Where the Audience “Value” Is with Social Media. Maybe

At the Inverge conference on Friday, Joshua Green, research manager for MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium, used the “AMC-Twittergate-Mad Men Nine” story to illustrate a fresh way of thinking about the entertainment value chain now that we’ve got social media. (AMC originally ordered some fans who were Tweeting as characters in Mad Men, its Emmy-nominated hit show, to cease and desist, then quickly backed down under blogosphere pressure.) Green proposes that, while brand ambassadors are useful, the real value of social media occurs when your entertainment content is “redacted.” That is, mashing up is worth more than passing along recommendations.

The argument is that the most intensive creation of cultural meaning happens among those fans that do things like fan fiction and re-mixing. Thus, the mission of an entertainment company is to give its rabid audience creators raw material to work with. That’s more valuable, in theory, because if a marketer can gracefully insert itself – or better, yet, interact – with that audience at this point of creation, it will be in a hugely valuable bonding position.

As mainstream new media offerings go, Green likes Hulu for its user experience and syndication strategy (including embed-ability) but he says it still behaves like old media, and is only subtly evolving scheduling and content scarcity. We’re in a world of entertainment plenty, he says, which means it’s all about letting the audience mash away and add cultural value.

Perhaps. But there are tons more viewers than creators out there, and the audience for user-created content is usually much, much smaller than for the mainstream broadcast product. Those Mad Men Twitter followers number in the hundreds or thousands, though the PR reach – a lot of it delivered via MSM – was much higher.

As usual, academics can get away with murder on this kind of topic. They don’t actually have to make a living creating and selling media, though Green was honest enough to admit he’s got some concerns about what do with his own forthcoming book vis a vis copyright and UGC. His thinking is provocative, if lacking silver bullet solutions.