Leveraging fans can be code for leashing them.
Back in August, an Open Letter to All of Advertising and Marketing appeared on the interwebs from a chap named Brian. It’s been blogged and shared a lot, particularly in digital marketing circles.
Brian (who may or may not exist), describes himself as ordinary guy who’d like his sausage company to spend more time making good sausages than imploring him to make videos and jingles about said sausages. It’s a dig at crowd-sourcing and the corporate arrogance (or naiveté) that often accompanies grand schemes to ‘leverage’ community.
Brands, businesses and organisations thinking they’d like to collaborate with their communities on any level should listen to Brian, whether he’s real or not.
Social marketers (and community managers) often talk about the need to motivate members and fans. But to what end, and for whose benefit? Brand versus member motivation are usually very different things, and this difference is rarely considered, understood or effectively captured in the attempt to establish social contracts between companies and consumers.
Wealth, value, pleasure, profit – these terms (necessarily) mean one thing in commodity culture and another in community culture(s). Learning and respecting the value vocabulary of your community is a no-brainer if you want real exchange and engagement. Not sure what they value? Observe, actively listen and ask them.
Communities are generative, cumulative and unpredictable. They might act in concert with an outlying entity, sometimes with inspiring and prosperous results for both parties, but they are fundamentally beholden only to each other and prevailing community mores.
They won’t do what you say simply because you say it. They’re not employees and they’re not a single organism. To them, motivation is the why of their participation – why they show up and how much they invest of themselves. Their ‘why’ is a confluence of factors that can’t be neatly bottom lined or finagled.
Community owners and social marketers should be asking what motivation means to their consumers and communities before drawing up battle plans to “motivate” against forensically detached brand goals and KPI’s. They need to think about the relationship of those goals to customer and community service and satisfaction. Can they be accused of ‘playbor’?
A spin-free relationship is a critical deliverable in the social contract many brands covet. It’s worth the effort to find an authentic commons; a sweet spot where needs, desires, time and talents of corporation and community overlap in a way that’s meaningful and beneficial for people across a spectrum of interest and involvement. Without it, you won’t get far, and you risk irreparable erosion of good will.
Just as copyright holders require that the sum of their time, talents and ideas is managed non-exploitatively, so too community members rightly require that their attention and contributions be solicited and managed respectfully and responsibly.
Posting a lengthy message to a forum, making a user video submission, writing a review – these are not virtual, immaterial acts. They have spend and consequence.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
We’d like you, our community, to help us spread the word about awesome thing x. Here are some tools to spread that word, and some materials we’ve prepared for you to use when you evangelise for us. Surprise us, be creative! Show us that you care. But be careful, because you’re not allowed to use those materials or tools in a way that our legal team prohibits, or our brand manager might object to. If you do, we’ll take it down. Also, we’ll probably have to threaten and maybe even sue you. We can’t wait to see what you come up with. As long as we like it.
Kevin Kelly reminds us that the web is a giant copying machine. So too are the communities that hold it together. The community machine creates and copies content, ideas, social codes and behaviours.
If you want to harness the remixing impulses of your community, or the output they yield, expect that your fans or members might assert their copyright as part of the bargain.
Remember that a social contact cuts both ways. You’re not asking your community to be your BFF, but in some cases, you are asking them to be a creative partner. That partnership may yield uneven gain (see this paper from Yong Ming Kow and Bonnie Nardi, who examine the contested ownership of creative modding within game systems).
Your community has copyright(s), even if they’re not yet codified by formal systems of ownership and governance.
Give these (and Brian) some thought next time you’re buying sausages.