Monday, April 19, 2010

Four Lobes of a Media Channel

When you have a media channel such as Facebook, YouTube, or Hulu, several groups of people want in on the action. We are first most consciously aware of the people—whoever they are. Next we see what it is the people are crowding around to experience. Then we suffer the obligatory ad impressions, which drives the whole thing as a business. Lastly, most of us go unaware of the people behind the scenes—the creative genius who founded the enterprise.

The people are the audience—everyone from the casual browser to the dedicated fanatic. The people are the main reason for the channel in the first place. Without them, there is no point in building a website at all. Unfortunately, the larger the crowd, the easier it is to forget how important they are. It is especially easy to ignore the power of the ├╝berfans who make up the "tribe" that will preach the message of this channel's value.

However convenient it is to have a mode of communication, it is important that there is something to talk about and engage in. This is where developers come onto the scene. Depending on the channel's specific personality, they might show up sporadically and bring a variety of different media. Facebook's platform for communcation took precedence over the now-prevalent apps and games that have been developed for it. YouTube was open to user-submitted video before anyone had heard of it. And by contrast, Hulu contains only commercially created media.

Ultimately, all the people gathered around cost-free media become targets of commercial interests. There really is no way to talk about this practice without it sounding bad, but without advertising the people have to pay for the media directly. Creators know it's not really cost-free, even when it's a labor of love. For that reason, it is easy to give into the temptation to over-power your audience with ads—afterall, the more space you sell, the more money you make.

Money is a wonderful thing, especially when it enables you to do more of what is important to you—what is important to the world. However, offending your audience is hardly productive. There need to be referees between the forces of development and sponsorship, else the two will merge into an ugly beast. These orchestrators must communicate with the people (especially the ├╝berfans) to keep a running score of how they're doing, then actually respond in kind.

I'm not criticizing any channel, I'm merely offering a warning. Whenever a company forgets the people, it starts to die. Nobody benefits from that. However, the death of a once-great giant means open opportunity for a newcomer to set things right—by listening.
Tribes - The phenomenal book by Seth Godin. What he calles "tribes" are groups of people who are loyal to an idea and a leader, and who have a channel through which to communicate. Are you part of a mass, or a tribe?

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