There was an article on Techdirt on Friday pointing to an interesting paper about how Swedish record labels engage fan communities as part of their marketing efforts. Apparently they do so pretty successfully, which is good to hear.

The raison d’etre for the paper is to say that this shouldn’t be thought of as exploitation in the ‘clever music labels get fans to do free work’ sense. Rather, we should see fans as individuals who make rational trade-offs about the value they put-in and take-out from their relationships with brands, a lot of which is non-monetary. Moreover they are conscious of the risk of exploitation and take steps to protect themselves.

I warm to this view of fans (or any member of any community) as intelligent people with feelings and complex motivations. That is much closer to reality than the one-dimensional money focused view of some economists and the ‘witless pawn to be exploited’ view of some other commentators.

The notion of ‘fan communities’ working with product companies (aka brand owners) for mutual benefit is, of course, applicable beyond music, as is the notion of the value equation.

I am hearing more and more examples of companies creating communities around products that on the face of it might not seem interesting enough to generate engagement, but which have come up with seemingly compelling value equations. It is early days yet for many of these and it will be interesting to see how they develop, but I like the way they are thinking.

This sort of development could herald a shift in the way marketing budgets are allocated away from buying media and towards hiring community management personnel.

If anyone knows of any good lists and/or stats for projects like this I’d be keen to see it.

From mobile stuck in my hotel room in China, so apologies for the lack of links and formatting.

  • Hi Nic, enjoy China!
    We are trying to do the same in our start-up. We are telling our small community of users to engage with us to shape the product we are currently developing. It’s not about testing an alpha or beta for bugs. It’s really about working with us on the product features, design, etc. It takes a lot of hard work to make it happen, especially when you have only a partial product to show. We are at the beginning of it but it’s picking up nicely and its really satisfying to interact in this way with a community.

  • Hi Nic, enjoy China!
    We are trying to do the same in our start-up. We are telling our small community of users to engage with us to shape the product we are currently developing. It’s not about testing an alpha or beta for bugs. It’s really about working with us on the product features, design, etc. It takes a lot of hard work to make it happen, especially when you have only a partial product to show. We are at the beginning of it but it’s picking up nicely and its really satisfying to interact in this way with a community.

  • Hi there Nic

    We have been running brand communities and "ambassador" programmes for the past few years – specifically in the youth market and covering both online and offline activity. It’s not just about product development (but clients do use this for ongoing research and feedback) but more about harnessing word of mouth as a marketing tool, and – importantly – seeding product and opinion amongst those with large influence maps. Companies such as EA have been doing this for years and have their own community management team, and we work alongside them to recruit young influencers and prime the market for new releases.

    Stats on the effectiveness of this marketing are still nascent, but we find Insiders and word of mouth communities around brands can drive web traffic and sales much more cost-effectively than above the line advertising. We know how a friend’s recommendation is more impactful than any other form of marketing – but for hard evidence the key lies in tracking the origination of the message and linking the subsequent "influence network" it generates to that message. As an example, for Sega we ran a small community of only 75 kids who generated an audience reach of 181,348 from 10,335 message instances, including parties, online reviews, fan sites and so on. We have quite a range of examples like this – for example, for a declining carbonated soft drink (CSD), 50 kids increased web traffic by 600% and increased sales by 10% where the overall CSD market declined by 10%.

    As a further point, many of the "Insiders" we use across the world are generated through the community sites and virtual worlds we create, where we can also place brands and products in an immersive way. We see kids actively enjoying the relationship with the brands – they even messaged and thanked Dr Pepper repeatedly on one of our sites for gifting them a new room, so this sort of involvement is not seen as cynically by the target audience as many would assume. In some research we conducted recently, they are positive about community advertising: http://interactive.dubitlimited.com/research.

    So we believe it works, both offline and through creating a brand community online – and in a tough market where above the line ads are proving difficult to justify, marketeers are wanting to get closer to the customer and use more viral means. And the young people, in our experience, love getting involved. Sure, there are some freebies in it for them, but the mere fact that a brand is taking the time to work with them counts for much more, and genuinely recuits them as a long-term consumer and friend.

    Hope this helps – as I say, stats are still difficult to get hold of but if you want more case studies just let me know.

    Ian
    Dubit
    interactive.dubitlimited.com

  • Hi there Nic

    We have been running brand communities and "ambassador" programmes for the past few years – specifically in the youth market and covering both online and offline activity. It’s not just about product development (but clients do use this for ongoing research and feedback) but more about harnessing word of mouth as a marketing tool, and – importantly – seeding product and opinion amongst those with large influence maps. Companies such as EA have been doing this for years and have their own community management team, and we work alongside them to recruit young influencers and prime the market for new releases.

    Stats on the effectiveness of this marketing are still nascent, but we find Insiders and word of mouth communities around brands can drive web traffic and sales much more cost-effectively than above the line advertising. We know how a friend’s recommendation is more impactful than any other form of marketing – but for hard evidence the key lies in tracking the origination of the message and linking the subsequent "influence network" it generates to that message. As an example, for Sega we ran a small community of only 75 kids who generated an audience reach of 181,348 from 10,335 message instances, including parties, online reviews, fan sites and so on. We have quite a range of examples like this – for example, for a declining carbonated soft drink (CSD), 50 kids increased web traffic by 600% and increased sales by 10% where the overall CSD market declined by 10%.

    As a further point, many of the "Insiders" we use across the world are generated through the community sites and virtual worlds we create, where we can also place brands and products in an immersive way. We see kids actively enjoying the relationship with the brands – they even messaged and thanked Dr Pepper repeatedly on one of our sites for gifting them a new room, so this sort of involvement is not seen as cynically by the target audience as many would assume. In some research we conducted recently, they are positive about community advertising: http://interactive.dubitlimited.com/research.

    So we believe it works, both offline and through creating a brand community online – and in a tough market where above the line ads are proving difficult to justify, marketeers are wanting to get closer to the customer and use more viral means. And the young people, in our experience, love getting involved. Sure, there are some freebies in it for them, but the mere fact that a brand is taking the time to work with them counts for much more, and genuinely recuits them as a long-term consumer and friend.

    Hope this helps – as I say, stats are still difficult to get hold of but if you want more case studies just let me know.

    Ian
    Dubit
    interactive.dubitlimited.com

  • Robin

    I agree with the added value involving product communities can bring to a brand. In our own electronics community we are actively involving brands. We have several examples where people in our community do not only beta test products, but also come up with own product ideas, or generate buzz around specific products for the companies. In fact, several companies have even hired people from the community because of their community contributions!

  • Robin

    I agree with the added value involving product communities can bring to a brand. In our own electronics community we are actively involving brands. We have several examples where people in our community do not only beta test products, but also come up with own product ideas, or generate buzz around specific products for the companies. In fact, several companies have even hired people from the community because of their community contributions!

  • Thanks Nic for covering this. To fill in the link — the paper can be found at my blog here:

    http://www.onlinefandom.com/archives/fan-labor-exploitation-or-empowerment/

    There are many studies of fan communities, but few that focus on issues of fan labor. A special issue of the International Journal of Cultural Studies is due out next year which will include the final version of this paper along with others addressing this topic.

    Also a great resource, if you don’t already know it, is the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT run by Henry Jenkins (http://www.convergenceculture.org). The people involved in that (myself included) deal a lot with these issues.

    Cheers,
    Nancy Baym

  • Thanks Nic for covering this. To fill in the link — the paper can be found at my blog here:

    http://www.onlinefandom.com/archives/fan-labor-exploitation-or-empowerment/

    There are many studies of fan communities, but few that focus on issues of fan labor. A special issue of the International Journal of Cultural Studies is due out next year which will include the final version of this paper along with others addressing this topic.

    Also a great resource, if you don’t already know it, is the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT run by Henry Jenkins (http://www.convergenceculture.org). The people involved in that (myself included) deal a lot with these issues.

    Cheers,
    Nancy Baym

  • nic

    Thanks for the comments folks. And a particular thanks to Ian and Nancy for the resource pointers. Much appreciated.

  • nic

    Thanks for the comments folks. And a particular thanks to Ian and Nancy for the resource pointers. Much appreciated.