Creativity and the Internet

The beauty of the internet is its low barriers to entry. In practice, anyone can create a website, state an idea or build a community. Its democratic nature means that interesting, funny, terrible or world-changing ideas can be flagged and spread in the click of a mouse.

In the past you would have needed relationships with mass media to build any kind of awareness and a track record for anyone to take your idea seriously. Nowadays that’s not the case. Creative ideas are now noticed and judged on their own merits.

One of the benefits of this new meritocracy is the rise of great ideas from young people gaining traction in a grown-up world. When you’re younger you don’t have the same institutionalised thoughts and processes and you’re more willing to spend time on fun and new ideas. Full-time jobs can tend to get in the way too.

The internet helps magnify these ideas, this creativity, and provide value and recognition for the creator – no matter their age. There’s been loads of examples, but two recent ones in different areas, I wanted to write about.

Alex Tew’s had quite a lot of press. He needed to raise a few quid to pay for University so he thought up the concept of Million Dollar Homepage. The idea is quite simple, create a virtual billboard and selling screen real-estate for $1 a pop. It was a new twist on an existing idea (advertising), he used the buzz of the internet to magnify it and whoosh! Less than six months later he has $1million.

This means he’s got some capital for some new ideas (University’s been deferred for a year). Plus he’s got good recognition that will help him be heard.

Someone else who’s also been heard is 16 year-old Laurie Pycroft. He decided that he didn’t agree with animal rights protestors and felt that the scientific discoveries that have been made from testing on animals were worthwhile. He also believed that it wasn’t fair that the Animal Liberation Front activities, some of which he felt was merely intimidation, was resulting in a new research centre not being built. He formed Pro-Test and started campaigning for animal tests.

Now whether you agree or disagree with his politics what he has managed to do is successfully use his strong belief and couple it with the power of the internet. He managed to create a campaign and draw in supporters who had been, up to that point, scared of the consequences of standing up and being counted.

As the internet, and its use, develops more and more, it is these unique and passionate ideas that will be the successful ones. Anyone, or any business, that operates in a world where there are barriers to supporting this creativity and new thinking will find themselves circumvented by 16 year olds with clear minds and great ideas. With swarms of individuals now deciding what is popular, or useful, those steeped in traditional thinking will have to consider how effective their deicsion making and product development will be against this new competition.

Moyles Joins MySpace

MySpace is the acclaimed social networking site that the kids just love. It’s grown very quickly and, more importantly, seems to have gained real traction with the audience, everyone’s got a profile.

Its movement from underground hit to mainstream star happened initially with its purchase by NewsCorp for a mere $580m, since then everyone’s getting a profile to connct with the kids. Latest band-wagon jumper is Radio 1 saviour Chris Moyles.

Robert Hamman and Simon Waldman pick up on some of the negatives, but what I think is interesting is the way he’s done it compared to most others. Like most things that Chris does, it seems completely spontaneous, but I would wager it’s actually been very cleverly structured. Most mainstream-media that have jumped on board are merely going for the “add-me and then I appear to your friends and look cool!” approach. What Moyles has cleverly done is actively reject people who want to be his friend.

This morning he did a few riffs stating that “i’m only adding fit birds unless you give me a good reason”. I think this is very clever as it creates active demand for listeners wanting to be a friend and if they get through it brings them closer to the show and increases loyalty.

The fact that he’s only adding “fit girls” is also quite clever. Firstly it is consistent with the Moyles brand, but secondly it targets the part of the audience he is weakest with. Contrary to popular opinion, girls do listen to the show, but the ones that don’t will probably be the toughest resisters, the hardest to make tune in to the show. By building up a large community of female listeners he’ll begin to change this perception, or at least prompt this audience to trial his show.

Oi! Leave It!

My friend Helen got scared by the length of my blog posts and the fact that they didn’t tell readers what I had for lunch. This, you see, is what Helen equates with top blog posting. So, today’s lunch was chicken pie, veg and a potato-y thing. It was prepared by the good people in the GCap caff and served to me by Dorris, who had an evil glint in her eye as she shovelled a huge pile onto my plate. I think she’s trying to fatten me up.

Anyway, I digress. I had a bit of shock last week as I discovered that I had a ‘celebrity’ neighbour in the form of ex-Bill and ex-Eastender cast-member Billy Murray, or Johnny Allen as he’s more commonly known. It was a bit of a surprise as I was on the phone to Russ and didn’t notice Johnny was picking up his post at the mailbox in our entrance hall, as the lift arrived and we both got in, I suddenly realised who it was. “Fifth floor!” I said, as he pushed my button. As the doors then opened I gave him a friendly neighbourly nod and hopped out. My housemate Mark, didn’t really share the enthusiasm, and as a Corrie watcher it took me quite a long time to explain who this ‘celebrity’ was, rather defeating the object.

I then had another lift moment with him the other day, as it reached the ground floor the door opened and he was standing directly opposite, with one of those mobile-phone hands-free things in his ear. This did make me jump slightly and I felt like an Albert Square ner’do’well about to get their head kicked in. In fact I just said ‘Hello’, as did he, and we both went on our way.

Apparently the block where we live has suddenly become a paparazzi heaven, it even gets quite a nice write-up in The People.

Broadcasting to Communities

Smash! Hits, a magazine I always liked, but never bought, is closing. When asked about it, Mark Frith, an ex-editor and now Heat’s head honcho says “Today’s teens want faster, deeper information about music and can now satisfy their hunger by accessing information on a whole range of new platforms including TV, the internet, mobile and so on.” Marcus Rich, head of Emap’s Metro division, added that the magazine’s market of 11- to 14-year-old girls has much more eclectic views nowadays. “We were noticing that the traditional tribal allegiances of liking pop or rock has changed.”

I think that Marcus’ comment was a little odd and maybe shows part of the reason that the magazine’s gone to the dumper. We live in a diverged world. Up until ten years ago there was no multi-channel TV, no internet and no explosion in choice. People watched Top of the Pops because it was the only way for them to access music. Unsurprisingly when you give consumers 20 music TV channels and software that allows them to download any music for free, tuning in at a specific time on a specific channel to watch things that someone else thinks I like, no-longer sounds that appealing.

Now, whilst a divergent world creates new problems it also creates new opportunities. Consumers love control but they need some tools to be able to make the most of it. Multi-channel TV/Sky+ wouldn’t be as good if there was no EPG for viewers to use.

With millions of bits of content, narrative can become very important, but only when it doesn’t get in the way of consumer’s control, but merely assists it. Smash! Hits is accessible in print, online, on music TV, on digital radio and on your mobile phone. The theory is that this makes it easier to create touch-points with consumers. But that’s wrong. All it is doing is positioning itself as a distributor of content it has chosen. Yes, some of the platforms it has offer editorial but it is only applied to pre-vetted material that meets its brand values, and doesn’t have the breadth of variety that consumers demand, something Marcus indeed pointed out.

What Smash! Hits could have had was a true community. Across its multiple platforms Smash! Hits obviously reaches lots of people – most of which were never turned into magazine readers. There could of been a great opportunity of using its broadcast channels to build a tight community of users who themselves could have judged what a Smash! Hit was. The magazine would just become the codified version of their changing community.

I believe that today, as choice explodes, volume of media consumption is going to fall. Broadcast will still retain large reach, it’s hours however are likely to be constantly eroded. To survive, broadcast media will have to use the mass audience it generates and start selling them something other than third parties adverts or sponsorship. They are going to have to tie consumers further into their own product and start selling things themselves. “Buying space on your own billboard” will allow companies to create new revenue opportunities as the nature of advertising changes.

Whilst the shopping channels did transactional TV first, everyone’s jumping on it now. You only have to scan through Freeview to see the number of pay-quizzes appearing on previously mainstream channels. I imagine when you’re ITV1 and looking at ad revenue vs pay-interactions at 11.30pm your faith in the advertising model must start to falter.

These operations are crude in comparison about what will come later. At the moment they’re a quick way to make a buck, but the mindset is still stuck in the advertising world. The thinking is just geared around exposing this ‘programming’ to as many people as possible and, hey, if 0.1% call in we’re in the money. It’s the televisual equivalent on junk mail and media savvy consumers, who now have true control, will simply navigate away when they tire of it.

The shopping channels have been around for years and do it much better. With so much competition they need to create emotional ties with their shoppers. Cheesy personality presenters, calls from shoppers with the stations remembering and mentioning their purchases, asking them how they got on with the toaster they bought last week. That’s what keeps their conumers connected to their brands.

Other media are going to have to get community, fast, and apply it to the bulky audiences they have today, before it’s too late and they’re all gone. In today’s MediaGuardian, Paul Robinson asks why don’t all commercial radio station presenters have blogs? and he’s right. But that in itself doesn’t go far enough. Creating that authentic relationship is important and radio presenters through blogs can work to help to give your brand a more positive feel, but i’d go much further.

If a radio station wants to position itself as a ‘trusted guide’ and help enable consumer’s own control it needs to offer all elements of its operation to the consumer to reflect this new openess. Yes, get the presenter to blog, but get the broadcast assistant and the producer to do the same, and the Head of Music, and the engineer, and the receptionist. Use their unique view, message and thoughts to support the overall brand feel of the station. Encourage them all to link to each other, highlighting good posts and interesting thoughts. Let them all point to listeners’ blogs and thoughts, this will encourage them to want to be involved in your discussions and tie them closer to your brand. You won’t have ‘tricked’ them into trusting you – they’ll ‘actually’ trust you. It’s trust you’ve earned and trust that you’ll then have to maintain.

Blogs from individual personalities are good, but they’re just a new form of broadcasting, especially if they aren’t acknowledging (or even allowing) comments. To create a community you need to go further, much further. If whilst you contemplating how you would do this and you start to think “the PR team are going to go mad” – then you’re probably on the right track.

Robert Scoble has single-handedly kick started a never-ending conversation about his employer, Microsoft, by acknowledging, guess-what, that there’s always been a conversation about Microsoft! They’ve just never bothered to join in. The result has been growing trust from developers and consumers and a new-found respect for the people who work there has begun to grow. He’s recently bounced his publisher into starting a blog because he wants to build them into the conversation too.

We spend more time with people we have relationships with, if you’re in a market that’s losing share from massively expanded competition you need to think about whether you broadcast to them, or engage with them. If you build a true relationship with your consumer there’s a much greater chance that they’ll be around next year, something that’s too late for Smash! Hits magazine.