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15 Aug, 2009 – leave a comment

becoming a mad man, revisited

In a bit of “holy shit that’s awesome” news, I see that my report, Becoming a Mad Man, is part of Henry Jenkin’s syllabus for the fall course he’s teaching on Transmedia Storytelling at USC. It’s sure to be poked, prodded, and maybe even dismissed, but I’m incredibly honored for its inclusion in the course.

By the way, season three of Mad Men starts today.

In the 8 months since I published the report, I’ve been rather obsessed with fan culture and have done my best to dive deep into Henry’s research (and the research of many other brilliant people). If you’d like to learn more yourself, here’s a quick roundup of my previous posts. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with a cable network to create a fan based strategy for their digital marketing team, a strategy based on the 30 years of fan research that came well before me. It was a blast, and I look forward to working with that team in the future to refine the model.

I’ve come to believe that the whole Mad Men on Twitter incident may have been small in the annals of fan expression, but it was a critical moment in time for digital marketers to take notice, be curious, and perhaps learn something. Some have learned, and some haven’t. When Paul Isakson gave up the @don_draper account to AMC, I had hoped that the network or its digital agency would have done something with it besides let it sit idle for 8 months. Instead of engaging fans during the off-season with the account, on a platform that is obviously ripe for tv fan expression, they’ve done absolutely nothing at all with it (an update: now you can help Paul man the account). But to be fair, I was happy to see the art of Dyna Moe used (she was much beloved by fans for her illustrations) in marketing this new season.

I’m excited for this new season. The writing and acting behind Mad Men never disappoints. Be sure to tune into AMC tonight at 10PM/9C.

Oh, and keep an eye on Bud Melman. I hear he’s got something up his sleeve.

15 Jul, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: we are wizards

I’m quite late to this one, but thanks to Jinal Shah for pointing it out to me. We Are Wizards, released in 2008, chronicles the expansive and deep fan culture of Harry Potter and the Rowling universe. I’ll be watching this later tonight, and hopefully the new film sometime this weekend.

13 May, 2009 – one comment

fans: rise of the machines


You see those trending topics on Twitter? Those are fans talking about things they love, to their friends, and anyone else that will listen.

Oprah mentions Twitter and registrations surge. That’s not the power of Twitter, that’s the power of Oprah’s fan community. CNN and Ashton go at it for new followers. Again, that wasn’t Twitter, it wasn’t a virus, it was fans acting on a leader’s nudge, and to connect to each other to share information and social currency.

You don’t scan your tweets every day because of Twitter either. You’re looking for people you know, friends, and also people you’re a fan of. Twitter can connect anyone: you to Ashton, Ashton to your third grade english teacher, and so on. Twitter is a bit of technology that better enables what fans want and need to do: connect with each other, express their fandom/define their identity, gather information, and feel more connected to what they love.

Fandom makes or breaks technology. took off because fans of beanie babies needed a place to swap and collect. Friendster cracked down on fakesters and it reduced a way fans could engage. Facebook is the center of a brand’s digital world because users can now ‘fan’ things.

Still think focusing on fans is too narrow? Or do you mean, ‘we just don’t have any fans?’ Those are two separate things: one is bullshit, the other is fixable. One is kidding yourself, the other is killing yourself (or at least resigning yourself to a slow extinction, better hope for no meteor showers). Brands should be out there courting and supporting these vocal fan communities. They’re right there, they aren’t hiding; in fact they’re doing very much the opposite.

04 May, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: curating content


One important function that fans of media play is to help curate the best bits of content for the more casual fan. Like the tumblr blog, I Like the Part Where, fans have always shared their favorite moments as social currency among other fans. At one point this behavior centered around common spaces like the office watercooler. The behavior still exists; the common spaces have just shifted to online networks and platforms as well. Fans create wikis, blogs, or toss up clips on YouTube to share with their fan friends. All of this fan to fan communication creates perfect entry points for the casual fan or uncommitted observer. They know which episode to jump into, or get caught up on a complicated plot line to rejoin a program during its current season. It has also allowed shows themselves to become more complex in their story arcs and self allusion.

Just another reason why you shouldn’t sue your fans.

03 May, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: the hunt for gollum

THE HUNT FOR GOLLUM – FULL Trailer 1 from Independent Online Cinema on Vimeo.

Called The Hunt for Gollum, the film is the work of 150 volunteers, says director Chris Bouchard. “We’re essentially a bunch of fans and enthusiast filmmakers,” says Bouchard, who has put two years into the project. He made up the plot, which focuses on a search to find the deranged Gollum. The fear is that the wizened creature might reveal the whereabouts of the magic ring to the powers of darkness.

Fred Von Lohman, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says it’s not really clear whether Bouchard and his crew of volunteers are in violation of the copyright for Tolkien’s work. Von Lohman says fans have always written their own stories based on TV shows and movies. That’s legal. But a high-quality movie available over the Internet ['The Hunt for Gollum' is set to premiere on DailyMotion this Sunday] could change the game. [via NPR]

And best yet, the full HD film went online today. Go watch The Hunt for Gollum at Dailymotion.

(h/t to Matt for sending this over to me)

The Hunt for Gollum is just one work in a long history of fans creating their own films. Some use their fan work to help them find jobs within the film industry, and all do it for the love of their fellow fans. While I’m happy that NPR covered the film, it’s a bit disappointing they used their air-time to debate whether the fans would get sued or not. There’s so much more to the story, and so many opportunities here besides slapping down your biggest fans.

Give the film a watch and help spread this well produced piece of fandom. Do it for the fans.

29 Apr, 2009 – 10 comments

fans are the future of digital marketing

Thanks to everyone that commented and shared my posts last week. I hope I sparked a few thoughts.

Now here it is, my fan week round-up…

Today, brands must learn how to earn fans. This begins with courting existing communities to earn (not fabricate) credibility. After that, brands must provide the means to connect fans and give them something to do. After all, a dollar spent on fans is a dollar spent on R&D, retention, recruitment, loyalty and longevity.

- a week dedicated to fans and the future of marketing

here’s my rule of thumb for the question, “is it worthy of earning fans?” How many existing communities can you identify as being ‘courtable’ and demonstrate fandom? As Henry puts it, communities aren’t created, they’re courted. And if everything new is constructed from bits and pieces of pre-existing stuff (as Faris says), then you should be able to measure anything new by investigating which communities could be courted based on the stuff inside your new product or show.

- fans: will we earn any?

The mantra of web 2.0 has always been, “ask not what your users can do for you, ask what you can do for your users.” Mike Arauz, a fellow Strategist at Undercurrent, likes to say, “if I choose to tell my friend about your brand, it’s not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friend.” So the mantra of our brave new world might be, “ask not what people can do for you, ask what you can do for their friends.”

- fans: will they go along for the ride?

When I urge clients to look more closely at niche fan communities, I’m urging them to study the actions and social norms within these groups in order to identify any lead user behaviors that could go mainstream. Fans are creating unanticipated connections between technology, social groups, and media that will reward our attention. And the pace of the web demands we stay focused on centers of innovation, and more often, fan communities represent the undersea chimneys which give life to the next evolution of species.

- fans: lead users

Fan communities are indeed “self-organizing groups focused around the collective production, debate, and circulation of meanings, interpretations, and fantasies in response to various artifacts of contemporary popular culture.” Moreover, fan communities mobilize around unanswered questions.

Advertising is made for people who care… to pay attention. Fans care. Fans pay attention. But most messaging doesn’t create the tension that activates full fan communities. We’re still stuck on saturating a crowd of unwilling participants instead of mobilizing a community to create and spread a conversation.

- fans: mobilize a conversation

Images from my posts: (click the image to read the full post)

Quotes from more brilliant women and men: (click the image to read the full post)

And finally, if you’re interested in more fandom, get to know Joshua Green:

24 Apr, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: piracy


photo credit

I’ve argued here that piracy often reflects market failures on the part of producers rather than moral failures on the part of consumers. It isn’t that people will turn to illegal downloads because they want the content for free. My bet is that many of them would pay for this content but it is not legally being offered to them. We can compare this to the global interest generated by Ken Jenning’s phenomenal run on Jeopardy: Jeopardy was already syndicated in markets around the world so when he generated buzz, he drew people back to the local broadcaster who was selling the content in their markets. They could tune in and see day by day whether he stayed in the game. Right now, everyone’s still acting as if Susan Boyle was only one video but they will wake up tomorrow or the next day and discover that lots of those people want to see what happens to her next.

- Henry Jenkins, How Sarah Spread and What It Means (2009)

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.

22 Apr, 2009 – one comment

fans: copyright


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Corporations will allow the public to participate in the construction and representation of its creations or they will, eventually, compromise the commercial value of their properties. The new consumer will help create value or they will refuse it. Corporations have a right to keep copyright but they have an interest in releasing it. The economics of scarcity may dictate the first. Th e economics of plenitude dictate the second.

- Grant McCracken, Plenitude: Culture by Commotion (1997)

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.

22 Apr, 2009 – leave a comment

fans: lost control


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Mark Deuze has suggested at least two reasons why production companies get anxious around such [fan] activities: the creative department’s desire for creative control, the legal department’s concerns about controlling copyright. Here, we can add a third: the promotional department’s fears about losing control over their brand message. Of the three, the last is perhaps the most absurd, since in reality, these companies lost control a long time ago; the fans can do pretty much anything they want with these brands and with a high level of visibility and going after them is a bit like Brier Rabbit pummeling away at the tar baby. Yet, even pretty innovative companies are getting trapped in the internal politics around television production and promotion, incapable of forming meaningful partnerships with their most active and visible fans, and thus almost certain to start acting in ways that are going to leave them, to continue the metaphor, looking “stuck up”.

- Henry Jenkins (2009). Going “Mad”: Creating Fan Fiction 140 Characters at a Time

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.

21 Apr, 2009 – 2 comments

fans: will they go along for the ride?


Chances are, on a long enough timeline, every corporate marketing brainstorm hits the same grand idea: we should get our consumers to get their friends to buy our products. Without fail, we all go there eventually. Then we typically pad the idea with a lot of other things we want to ask people to do; like remix a song, vote on something, or make their own ad (woof). The do’ers in the room run off figuring out how to superimpose your head on a cartoon body while the thinkers in the room pat themselves on the back. We want fans to engage and participate; we just don’t put a lot of thought in why the hell they’d want to.

In their paper, The Moral Economy of Web 2.0, Josh Green and Henry Jenkins assert that users participate as much as they want to, depending on their skill, time, desire, interest, and knowledge. They participate as much as they want to, not as much as we want them to.

So, before you ask people to do something, think about just who you’re asking. Does this consumer/participator have the skills required? What do they need to know beforehand and have we made that clear? Are they available? Does it present a significant time sink to a hurried group?

Beyond expertise requirements, desire and interest raise important social concerns. Activity, or more traditionally consumption, is a much more social thing these days, especially on the web. As a user, you’d have to ask yourself if your friends were watching, and could be impacted by your choice, would you still commit to a public action on behalf of a particular brand?

The mantra of web 2.0 has always been, “ask not what your users can do for you, ask what you can do for your users.” Mike Arauz, a fellow Strategist at Undercurrent, likes to say, “if I choose to tell my friend about your brand, it’s not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friend.” So the mantra of our brave new world might be, “ask not what people can do for you, ask what you can do for their friends.”

Ultimately, fans are the ones that not only buy our products and consume our media, they proselytize; but not purely on our behalf. They share what they love with their social graph to engender respect, admiration and love. Only until we embed ourselves within the motivations and needs of our fans will we ever experience the kind of pass along we dream about.

Part of my week of posts dedicated to fans and the future of digital marketing. Tell your friends.