In the shift from the established publisher (active) and consumer (passive) model of media production and consumption to a more interactive social participatory model of media sharing between producers and consumers, many new behaviours are emerging. Some of the evangelists for the new model of social media are ironically its worst performers in that they fail to practice what they preach.
Three recent examples that have really annoyed me are SBS TV Australia and production company Freehand’s sham recruitment process for presenters for their Top Gear Australia program, tech blog Mashable’s call for new contributors and Australian musician Pinky Beecroft’s unstated editorial policy on his PBrectangle social network.
Like 4000 others I made a lame amateur video application for Top Gear knowing I had almost no chance of being selected, but I participated because they told us that they wanted new faces on the screen with new personalities. I have those things. I’ve been on national TV before in my previous life as an academic. I can take direction and write as well as (or better than) any journalist. Maybe they would see something in me they liked.
But they didn’t really want any of these things at all. After wasting the time of thousands of eager applicants, the Australian hosts are three white men, two are established mainstream media professionals and the third is a professional driver for Porsche and Audi. Why bother trying to crowdsource your presenters if you really want the same type of people on the screen?
Three Aussie blokes with no charm will result in a boring show. I predict it will be a lame embarrassment that will quickly be scrapped, pretty much like most local editions of foreign magazines and American remakes of English and European movies. The producers of remakes and local editions completely miss the point of the charm of the original product.
Part of Top Gear’s charm is its Englishness. Top Gear is fun and funny because the hosts are English eccentrics. English humour from Spike Milligan to The Office is extremely popular in Australia, and a significant part of SBS’s audience is watching Top Gear because of its eccentric charm, not because of the cars.
It’s a window into a world I do not live in. When local editions and remakes like this come out they’re boring because they show me the world I live in, and are thus superfluous. I already know what my own environment is like. I want to learn about somewhere else. This is the reason travel is such a popular form of recreation.
The second crowdsourcing failure is tech blog Mashable’s July call for new authors. I submitted an application with many relevant examples of my written work as requested and heard NOTHING. No response. No polite rejection. I’m not the only one. Then in August they made a second call for new authors. How completely insulting. Instead of responding appropriately to their audience they made themselves look like arrogant retards.
In the third example, Australian musician and songwriter Pinky Beecroft and his band the White Russians have recently released their debut album. As well as an official website and MySpace pages they set up a Ning based social network called the PBrectangle. I went to two shows, then posted reviews, photos and videos on my blog, on the PBrectangle and on Youtube.
Based on these contributions the PR company doing media for their album release contacted me and offered me a review copy of the CD if I would review it on my blog and on the PBrectangle, and I promptly published a detailed and very positive review.
Pinky wasn’t happy about some of the things I said in my second gig review and we had a civilised debate about it. He thanked me for the positive album review but then emailed me and asked me if I would accept him removing some of the photos and all of the videos I had posted to the PBrectangle because he didn’t think they were good enough and did not positively represent the band.
I responded saying that in my opinion rejecting user generated content is not an effective response for a online community manager (only spam or hate speech should be automatically deleted), and that communities need to encourage participation, even if it is not very good, rather than discourage it. On an official site, a content producer maintains professional standards for content. In a social network, those standards would reject most of the content produced by the community.
Online audiences want more content, not less, and are willing to accept lower quality in exchange for greater quantity. This is a very difficult concept for legacy media professionals to understand. They are used to controlling content production and maintaining an artificial scarcity of high quality content. They don’t understand what online audiences want and struggle to accept this new and fundamentally different definition of value.
As a regular contributor to the PBrectangle, I produced a high quantity of average UGC quality content. My blog posts about his band have been read about 500 times, and my videos viewed on Youtube about 850 times. The audience had determined that this content had value to them but it was not good enough for Pinky. Without enthusiastic contributors like me, the PBrectangle will probably fail.
We control the conversation now
The message to media corporations and professional content producers exploring social media is simple. Don’t start something you can’t finish. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t mislead your audience and community or waste their time. We control the conversation now, not you. Treat us with respect. Don’t turn a positive opportunity into a negative experience whereby you encourage your audience to criticise and abandon you. You need to understand that if you treat your audience with disdain we will reciprocate with the enmity you deserve.