Is your brand attracting creators?

videographerWe used to watch TV. Now we make the videos. We used to read the content. Now we produce it. We used to look at the pictures. Now we take them, upload them and distribute them. We have evolved from spectators to creators.

OK, not all of us, but according to Forrester’s recently updated Social Technographics Ladder, a full 24 percent of all people who went online in 2009 performed one or more of these activities. Forrester calls them the Creators.

And while there are many more people labeled conversationalists (a new category for recognizing people who regularly update their status), joiners and spectators, I think that the 24 percent is the most interesting number.  For starters it’s a full 14 percent higher than a year ago.  Secondly, it’s 24 percent of the number of people who go online; without a doubt that universe is quite a bit larger than it was just a year earlier. So the actual number of people creating content grew even more than 14 percent.

Forrester's Social Media Ladder

Why does this matter? For the simple reason that it’s an opportunity for brands and marketers everywhere.  Here’s an example.  Budweiser produces a spot and it ends up on YouTube. Out of nowhere, one person comes along and creates her own tribute. Just for fun. Just because she wants to. Nice to be a brand with that’s loved.

But in another case, HP runs a campaign and discovers (or plans for) a similar phenomenon, except that in this case hundreds of people come along to create content. Why? Because HP invited them to. Granted the company offered up prize money. But that’s not always a requirement. Consider Art of the Trench. Burberry puts up a website with fashionable images of people wearing trench coats and simply invites anyone with a digital camera and internet access to add to the portfolio. And so it grows.

There are more examples that prove not just willingness but downright enthusiasm.  TJX Corporations’s YouTube caroling page got people to sing their favorite carols with very little convincing. Lonely Planet TV regularly receives videos from amateur content creators as they travel the world.

A few months ago I started The Next Great Generation, a community blog for Gen Y to share its thoughts on everything from life and work to brands and technology. So far nearly 100 writers have volunteered to write, edit and manage the blog in return for an opportunity to develop their voice, build their personal reputation, and be part of a community. Granted some were already “creators,” but for many, this was their first foray into content creation.

It strikes me that any brand, charity or organization can build a community of people who will photograph, compose, and produce content. They’ll shoot instructional videos on how they use your product, create parodies or interpretations of your last TV campaign, write stories, post recipes, and take photographs. The evidence is everywhere. From the equivalent of 130,000 full length feature films uploaded to YouTube every week, to the growing list of crowdsourcing startups confident there’s a business model in user generated content.

In Here Comes Everybody Clay Shirky suggests we need to unlearn the lesson that getting paid is the primary motivation for people to make an effort and do any serious work. Instead he reminds us that people don’t simply want to consume media, they want to produce it, shouting “Look what I made,” in the process.

Granted not every brand needs community created content. But is that the point? If consumers want to create it, if they’re willing to generate it, if it further induces them to become a highly effective medium as they pass that content around, don’t you want them creating it?  It’s one more way to listen, engage, inspire, build and mobilize your community.

Want content for your brand? Want a community of contributors who’ll spread the content around?  All you have to do is invite them and make them feel appreciated for their efforts. What are you waiting for?

Photo by: chibart

Ladder by:  Forrester

Thanks to Jason Falls for the inspiration for this post.