There is only one thing that you can learn from The Muppets social media strategy

ImageI’ve read about 5 or 6 blog posts in the past month or so about the popular social media campaign surrounding the latest Muppet movie. In the past few weeks, they’ve been everywhere: YouTube, Google +, Facebook, etc, and of course all the big social media marketing blogs are weighing in on what other social media marketing people can learn from it.

Personally, I think there’s only one important thing to take away from The Muppets social media campaign: Be awesome like the Muppets. I personally don’t know anyone who dislikes the Muppets and if I did, I would probably judge their lack of humanity. The Muppets are the best. They are hilarious and fun and full of cheer and for many of us who grew up with them, they are like beloved friends. And of course, since it’s been proven (at least by Pew Research)  that most people are active on social media to connect with their friends, it’s a perfect venue for the Muppets to reintroduce themselves to the public.

So, if you are thinking that it may be great for your product/brand/company to have a cool Google + Hangout or mobile app like the Muppets did, I beg you to ask this question of yourself: “Is my product/brand/company awesome like The Muppets?” if that answer is no, you may wish to reconsider your strategy. Or more importantly, consider how you can channel a little bit of the awesomeness of the Muppets in what you do. Whether that’s a musical routine, or costumes, or movie parodies or wakka wakka jokes  do something that will make your company more fun and approachable (like actual fun, not marketing fun). THEN you can do that Google + Hangout and people will be more likely to join in, because you are awesome. Now if you will excuse me,. I’m going to go put on makeup and dress up right.

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Nine Inch Nails fan video project rebrands as pan-fandom collective

Interesting news for both fans of NIN and followers of fan culture, fan-works and ownership. The grassroots fan organized video production collective This One is On Us made some waves for their organization and dedication to documenting Nine Inch Nails last tour with high-quality video and audio recording. As mentioned in a TLF post from last year, this was done with the  approval of Trent Reznor, who loosened venue taping policies so that fans could participate. And as we presented at MIT, Nine Inch Nails has been highly supportive of fan remix/reuse.

With NIN on an indefinite hiatus, the TOIOU  fan community has announced a “rebranding” of the collective, now with  a broader, pan-fandom focus. The organization will no longer be NIN specific, based on the collective’s early draft of a mission statement, that states:

We aim to restore live music as a shared, passionate entity, and work with those who embrace new media and the realities of the Internet to build on their relationship with fans through collaboration and to create unique documents of their live events. Providing organizational, technical and financial support, we encourage fan communities to plan and execute first-rate film and audio recordings, and turn the resulting content into professional quality releases.

In addition, the organizers intend to formally establish TOIOU as a non-profit organization.

Interesting news, and worth watching. TOIOU was able to exist and succeed based in part because of the unusually collaborative and open relationship between Reznor and his fans. If TOIOU is to take this model and attempt to replicate it in other music fandoms, particularly for mainstream, big-ticket musical artists with particularly devoted live fanbases,  but a more restrictive approach to fan relations. I expect challenges for the group in future.

Metallica and their historically tight rein on fan-produced live recordings comes to mind because the band has been charging members for high-quality recordings of live performances for years now (yet they have also previously made money from fan recordings). Will TOIOU become a sort of fan advocacy organization? One that assists  fan-producers with the infrastructure support to pull of what the NIN fandom did? The current draft of the mission statement seems to imply this, but it is, admittedly, a work in progress.

YouTube has become a sort of live music library where fans (including myself) may share and upload videos of their favorite musician’s latest performances. For live music junkies there’s opportunity in this.  For record labels and big-ticket live music  promoters, there is a perceived threat. TOIOU has a lot of work cut our for it, but I am excited to see where it goes next.

When Cultures – and Subcultures – Collide on Twitter

The final game of the World Cup is tomorrow, an offline event that has the potential to shut down Twitter with the amount of online traffic it generates. Not that shutting down Twitter is much of a feat these days, considering how often I see the Fail Whale on a daily basis, but it’s still notable.

A few news stories have been published about the online impact of the World Cup. it’s especially interesting for fans in the U.S. Until recently soccer was primarily seen as a cult interest for sports fans in the United States, while it’s a way of life for fans pretty much everywhere else in the world. Due in part to the U.S. Soccer team’s decent performance in the competition this year, but also due to real time-global communications tools like Twitter, many United States sports fans actually participated in the global conversation about the World Cup. Anecdotally, I noticed some resentment among some U.S. Twitter users who stated their exasperation with the World Cup talk dominating Twitter conversation for the past month.

I noticed a similar pattern last year, and a couple of weeks ago, with the BET Awards, when for one Sunday evening, all of Twitter’s trending topics were dominated by hip-hop and R &B artists or other random musings about black popular culture. Last year’s BET awards discussion seemed to take some Twitter users by surprise and the resulting commentary turned nasty and at times racist. Since then the “news” of black Twitter users seems to have become more accepted, but there seems to always be a disruptive element whenever the “mainstream” of Twitter conversation (tech stuff, social media, Justin Bieber, celebrity death news) is temporarily silenced by unexpected conversation from a seemingly “niche” audience.

On a somewhat similar note, I remember being surprised (and delighted!) last year when briefly, the 10th anniversary of Nine Inch Nails “The Fragile” started trending on Twitter – seemingly organically, as in it was not a campaign of any sort. It was just something people wanted to talk about.

Of course, that is the curious power of a medium like Twitter, so driven by real-time conversation and offline events that people want to talk about. It’s not just the large, impactful, meaningful events that become part of the conversation, like the Iran elections, or the Gulf oil spill, but more mundane happenings, like a cable TV awards show, or the anniversary of an album, or whatever. Audiences – very different types of audiences, defined by behavior, nationality, fandom, age, you name it – use the tool to connect and talk about whatever is current and discussion-worthy, even if its not of universal interest.

These diverse conversations get little moments of awareness each day on Twitter, sometimes they take hold long enough in trending topics to be noticed by “outsiders” of the community having the conversation, which is when things get interesting. In the case of the World Cup it showed the potential for a truly global conversation to take place, and even bring “outliers” along for the ride. I think this is the headed toward being the standard now, understanding that the assumed audience of social media, and of Twitter specifically, is much more diverse than we are always aware of. As we see communications on Twitter allow for translation capability in the future (please?) hopefully we will see the opportunity and chaos of even more diverse conversation and community online

I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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I Saw A Movie – American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art

I’ve only recently had the income to even consider art collection as an option for me, but as a music fan, rock poster art has long been my medium of choice. With  new avenues for emerging gig poster artists to share their work (the Flatstock poster art show and gigposters.com to name a couple) it’s very easy for a novice collector and enthusiast like myself to become educated about the scene.

With such a long and rich history, there is plenty of fertile ground for a historian to explore and recently  filmmaker, Merle Becker explored this active community in the film American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art.

Becker interviewed dozens of artists, from 60’s poster icon Stanley Mouse to contemporary artists (and local favorites of mine,  Mat Daly and Jay Ryan) The film covers quite a bit of ground in a short period of time, moving from the San Franscico hippie scene, 80’s punk, 90’s grunge and the current indie rock poster scene in less than 90 minutes. For those new to rock poster art, it’s an effective and tantalizing primer to the world and a good entry point for new collectors as well.

I attended a screening of the film this weekend at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, which culminated with a Q & A with the director and a few local artists including Steve  Walters,  Jay Ryan and Mat Daly.

Fan labor and its impact is a continuing point of discussion here  at The Learned Fangirl, so one of the things that stuck out for me during the film and the discussion afterwards is that most of the artists involved in this movement started their careers as fans, making posters for their friends or the bands that they admired. In many cases the posters were ade without the official approval of the band or the venue where theor performance took place.

When asked about any official/legal partnerships between poster artist and band, everyone on the panel stated revealed that little more than a handshake agreement bound them. During the film, it was stated that many of the early rock poster artists would approach fans and venue owners with their wares, eithre splitting the income that was generated from on-site sales or using the posters as a “value-add” (for lack of a better term) with concert tickets.

Contrast this live-and-let-live approach to fan laborers and content owners with the very aggressive crackdown on fanworks that we see from large media companies that we’ve talked about on the blog in the past.

Sometimes I get so caught up in looking at the impact of contemporary fanworks like fan videos and mash-ups,  it’s easy for me to forget that the  economic overlap  between fan works and content creators certainly did not advent with the Internet.

Here’s  evidence that fan labor has historically been  beneficial for all parties involved, not just in  developing a cultural movement that supports content creators/owners, but in creating and supporting a brand as a whole; the music industry seems to lead the pack and lag behind when it comes to interaction with fans. The three way  continual push and pull between content creators/owners, marketing departments and their legal representation is a culprit for sure.

In light of the handshake deals between poster creators and bands, it’s especially interesting that one of the most important fair use cases revolves around the use of band posters. In 2006, in Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley, the Second Circuit held that it was “fair use” to use seven Grateful Dead posters — as part of a large collage of similar images — in a cultural history of the band, Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip (2003).

Anyone else see the film? Thoughts about it, or the gig poster scene in general?

What Non-Profits Could Learn From Fan Culture About Social Media

chuckHaving worked in the non-profit sector for several years, and being a fangirl all my life, I can say – seriously! – that fan culture and the non-profit world would have something in common: both often rely resource of highly motivated, passionate individuals using their time (and sometimes money) to spread the word about their cause – for non-profit volunteers, that cause could be human rights, for fans it might be keeping “Chuck” on the air.

I’m not going to place a value judgment on this, though I know a common criticism of fan culture is that “the world would be a better place if [fans] would spend that kind of time/energy working on less frivolous projects: volunteering in the community, politics, etc. (Probably not 100% fair or accurate, and Henry Jenkins has already formulated a very eloquent response to that critique in Textual Poachers)

What I do know is that when it comes to using social media, fans are savvy about using social media to organize and motivate groups to action, and fan culture may be a useful lens for non-profit professionals using social media to view their own campaigns.

No really, hear me out.

Build proactive allies/supporters through social media, not just “volunteers”

Fans are pretty self-motivated when they are excited about something, they’ll spread the word about a band/TV show/movie/ book series they’re into without even needing to be prompted or instructed to do so. Take the The Leaky Cauldron, the Harry Potter-focused fan website that has grown to become a sophisticated fan news outlet and online community, with active forums, blogs, a weekly podcast and fan- organized conferences. All of this was done with the indirect blessing of Potter author J.K. Rowling.

Or consider the “Save Chuck” campaign. When NBC’s nerd-spy show Chuck was on the bubble for cancellation, fans started a grassroots campaign via social media to inform Chuck‘s parent network (NBC) and major sponsor (Subway) about the show’s fan support.  Using Twitter, icons and badges, fans were mobilized to spread the word about Chuck online, and also used their fan power to raise money for The American Heart Association, a partner charity of Subway. The We Heart Chuck Campaign raised $10,000 for the AHA in one week, and Chuck was also saved in the process.

It’s about community, and it’s personal; consider giving people the tools to spread the word in their own way.

I think nothing gets a potential supporter jazzed quicker than feeling like they can DO SOMETHING NOW, even if it’s something small like posting a badge to their blog, or retweeting a message.

Some organizations seem to focus their social media efforts on acquisition: bringing traffic from Facebook to a website. But what about taking a “street team” approach to social media? That means giving supporters/volunteers the resources and space to spread the word themselves in the ways that they feel most comfortable and effective and to create their own communities of supporters with friends and family.

I’m not saying non-profits should give volunteers carte blanche to create their own online communities without any professional input. My point here is that fans  took it upon themselves to create and build a community of support from the ground up, supplying  fellow fans with the appropriate tools  help to take their message viral.

So how can non-profits inject some of that spirit into their own social media efforts?