(Warning: Just would like to confess that I might make money from this…I’ll explain below…)
The concept of produsage does seem to be working in places like Wikipedia where what the people are trading with each other are information and ideas. But what happens when this comes into the real world? An innovative example is Threadless, an online t-shirt franchise which prints designs that are submitted by users then rated through other users to determine its wear-worthiness. Those whose ideas are accepted by the community and get their design printed not only gain recognition, but get paid actual cash. This is a prime example of “turning artefacts into products” which Bruns (2008) talks about where “a number of ‘user innovation communities’ …develop a collection of information and knowledge sufficient to allow for the industrial production of physical goods”. As more consumers voice their desires and demands to producers businesses are starting notice and take a turn in the way they do things (e.g. Dell). So what kind of implications does this have for us?
What does it mean…
Consumers will get to have more of a say in what they want and be able to participate in the production process. With the example of threadless, people not only get to be designers (create the design for shirt), but also are able to be fashion critiques (score and comment on it to advise the designer), models (post photos of them wearing the shirt) and part of the advertising team (by posting or sending a link to threadless to promote the website). More user participation means more brand loyalty; as people will feel more attached to the product if they have a stake in the production (Norman 2004).
They will need to open their doors for user participation, and be genuine in their efforts to benefit consumers. People have to come to respect Threadless because their owners prioritise the benefits of the communities they foster and retained their independence from investors in order to ensure customer interests always go first. With this new business model, placing profit-margins over the needs of consumers will be suicide. Only through the support of the community, creating, collaborating, monitoring, and refining ideas will the business strive. Of course, there are some limitations for produsage in the physical production (e.g. the actual shirts getting made) which will have to be covered by manufacturers and service providers (Bruns 2008). But if these trends continue, what and how these products and services are made will be directed by consumers, not the businesses, and businesses will merely be facilitators of this proccess (Owyang 2009).
I’m guessing most of my readers are communications students and therefore wondering where they fit in with this produsage business mix. According to Jeremiah Owyang (2009), in the future PR practitioners will turn their focus from representing brands to representing communities. According to him, instead of persuading people to buy/support certain brands, marketing roles will change into those where they step-in for communities with certain demands for a product/service and communicate them to businesses who will then have to meet them. I think this view is interesting but still seperates the producer/consumer divide. If the produsage model was fully adopted, the users will be the primary advertisers. Word-of-mouth and viral marketing are powerful tools that Threadless has tapped into with their ‘street team’ intiative that actually pays users to spread the word. That’s right folks, if you click here and then actually went ahead and bought a shirt from the site, I get $1.50 credit for the sale! (hey, at least i’m being honest).
So would this mean an end to Advertising/Marketing/PR practitioners?? Probably not. I think brand image will still be something that will be powerful and have to be maintained, and those in the IMC/PR profession will probably still have to come up with ways that will attract the most interest, foster and maintain relations, and provide the tools which produsers and producers will be communicating through. In the end, whether we’re buying shirts with our slogan, orchestrating a new e-business, or promoting a brand we like, we’ll all be playing our part in the produsage process and being a part of a community of collaborators. Want to join the club?
Bruns, A. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production To Produsage. New York: Peter Lang
Linderman, M. 2008. 7 Reasons why Threadless rules. http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/68-7-reasons-why-threadless-rules (accessed May 25 2009).
Norman, D. A. 2004. Design & Emotion.http://www.design-emotion.com/2004/12/15/getting-emotional-with-donald-norman/ (Accessed 25 May 09).
Owyang, J. 2009. Future of PR: When Agencies Represent Communities –Not Brands. http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/03/29/future-of-pr-when-agencies-represent-communities-not-brands/ (accessed 25 May 09)