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The Family Guy disses UGC

I have a love/ hate relationship with the show The Family Guy… sometimes I love it, sometimes it makes me cringe…and it’s certainly no Simpsons, but I digress. It is a hugely popular and mostly witty show that holds a coveted spot in the Fox lineup on Sunday nights. A night known for poking fun at the doings of the parent company.

Which is why it was no surprise, but quite poignant and laugh worthy, when they tackled user-generated content, or content by committee in certain instances, in their episode on Sunday. I wrote about the potential pitfalls of over-doing UGC back in the euphoric Snakes on a Plane days, and the point still stands – some things really do take expertise to make them great, and art is one of them, as the Family Guy writers sarcastically reminded.

At two points during the episode the frame freezes and a voiceover comes on asking for viewers to vote on what the character should say next – “text 1 if Stewie should X”. In each case, after the 3 options were presented (2 being a logical extension of the plot and 1 being completely unrelated), the “audience” chose the nonsensical that detracted from the story, but was “cool”.

Before being accused of being elitist, there is a great value in input, integration, and participation across the board, as I’ve been harping on since I started the blog. But… there is a downside, and it is great as well. Diluting artistic vision, and in the case of a TV show, a collaborative partnership of creative folk, by force-fitting audience/ user participation can end with an inferior product that under-delivers. That can damage reputation, sales, loyalty, future endeavours, employee morale – the gamut. It’s a balancing act and demands as much strategic planning as any other portion of a campaign. Does asking for UGC add value for the consumer and the brand? Does it make sense? Will it stand the test of time? Does it need to? Etc.

When done right (ala the Bengals or Nike) it’s a beautiful thing. When done wrong it’s, well, stupid.

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The changing anatomy of my online behaviour

Over the last 2 weeks I’ve noticed something about my online habits – they were being driven by primarily offline stimuli or personal silos. This was a significant enough change from the norm for me since, oh, 1995 when I got my first Internet connection. In the past 11 years I’ve surfed the web… clicking on banners, feeling lucky on Google, spending hours comparing prices or looking at vacation locations, Asking Jeeves, clicking on links in emails, blogrolls, message boards, or content on my merry way around the web. In a way I let the medium guide my behaviour and direction of my habits. I passively consumed the content and allowed my experience to be guided by the various entities I encountered.

The last two weeks (at least that’s when I started paying more serious attention) have been, well, a tad different. I’ve been busy catching up at work, I’ve been busy trying to read my RSS feeds & emails, and I’ve been out networking and strategizing in real life. This has left little time for any kind of surfing that wasn’t directly related to my immediate, or short-term needs. I clicked through to the articles that interested me from my email newsletters and bookmarked the ones to come back to. On occasion I followed a link from one of my RSS feeds to another site. Except… for the three TV commercials I saw while taking a break which prompted me to write down the URL’s (yes, with pen & paper!) and visit the websites. The commercials grabbed my attention because they were well executed, catchy, and had a memorable URL. And one prompted me to go out and buy the product (okay, fine, it’s the Trivial Pursuit Totally 80’s board game, I couldn’t resist even if the website was umm, not robust…).

Then there were the four conversations I had offline, that referenced something I googled when I got home (yes Google, I actually googled on Google), and explored in more depth. Two were brand related and confirm the power of WOM, and two were marketing related and confirm that content is king and SEO is more than a nice-to-have.

My web experience morphed into a self-directed one driven by stimuli that was important enough for me to take time to pay attention to and engage with.

As we continue to get more time crunched and content saturated how difficult will it be for companies to get themselves positively featured in my self-directed experience? The goal of social media and engagement is to ensure that happens, but as we’ve talked about at the various industry meet-ups and events, the conversation exists both offline and on and changes daily. A big challenge moving forward will be the ability to successfully integrate the conversations and messages online & offline, while continuing to provide real value for the customer. Focusing on one or the other (and being a medium evangelist vs. a customer evangelist) is counterintuitive to human interaction and behaviour.

[photo credit: olivander on Flickr]

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What is a conversation?

Can you define a “conversation”? And if you can, who decides which is the “right” definition?

Can you have a conversation without being engaged with who you are talking to? Do consumers care if you’re engaged, or if you’re transparent and authentic? Is it a mix?

Is the conversation directed, or guided, or initiated? Do you have to choose one in order to be part of the dance between brand and consumer?

Should the control for the type of conversation rest soley with the consumer?

I ask these questions because recently there have been attempts to define what is a conversation, what is not, and it all seems to me to be a waste of energy. I touched on this before in my post on blogging cornerstones, and the same issues keep popping up surrounding the “correct” way to interact.

A conversation in my opinion occurs when a brand initiaties, listens and responds (or just listens and responds) to their customer or prospect (or in other words, engages with them). It doesn’t matter if the company initiates the conversation by trying to build word-of-mouth around a product (especially if the product is exceptional), sends out relevant and solicited communications, joins a social networking site, or if the CEO starts a blog and solicits open feedback. It’s all about interacting and engaging with consumers. The conversation happens as they want it to, when they want it to, and in whatever medium they choose to engage in.

If the consumer is in control, then they get to define the terms…

[photo credit: dotpolka on Flickr]

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Back in the saddle…

In case you were wondering, I am alive and relatively well with a serious case of catch-up looming over the next few days. I’ve been unfortunately dealing with a family emergency and a touch of the flu the last couple of weeks so blogging has been pretty low on the priority list, but things are back to normal and the posts are backing up!

I’ll have a few up in the next couple of days.

In the meantime on the event front…

UsabilityCamp is coming to Toronto on Nov. 14th in conjunction with World Usability Day. Mira Jelic is organizing it and it should be a wonderful addition to the ‘camps’ that are bringing together a great network of people. Registration is closed, but keep an eye out for the next one! (Mira, apologies I was so late getting this up!)

Also on Nov. 14th Word Up! Canada’s Word of Mouth conference will be in town, and Shel Holtz is back for Third Tuesday.

Just a thought… we may need to start coordinating the dates of all these events ’cause I most certainly want to attend them all, but… umm… there’s only one of me. :)

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