comments section at the bottom of the post
  2. add an example – if you can think of examples of where companies have put this into practice

I’m also thinking that we could try and get together in a room somewhere, and each of the originators can present their principle.  Why?  Apart from sounding like it might be fun, sharing it in a live forum might help everyone come up with even better ideas… leave that one with me.

Anyway, the first ten in full…


If you pick up a single block, it’s a not a very interesting thing.  Even a few of them together just look like a vaguely similar collection of objects.  The really cool stuff starts when you have enough blocks available to start building something meaningful.

Which is why it’s hard to understand what the fuss is with something like Twitter by just looking at one person’s account, or looking at individual tweets.  The more blocks you connect together, the more interesting things become.


No kid in the world has ever sat down with a box of Lego for the first time and built a scale replica of the Death Star.  It takes a while to figure out what blocks go together, what looks good, what works, how many of each type of block you’ll find.

Building something in social media takes time and practice.  The more small things you learn to create along the way, the more tips and tricks you’ll pick up for the future.  If you build a person, then a car, then a house and a street, soon you’ll have a good idea how to build a town.


Everyone in the world owns a unique Lego set.  It’s made up of the models they own, the pieces they’ve lost and the ones they’ve acquired.  They also like putting things together in their own unique, creative, individual way.  As a result, if you ask everyone to build a car, each car will look different.

Coming from the mass media age where everything looked the same, worked along the same rules, this is a big change to get your head around.  Controlled consistency is out, homogeneous case studies pointless; embrace the wonder of differentiation.

From David Wilding


DW: “It’s all well and good having a safari set and a motorway set or whatever, [but] it actually gets really fun when you merge the sets together to create bigger “uber-lego”; the sort of lego hybrid that the people who designed the sets hadn’t imagined you would make when they created it… point I’m making here is about how social networks and apps all crunch together to create something quite cool

Think about the boxes of Lego you were given as a kid.  When they all found themselves in the big central bucket, that’s when things really got interesting.  Equally, when Twitter links to a blog or to Facebook or to Google Maps… wonderful things can happen; better than anything any one social media tool can do on its own.

From Carrie Morley


CM: “When I was little, my cousin and my brother used to spend hours at my grannies making battle ships out of lego. They would then put them in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs and drop ‘bombs’ (also make from lego…) and break them to pieces… perhaps what gets constructed quickly is so thrilling because of the speed and ease by which it can be deconstructed, pulled to pieces, and (perhaps) then made better the next time around…”

Get small, fast projects started, refine and improve on the hoof, learn new tips and tricks and quickly make the next version just that bit better than the last.  ‘Always In Beta’, as Russell Davies would say.

From Justin Gibbons @ Work


JG: “get kids involved and it takes on a new dimension, things you’d never think of like making a cake from lego, really raw creativity”

Kids don’t stop to ask things like ‘but why would people join in?’, ‘how long will it take?’, and especially not ‘what’s the ROI likely to be?’.  Kids build lots of things, and they build them because, well, it looks fun to do.  Some work, some don’t, but they learn lessons quickly and move on.

If you can tap into that mindset, and involve your customers and fans, where you’re building things in social media, you’re more likely to build something that other people want to play with too.

From Mat Riches


MR: “I also love the fact that there was Duplo for beginners and Lego and then Lego Technics.  You could get as involved and as deep into it as you wanted, and as you got more and more dextrous or nimble fingered…”

Lego have successfully realised with the extension of the main blocks into a simpler form for toddlers, and a more complex form for teens.  There are a raft of different capabilities around social media, both for companies and the people they wish to connect with. 

If you’re connecting to a really web savvy, passionate audience you could build a Ning site to set up your own social network.  If you’re connecting to my mum, you may be better off with a simple Facebook group.  But bear in mind technology is just the means to an end… unless there’s something there that people actually want to do, no matter how suitable the technology they won’t join in.

From Clare de Burca


CdB: “No kid I know has the patience / skills to do lego on their own.  As such it gets used as a joint activity – eg a friend of mine recently gave his 7 year old a model of the death star for xmas and spent a few hours each weekend working through it with him.  They finished it in march.  Its a very cool thing but 90% of the point was the time spent together doing it.”

Collaboration is a huge lesson from Lego.  If you build things together, you all learn faster.  You all believe in the models and projects you build, so don’t tear each other’s stuff down.  And the more you do together, the faster and more impressive it gets.  And if one person gets too dominant and controlling, it damages the project, and everyone starts to drift away…

From Katy Lindemann


KL: “how about ‘throw away the rulebook’ – Lego often comes with instructions, but the most creative stuff comes when you throw away the rulebook and you start trying new things and trying things your 
own way, instead of the way you’ve been told to…..”

Sure, you might follow the rules as laid out by someone else first.  But things get really interesting when you build things that help your community do exactly what it is they want to do.  Copy the instructions first time out by all means, but the best stuff you build will be utterly and wonderfully your own.

From Vijay, with HT to Pushkar & Rishad


VS: “I would add “Give the younger ones a free hand.”  I’d just come across this post by Pushkar Sane Global Head of Social Marketing Practice at Starcom MediaVest Group:

“Rishad Tobaccowala and I got around talking about Talent and Rishad said: “there is always a new wave behind us” – that made me think about the way we manage people in our industry.

In most cases we put people with skills-of-the-past in-charge of managing people who are actually bringing in skills-of-the-future…  rather than thinking about managing talent we need to think about enabling talent and setting them free so that they can win”

If you think you should be operating in social, but aren’t sure how, but you know you have someone under you who can… then your job is to run ‘aircover’ for that person.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN…  Add a new principle, suggest improvements to any of the existing ones, or add an example of a company which helps bring a principle to life…



19 responses to “Social Lego Principles – The first ten”

  1. 07/03/2009 at 12:57 PM avatar
    07/03/2009 at 12:57 PM

    Got another one – there’s an element of showing off / exhibitionism about lego. If you do something you’re proud of you want to show it to everyone and sort of leave it on display. That’s also sort of true of social media – there’s an element of peacocking. Because ultimately it’s down the individual you can make yourself sound more interesting than perhaps you are. Not that I would ever do this you understand.I really HAVE bumped into punt or dennis twice in the last few months.

  2. 07/03/2009 at 01:12 PM avatar
    07/03/2009 at 01:12 PM

    Actually Lego bricks look a little overwhelming to people at first, specially at the age in which they get exposed to it. Often uninteresting, over other ready-made toys.Then slowly as one tinkers with them, realize that they could be addictive as hell. The first simple thing one builds, one shows around to everyone, then immediately feel bad about somebody else having built a much more complicated piece from the same mould.It builds character; you could either get dismayed and throw your bucket away or start work on it with renewed vigour. The same is visible in the digital space. We need to look at better blogs, more tech-savvy widgets, better coded pages, greater followers of our friends and take heart from it. Not close shop and go do something else. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

  3. 07/03/2009 at 01:27 PM avatar
    07/03/2009 at 01:27 PM

    Another thing about Lego is that it’s easy to share. I don’t know how many people did it, I know I did, but you could take your lego to your mate’s house and build something even bigger. If you can do that, basically working from the same platform then you can go even further. Especially when everyone gets what it can/could do.Probably something for Principle one though…

  4. 07/03/2009 at 03:39 PM avatar
    07/03/2009 at 03:39 PM

    2 + 6 = 4 * 2Not sure if that’s an appropriate title for the principle. But here goes an explanation.Lego: If you buy a kit to build a carwash, why not try building the Tower of London out of it when you’re broken it all apart?Social media: don’t constrain your thinking by what the application (twitter, facebook, whatever) was intended to do. Think outside the box and get it to do something different. E.g. @tweetalondoncab

  5. 07/03/2009 at 03:52 PM avatar
    07/03/2009 at 03:52 PM

    Wow, four more!!! Brilliant, folks, I shall get cracking as soon as I can, thank you very much David, Sudarshan, Mat and Dan ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. 07/06/2009 at 12:06 PM avatar
    07/06/2009 at 12:06 PM

    it is possible to become obsessed by is possible to become obsessed by social media.That’s all I’m sayingBoth probably have the 1-9-90 rule going.You know which group you’re in JVW…

  7. 07/06/2009 at 10:10 PM avatar
    07/06/2009 at 10:10 PM

    An example for the first principle: Kleenex mapping how people with hayfever are suffering in the UK by aggregating peoples tweets; for it to work it needs lots of people taking part(lots of bricks!).Of course it could apply to many of the other principles too but then again most uses of social media by companies will cover quite a few of them.

  8. 07/07/2009 at 12:24 AM avatar
    07/07/2009 at 12:24 AM

    Thanks Pete… I love the Kleenex example, it’s so simple and elegant… you’re right, it’s going to take a lot of bricks to make it brilliant, but it’s such a simple idea you can imagine hayfever sufferers joining in.Excellent, our first example… who’s got another?

  9. 07/07/2009 at 11:40 AM avatar
    07/07/2009 at 11:40 AM

    It’s not about the bricks, it’s about what you make out of them

  10. 07/07/2009 at 10:39 PM avatar
    07/07/2009 at 10:39 PM

    OK, sorry for my tardy response… firstly, a synopsis of all the stuff above…11th Principle (David) – We love to show and tell… When we create something that we’re proud of in the social media space, there’s a real sense of ‘look what we did’. And because it’s inherently social in construction, it seems more natural to do so….which ties nicely into…12th Principle (Sudarshan) – Learn from the bigger kids. When we do exhibit the first things we have built, undoubtedly people before us (the ‘bigger kids’) have done something bigger, better, taller, more intricate. You shouldn’t get dismayed… learn from the big kids. If you ask them nicely, they may even tell you how…Whilst we’re talking about ‘playing nicely’…13th principle (Mat) – invite your friends roundThe great thing about Lego is that if your friend has a big box of Lego, it’s compatible with yours. So if you get together, you’ll be able to build bigger, better things. The same is by and large true with social media… invite your ‘friends’ round with their ‘lego sets’, and think about what you could create together. This sort of partnership approach I think will be increasingly important for companies in the future.14th Principle (Dan) – Have big dreamsIf you’re working with a kit that is designed for being a ‘carwash’, it doesn’t just have to be a carwash. It can be whatever you want to achieve. sure, you might have to squint a bit, find some other bricks along the way, get some help. But if you believe you’re building the Tower of London, over time you’ll build it. If you only set out to build a carwash, you’ll very quickly get a carwash. And no-one will really want to join you on that journey…15th Principle (David) – Not every kid is a Lego kidI thought I’d flip David’s point around… yes, it’s possible to become obsessive with social media. But for everyone who gets obsessed with a certain site, profile, forum… there’s another ninety folk who don’t get that involved. The 90-9-1 rule of thumb is a hierarchy of what % of people will view/edit/create, read more here –…phew, fifteen principles eh? I think now we close off the principles (Robin at We Are Social had a look, and he reckons we’ve covered most of ’em).So we need EXAMPLES for each (like Pete’s), and then maybe some nice snappy phrasing like wot Graeme wrote above…Then I’ve decided to do something with them next week… I’ll keep it under my hat for now though ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. 07/08/2009 at 07:02 PM avatar
    07/08/2009 at 07:02 PM

    One more principle… (two if you count the fact that although this social experiment is over I’m still contributing…but that’s another thing)The principle is “play nicely”, and something which all kids playing with lego should abide by. It also references a great example that Meg Pickard from the Guardian mentioned to me that I really liked from Flikr forum rules entitled “don’t be creepy” – “You know the guy. Don’t be that guy”.Play nicely kids.

  12. 07/08/2009 at 08:45 PM avatar
    07/08/2009 at 08:45 PM

    Okay I think I’ve got one for number six -Release your inner childThe new Philips VS campaign asks people to come up with ideas for testing their products in innovative and unusual ways, the best ones win prizes. They’re involving people and encouraging them to unleash their creativity.It hasn’t taken off in a huge way so far but I think it’s a brilliant idea, I actually found myself looking through the product section on their website seeing what I could come up with!

  13. 07/09/2009 at 01:57 PM avatar
    07/09/2009 at 01:57 PM

    Isn’t wikipedia the perfect example for the eighth principleAnother example for P1 –

  14. 07/10/2009 at 10:33 AM avatar
    07/10/2009 at 10:33 AM

    That Philips thing is really nice… especially the sonicare toothbrush video with the noses. Definitely a great example for number six. Thanks Pete.Wikipedia would be great for number eight too… I heard something interesting recently that it’s taken the same number of man hours to make wikipedia so far as it took in the space race to put man on the moon. Both wonderful achievements, but only 12 people got to stand on the moon.The UKhols one is nice. I just put in our holiday, and got a nice little ‘thanks for playing’ tweet back, which leads us nicely into Derek’s wonderful ‘play nicely’ principle. Thanks Des for the principle, and Mat for the examples…

  15. 07/21/2009 at 01:04 PM avatar
    07/21/2009 at 01:04 PM

    looks like someone else is trying to muscle in on your lego analogys

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