Saturday, November 26, 2011

When Your Fans Love Your Work - and Treat It Like Their Own

In an increasingly digital world, there are two kind of content creators: The Open and The Closed.

Closed content creators are focused on the rules of content use that they grew up with in the 20th century. Content is the sole possession of its creator and/or the company that licensed that content. While Fair Use is often acknowledged by both content creators and users, some companies are less likely to actually allow free and fair use of images and words - even when that use actually affects their bottom line positively.

In a world where tools to create video, audio, illustrative and text-based mashups and parodies are common, and information available on the Internet is seen as open-source, even when it is copyrighted, it becomes critical for any company to know when to establish Fair Use policies for consumers of that company's content.

Most companies react to their consumer's use of their content with the legal equivalent of swatting at a swarm of mosquitoes. These shotgun tactics might, in fact, slow down use of your content, but just as swatting at mosquitoes is unlikely to eradicate biting, this kind of legal action does little in the long run to stop consumer reworking of your content.

More importantly, in many cases, there are perfectly good reasons why you should encourage your consumers to take your content and run with it.

Today we're going to look at situations when you should allow your consumers to use and reuse your content.

When to Become an Open Content Creator:

When you have nothing to lose

You and your company are just getting started, you have a modest audience and a modest market. At this point, the absolute most important thing for you is to get the word out. In this case, it's probably the best of all worlds if you provide your consumers with materials to mashup, remake and parody. Create contests where you set the usage rules. Provide images and ideas, even tools to help your fans create and expand your audience.

When you have a huge audience

Let's be honest here. Is a fan-written story about Harry Potter really a threat to the franchise? No, and despite what Warner Brothers says, it never can be. The reality is that every story, every piece of art, every parody video keesp that fandom alive one more day. And it may even draw a new fan in, long after the series itself has ended.

When your name has saturated the potential audience, let go of your creation. There is nothing anyone can do to hurt you.

When you are growing rapidly beyond your ability to manage

Your new idea has gone viral. Peoples' interest in it is off the charts. You cannot and should not attempt to control the property. Let it fly, let it live! Allow your advocates to work for you through contests and rewards. Give them a chance to be part of your team while your real team upgrades the site infrastructure.

When your potential audience is small

There's niches, and there's micro-niches. A niche is marketing to Lithuanians, priests, or left-handed people. A micro-niche is marketing to left-handed Lithuanian priests. There are only going to be so many people who fit your niche, no matter how much promotion you do.

Because you cannot knock on doors to find every single person who might potentially be out there who would be the perfect market for your product or service, it makes a lot of sense to let your audience help you. When they can remix and rework your content so that it attracts new consumers, it's a win-win for everyone.

Giving your fans a chance to own your work makes them more likely to want to own your work.
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