Posts tagged ‘online’

The Destruction of Community and the Rise of the Fan Club

Via the miracle of YouTube, I spent the last hour or so watching a lecture the late Neil Postman gave in 1998 at Calvin College in Michigan. In it he brought up a compelling idea (actually dozens of them, but here I’ll just focus on one) about how technology has changed our definition of community. Traditionally, communities have been united by broad commonalities (e.g., geography, culture, history, etc.) even as the individual members of the communities differed on many particulars. Indeed, the trick of making a community function was for the individual members to find a way to work around their differences and disagreements to create a socially cohesive unit. Take away the negotiation and compromise on the points of difference and the points of commonality would not be strong enough to hold the community together.

Yet when we talk about communities in the age of interactivity, we often mean something very different. More often that not we are referring to a group of people who are in near total agreement on a particular topic. Because technology makes it easy–indeed almost effortless–to create new communities, people who find themselves in any sort of disagreement in an existing community need not work through their differences. They can simply start their own community where they do not have to put up with the annoyance of dissent. This may seem like a dream for a marketer who will benefit from gathering together a group of people who are deeply loyal to a brand, but a community it is not. It is a fan club. (Indeed, in its political incarnation it can become something much more troubling–a walled compound of people who would rather enter into an infinite loop of mutual affirmation than engage in honest and thoughtful debate. Insert your favorite–or least favorite–cable news network here.) Remember that the word fan comes from “fanatic”–a person with extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal.

But my purpose here is not to talk politics; I leave that for a different time and a different blog. In the age of social media, marketers throw around phrases like “online community” as if we all agree on what they mean. I submit to you than we don’t. As more and more brands venture into the interactive space, the ones who succeed will be the ones who are honest with themselves about whether they are looking to create a community or a fan club. Uncritical enthusiasm may seem appealing, but ultimately stronger brands are built on the support of those who see our warts and want to help us heal them.


May 18, 2010 at 3:40 am Leave a comment

Who cares if you can get free MP3s online? How about a free college education?

Israeli entrepreneur Shai Reshef has started something truly remarkable in the online world–it’s called the University of the People. Its purpose to put a college education within the reach of those who cannot afford it. It’s stunning to think about the collective cognitive power this idea could eventually release into the world. The greatest natural resource on the planet isn’t oil; it’s the brains of the humans who live here. Increasing the productivity of those brains is almost certainly the best investment we can possibly make. Reshef started the University of the People with an investment of just $1 million and is hoping to raise another $5 million from private sources.

The university is currently pursuing accreditation in the United States and offers degree programs in business administration and computer science and hopes to be serving 15,000 students within four years. I hope they blow past that goal and are educating hundreds of thousands within a decade.

Thanks to the great Steve Fedorko for the heads up on this story, which you can read in its entirety here at Technology Review.

May 20, 2009 at 1:34 am Leave a comment

Current TV’s Twitter RFP: Winners, Losers and Rubberneckers


Angela Natividad at Adrants provides a helpful (albeit incomplete, I have heard from a number of people involved) summary of the results–and perhaps more importantly, some of the submissions–from the recent Twitter-based RFP issued by Current TV. Check it out here and see what agencies like 22 Squared, Modernista, the Wexley School for Girls and the client thought were clever.

You can also see the agencies (and some of the submissions therefrom) that the client thought weren’t quite clever enough. (There’s nothing more fun than showing your idea to a virtual  stadium full of people and being smote down for all to see, eh lads?)

Despite the circus that sprang up around this RFP, I’m not sure I see this method catching on. For one thing, I’ve heard a number of complaints that the short list didn’t remain short. In other words, Current TV started the process off by assuring participants that five agencies would advance. 17 did. How many agencies would have been willing to raise their skirts over their heads on Twitter if they knew the reward was a 17-to-1 shot at the business? 

More to the point, however, the creativity with which an agency can respond via Twitter is a measure of something, but I’m reasonably sure it’s not a good measure of its ability to deliver the panoply of marketing services that most clients require in an increasingly complex media landscape.

Nevertheless, a tip of the hat to Jordan Kretchmer and Current TV for kicking up some dust around their brand and, one hopes, teaching agencies a bit about how to calibrate their responses the next time something similar comes around.

May 3, 2009 at 3:05 pm Leave a comment

Unless something changes, Twitter is doomed to the fringes of communication


You may have heard that 60% of the people who try Twitter for this first time shrug their shoulders and never go back to it. David Martin, Vice President of Primary Research at Neilsen Online offers some insight into what that means on Neilsen Wire. And what it means, basically, is that, despite the general giddiness about Twitter’s growth, if these retention numbers persist, Twitter will only achieve a reach of about 10%. Check out the full story for Martin’s statistical explanation of why this is so.

Of course, 10% of the online audience is a significant number of people, but it’s not mainstream. This is probably bad news for all the techies working 100 hours a week in their parents’ basements on Twitter-based apps and business plans while daydreaming about what they’re going to do with the $100 million that they’ll get when they sell out.

The trend could change, of course, but I wouldn’t bet on it unless Twitter finds a way to blossom into something a good deal more compelling that it is at the moment.

April 30, 2009 at 12:03 am Leave a comment

The death of direct mail – or at least of the organization that delivers it


Georg [sic] Jensen has written an insightful article for the American Interest Online about the grave problems of the United States Postal Service. With all due respect to the longstanding incompetence of Chrysler and General Motors, if ever there was an organization that has been begging to go out of business through half-assed management and non-existent strategy, it’s the Post Office. Here’s a taste of what Jensen has to say about their future:

“By rightsizing the infrastructure and implementing secure and legal ‘electronic postal mail delivery’ like other countries have, the USPS could become profitable and sustainable within two years, preserving far more jobs than if it continues to operate as if the Internet has not changed the world forever. Darwin, Deming and Schumpeter are all looking down on the USPS to see if it becomes a victim of natural selection, or a beneficiary of it. As things stand today, its survival prospects don’t look so good.”

Of course, if the USPS tanks, the private sector will rush in–or perhaps in this economy, it may be more accurate to say “limp in”–to fill the void and deliver the time-share real estate offers on which so many direct marketing careers depend. Certain though that is, it is equally certain that mail will only continue to become less important. Electronic communication eliminates another reason for it with every passing day.

On a final note, am I the only one who finds it astonishing that Postmaster General used to be a cabinet position? Does anyone need another indication of how far snail mail has fallen? Today the head of the Post Office no more deserves a seat in cabinet meetings than the president of Quizno’s does. But a cabinet-level position overseeing electronic communication–that, friends, may be worth discussing.

April 29, 2009 at 12:47 am Leave a comment

Weird yet strangely appealing site of the day:


Some guy is buying unclaimed luggage from the airlines, cracking it open, photographing what’s inside it and posting the pictures online. This is why the web was invented–so people with pointless obsessions can bring them to the indifferent masses. On the positive side, there is a strange, if fleeting, satisfaction in seeing what’s inside these bags. And who knows, maybe some clever ad monkey will figure out a way to adapt this into a branded game at some point. Take a look at the site next time you have absolutely nothing better to do.

For more details on this compelling use of technology, visit TechCrunch.

April 25, 2009 at 3:47 pm Leave a comment

Asymmetrical warfare and the democratization of communication

Domino’s Pizza is learning a brutal lesson in the dangers of the democratization of media. Two knuckleheads can turn a video camera into a weapon of mass destruction. Shareholder value, consumer confidence and brand equity have been gravely wounded by what will ultimately turn out to be a suicide bomb (it seems probable that the people who made the video will face significant criminal and civil judgments). The problem is that no matter how much pain Domino’s lawyers inflict on the perpetrators, it will be dwarfed by the damage the company has absorbed.

Big brands are facing a problem that is analogous to the one that faces the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan and the waters off Somalia. Asymmetrical warfare always favors the little guy. The big, expensive weapons that were effective in traditional warfare aren’t effective in a world where the enemy can disappear into the warren of an ancient city (or the tangle of the world wide web). Brands’ best hope is to react with speed and force when they are attacked by new media terrorists. The problem is that the attack itself will always be more “media-friendly” (from the standpoint of the magnetic force it exerts upon the marketplace) than the finger-wagging response. While I feel for the president of Domino’s Pizza today, watching his video just makes me tired.

It’s not fair, but the advantage will always be with the offense, not the defense.

April 16, 2009 at 4:24 pm Leave a comment

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