Marketer/Starmaker: 15MB of Fame

I was at a conference a few weeks ago and found myself chatting, as you do at these things, with the person in charge of the online properties for a particularly well-known cable station. These online properties actually have a pretty solid reputation and tend to get a lot of traffic, both the raw number of people coming and the amount of time each person spends on the site. Clearly, this person was sitting on an advertising gold mine. She could easily sell a lot of impressions to a desirable demographic, but she also had a platform of interaction, through which the brand could deeply engage with the consumers.

I asked her for the secret. She told me: “We give people a chance to be famous.”

People’s desire to be famous for 15 seconds is alive and well. And this marketer had found a way to leverage that not only for her own brand but for advertisers as well. At this point, I reminded her that we were all famously promised 15 minutes of fame (not seconds), and she had just cut that down by 98.34 percent. She was nonplussed. I think she realized that she was actually giving people 15 megabytes of fame, which is far more valuable in today’s economy.

It occurred to me that making people famous is an extraordinarily powerful way to engage with consumers. While we often say that the consumer is in control and that she has all the power, we still recognize that brands wield enormous influence. We have the ability to help people become stars, either by providing an environment where they can become famous or a direct pathway to more traditional forms of stardom.

Both ways represent a unique strategy that can truly only be used online. Marketers can offer up fame not just for its own purposes but also as a way to find the most interesting, passionate, and loyal advocates and to bring casual consumers more closely into a brand experience.

Two Kinds of Fame

Marketers looking to use fame as a way to engage consumers should think about two different types of fame: Internet fame and traditional fame.

The more common, and really the reason we only get 15 seconds, is Internet fame. We all can think of an Internet “star.” The kid singing that Numa Numa song on YouTube was watched more that 15.5 million times. He’s definitely Internet famous. Internet fame can apply to anyone who has found her content niche and is flexing her ability to contribute. There may be a forum focused on a particular television show or brand. Perhaps someone has started a blog about a local athletic scene and everyone reads it. There are hundreds of examples out there.

This is the easiest kind of fame that a brand can enable, simply by creating an activity or a space where people’s actions are public. The best example of this is a forum where users are encouraged to create accounts and rewarded for doing so.

And when I say “rewards,” I don’t mean money. The point, remember is to give people the opportunity to be famous. The reward has to be based on a fame economy. That means letting people post and connect with others on the board and also to create data out of those actions and use them to convey status to any newbies on the site. The person who was online first, posts most often, gets the most recommendations, is quoted most often — these are the ingredients of Internet fame, and they need to be provided to the user in exchange for his or her participation.

The other kind of fame is a bit harder to achieve for many brands but is never really impossible. Traditional fame is just what we think it is: people who have become well known in traditional media. They’re on TV and the radio, in print, and so on. Generally speaking, the public puts a much higher value on this kind of fame, probably because there’s not nearly as much of it as there is Internet fame.

The woman who runs that cable channel has a very clear path to give people traditional fame and a clever approach for using it. She and her team comb through the forums and the communities looking for talented people who not only can write but also have a good sense of the characters and nature of the shows they are discussing. They give these people a chance to write for the shows themselves.

For non-entertainment marketers, this may be a bit tougher but it’s still a potential. If you run a forum or community, you should have a clear way of identifying the real talent inside of it. Using the points-style system described earlier, you can imagine an easy way to start pulling out the people who rise to the top of the experience.

15MB of Fame

When the quote was first made, 15 minutes was a reasonable but not extravagant fraction of the total media universe. Today, with all channels multiplied, 15 minutes is probably better thought of as 15 seconds. The ratio of personal fame time to total available fame time is probably about the same.

But online marketers can think instead of 15MB of fame. That is, we can give people the space and the opportunity to be famous. Those 15MB can then be consumed infinitely and by many people at the same time. That’s a different approach to fame — one that may be attractive to your audience.

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