Snakes on a Plane: The Community Ecosystem

With my brother in town for the weekend, Snakes on a Plane Day didn’t come until today. I have to admit, I was one of the many suckers that got pulled into the fan-created hype machine. The funny thing about hype machines is that they tend to be largely ineffective and at best short-lived when they’re run by the studio, yet can be incredibly effective when fans take over. I had no real interest in the movie when I first heard about it. Even when the blogs, Web sites, text messaging flash groups, and even fan created video, comics, and apparel started popping up, my enthusiasm rose only a minor amount.

But by  SoaP Day, I was completely excited to see the movie. What caused the bump in interest? Two things… the first was the SoaP voicemail. Being able to send hilarious voicemails to my friends was a ton of fun. The second was seeing Samuel L. Jackson on the Daily Show. It’s not often that you see actors having so much fun when doing the press tour. Fun seems to be the key to this entire adventure, and fun has moved SoaP into lead spot at the box office. My review of the movie? Fun, fun, fun. Even my wife had a good time.

You’ll notice that, despite the attention being heaped on the fan efforts, what really sparked my interest was a studio created Web design project, and an old school media spot. Does this mean that fan efforts are still largely irrelevant? Not at all.

If you look at how the process of this movie creation played out, you’ll see a big mix of fan and studio efforts. You had the lead actor posting messages on online forums about changing the title, which kicked off a flurry of fan discussion. Fans found fun in the concept and started to develop content…by the metric ton. The studio changed the marketing efforts for the movie in reaction to the new found fan enthusiasm. Fans were engaged and thus more willing to engage, to give feedback, to offer support in building buzz. The studio helped to encourage these efforts by running traditional marketing efforts.

Snakes on a Plane isn’t a story about the power of fan support. It’s not even a story about the pitfalls of movie making by committee. It’s a story about the ecosystem that can be created when an organization works with their end consumers to create something bigger than either group alone.

According to Wikipedia, “in general terms an ecological system can be thought of as an assemblage of organisms living together with their environment, functioning as a loose unit.”

When in balance, ecosystems are surprisingly robust, growth happens, species flourish, everyone grows. In terms of consumer interaction, this is what I talk about when my mantra “Everybody goes home happy”.

But when an ecosystem is thrown off balance, it can easily and quickly fall apart. This is what happens when marketers think of the fan community as nothing more than “free marketing”. This is what happens when fans forget that businesses need to make money in order to stay in business. In an “Community Ecosystem”, much of the burden for maintaining that balance falls to the marketer, whether than like it or not. Marketers have the budgets, they have the time, and they have the vested interest in ensuring that the ecosystem stays viable.

Will New Line continue to foster and support the ecosystem that has formed around SoaP? Will it help it flourish into something far more encompassing than one movie? We’ll see. But if they don’t, and if this ecosystem collapses, they’ll have only themselves and a lack of vision to blame.

Jake McKee | 8:15 am | Tags: Blogs , community , snakesonaplane , ecosystem , movies | Bookmark on | Digg It

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