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  • Sam Decker

Want Engagement? Participation? Get Fringy.

Today the Washington Post posted an article on MySpace being so “Last Year”. As said by journalist Yuki Noguchi,

Such is the social life of teens on the Internet: Powerful but fickle. Within several months’ time, a site can garner tens of millions of users who, just as quickly, might flock to the next place, making it hard for corporate America to make lasting investments in whatever’s hot now.

There are 122 million profiles on MySpace and 400,000 created each day. I don’t predict its demise overnight, but I’m sure Excite, Alta Vista, Tripod, iVillage, Geocities and other sites of their day had impressive stats in their day. This is the peak of MySpace’s day. Is this article the last click up the roller coaster hill?

As goes fashion, music, or anything else that is ‘in’, so does participation and engagement on web sites. Especially for young people…Millenials (or Gen Y) as they’re called.

They participate and contribute to what is cool, in, now, absurd, edgy, provocative, and new. After all, online participation is the form of brand exception for high-tech teens. Well, I guess it is for anyone…but to the point, for the young population the context of participation has to be edgy and new. And to create that, you need to get fringy.

In order for corporations to participate in a world of participation, user generated content, and citizen marketing, then their corporate imperative is to, shall we say, loosen up the tie! Perhaps let the legal team have a day off?

That’s not so easy. It requires an open-to-new-ideas corporate culture and the executive intestinal fortitude to take risks (get fringy).

GM took a risk with their Chevy Tahoe user generated advertising experiment. And people posted damaging sample ads. I think the fact that this came from GM made for a provocative invitation, at least among marketers! I would like to have heard how this got approved by GM lawyers.

I recently returned from a conference where Bob Garfield (Author and AdWeek columnist) found it appropriate to share a user-generated ipod porn commercial to an audience of strangers. It struck me that Apple was cool enough not to do anything about it. Fortunately and unfortunately, Ipod is a cool enough brand to motivate a talented brand evangelist to create a video worthy of being pulled off YouTube. Note: Bob is writing a book called “Listenomics”, which means companies will start marketing by listening instead of broadcasting.

Ze Frank spoke at this conference and highlighted the increased participation he has seen with his audience. Ze, however, is on the edge. With humor and sharp wit, he attracts over 100,000 viewers a day to his daily show. And the fringe (<5%) of his viewers reward him with conributions of videos, art, songs, photos, comments, and sponsorship. Thus feeding the engine he created with his own art. (Note: It was a privelige to get to know Ze at the conference. I’ve followed him for years, and I predict he will be on TV or film. I was not only impressed with his talent and intellect, but also his humility and appreciation.)

To get attention in an attention economy the context to participate has to be authentic, emotional, and (for the younger crowd) edgy. Whether to teens or otherwise, the cool, now, hip thing to check out is the cool, edgy, provocative thing. Be different, be funny, be odd. Speaking of odd, have you seen the Indian Midget video?

Do you want participation? Will you, your company, your product, your brand play on the edge? How will you do it? How do you convince others to loosen up?

Most of the Web is passive and utilitarian – to get something done or get information. But the viral, engaging, and participatory parts are on the edge.

There are 100M Millenials out there (ages 6-24), larger than the Baby Boomer population. 17% of their spending is online, over $200B. 52% of teens rely on social networks for purchase advice (Forrester). To get their time, participation, engagement and evangelism, it’s time to loosen up the tie and get fringy.


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