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What We Can Learn from a 9 Year Old

Why should business leaders pay attention to social media, and why now? Because social media has ushered in one of the biggest revolutions of mass communication and collaboration that the world has ever seen. To illustrate, here’s a story about a brilliant, young girl named Martha Payne (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 Martha Payne, founder of “NeverSeconds” school lunch blog

In many ways, Martha is an ordinary girl who does ordinary things. She enjoys camping, playing netball (she’s Scottish), and Jura, her Labrador.

But unlike most pre-teenage girls, she has also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help feed needy kids in Africa, gets millions of visitors to her blog, hangs out with celebrity chefs, and has won numerous prestigious awards. (One time she was even toasted by Scotland’s first Minster in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle.)

And believe it or not, all this fame began with a single photo of her school lunch that she uploaded to her own blog.1

She was just 9 years old when she created the blog, “NeverSeconds,” as a school writing project with the help of her father, but it quickly gained a local following as other students, parents, teachers, and administrators heard about it. Then, after celebrity chef and school meals advocate Jamie Oliver tweeted, “Shocking but inspirational blog. Keep going, big love from Jamie,” the blog went viral.

Like a restaurant review, NeverSeconds rates Martha’s school lunches for quality, health, “number of mouthfuls,” and, just as appetizing as it sounds, “pieces of hair.” Here’s a sample:

  • FRIDAY MAY 18: I chose a chicken grill [that] on the old menu was called a chicken burger but it is exactly the same.
  • One of my peas was black. I had a black-eyed pea! If you look closely, [it’s] the one in the middle.
  • I love the sticky icing the school puts on its sponges.
  • Food-o-meter - 9/10
  • Mouthfuls - 44, I left the black pea.
  • Health Rating - 4/10
  • Pieces of hair - 0

In just more than a month after launching NeverSeconds, the blog gained 3 million hits. Then, she started collaborating with kids across the globe by featuring photos of school lunches sent to her by children as far away as Japan, Taiwan, and the United States. When someone left a comment on Martha’s blog that said she was lucky even to get a meal at lunch, she responded with the comment, “You’re right. That’s why my friends and I set up a charity to raise money for Mary’s Meals,” a nonprofit that provides daily meals in schools to impoverished kids in Africa, to not only nourish them, but using mealtime to attract them to the classroom where they can get a basic education as well.

After several guest appearances on TV and radio as well as being invited to become the subject of a documentary, the unthinkable happened. She posted her “Goodbye.”

  • “This morning in math I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
  • “I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.”

Can you guess how Martha’s legions of fans responded? If you guessed anything like “people went bezerk,” you’d be putting it lightly.2

Locally, nationally, and internationally, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter were blowing up with calls for swift and decisive action. The human rights group Big Brother Watch called the act “an authoritarian infringement on her civil liberties.”

The school council responded by issuing a rather harsh press release defending its decision, with statements like “the information presented in [NeverSeconds] misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils,” and “the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the Council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.”3

That didn’t seem to go over very well either—the council’s defiant, static press release dramatically fanned the flames of the growing social media firestorm. Under pressure, it finally took an intervention by representatives of the Scottish National Party to reverse the decision and withdraw the ban on pictures from the school dining hall.4

There was a lot of celebration, and Martha quickly became the most popular kid in school. But even more important, she was allowed to keep doing her thing—helping kids across the globe not only eat better, but also, eat at all.

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