The Free Donut Experiment: Mapping the Spread of Information Among Employees

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Recent Walker Sands social experiment finds news had 91 percent penetration within 90 minutes of announcement, but certain groups were isolated from information.

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News travels fast in the age of technology, but what is its route across an organization?

Walker Sands, one of the nation’s fastest growing PR and digital marketing firms, conducted a social experiment to find out. Using the regular internal employee newsletter, a team included two separate versions of notes about donuts to the organization. The first group of employees saw this note immediately preceding one of the top and most widely read sections of the newsletter and the second half received the message as the last story of the newsletter.

The experiment was conducted to answer several key questions: does anyone actually read the newsletter, and would they act on the information in it; were there any employees who acted as “connectors,” sharing the information with many people; would the effect of physical proximity on sharing be tempered by instant communication tools like Gchat and Slack?

The experiment commenced with donuts distributed in a conference room monitored by selected Walker Sands personnel. Within 90 minutes, 91 percent of eligible employees were aware of the free donuts.

We also uncovered valuable insights about how information traveled across the organization:

  • Twenty-one people (53%) heard from the newsletter, and 19 (47%) were told by another employee, mostly verbally.
  • Proximity had a large impact on who shared the information with whom. Twelve of the 19 people tipped off by someone else were told by the person sitting right next to them.
  • We didn’t find massive “connectors” within the firm. The vast majority of people only told one other person. Only two people told two other people, and no one had told three people or more.

“As a rapidly growing organization we wanted to learn more about how our employees were getting their information about the company and its happenings - whether it be directly from the newsletter, from another employee face-to-face, via technology, or not at all,” said Mike Santoro, president of Walker Sands. “We found some interesting information about who was reading our newsletter, but also learned that if you want to make your employees paranoid, give away something free, ask where they learned this information, and then write it down without telling them why.”

The digital team built a visual journey that interested parties can view at For a more serious report with additional findings visit

About Walker Sands
Walker Sands is a public relations and digital marketing agency for business to business technology companies. With offices in Chicago and San Francisco, Walker Sands was founded in 2001 to provide data-driven marketing support for a wide array of companies with the business mission of providing best-in-class communications counsel and services. Walker Sands is a two-time Inc. 5000 Honoree and has received several other industry-specific awards, such as PRSA Skylines, Hermes and PR Daily, among others. To learn more, visit

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Erin Jordan
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