The rise of social media has resulted in a shift away from mass media towards a medium in which everyday users are able to participate in the production of news content. Terms such as ‘user created content’, ‘citizen journalist’, and ‘produsers’ all describe the participative features of social media that allow audiences/users to become producers of content (Hinton & Hjorth, 2014). Using the case study of Walt Disney’s D23 Fan Club, this article will explore the concept of ‘produsers’ and the trend towards audiences as participants in the production of media.
Produser as hybrid producer/consumer
Source: Bruns, A (2008)
Bruns (2008) defines ‘produsage’ as being “based on the collaborative engagement of (ideally, large) communities of participants in a shared project” (p. 4). The hybrid word ‘produsers’ describes the role of users as being increasingly enmeshed with the more traditional role of producers. He argues that this trend mirrors the Web 2.0 concept of content moving from a static delivery platform to dynamic collaboratively developed material. Ultimately, proponents of produsage believe that if a community is sufficiently large, it will be able to contribute greater value than a closed team of producers within an organisation.
Arguably the best example of produsage is Wikipedia and the way that a new generation of users has emerged who possess the technical skills and enthusiasm to create, and share, new content. Other projects which build on produsage can be seen in open source software development, multi-user online games, and design collaboration for material goods (Bruns, 2008).
In 2003, The Walt Disney Company was left dealing with a public relations crisis after Roy Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, quit the board and publicly criticised the direction that the company was heading in. As part of a new communications strategy to bolster their image, Walt Disney created the D23 Fan Club – a member only club for Disney’s loyal fans. The strategy behind this was that as fans had been ignored in favour of shareholders and the media for far too long, Walt Disney would reconnect with their fans through videos, blogs, social media, and real-life events.
The cornerstone of the reconnection with fans became an annual D23 expo, open to all Disney fans around the world. At the expos, Disney exhibit their latest movie projects, collaborations, technologies, and characters, meaning that fans attending the expo are the first people around the world to receive ‘insider’ information about new projects. Through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, fans are then encouraged to make videos, take photos, and write about the latest news coming out of Disney (Z. Mucha, personal communication, May 27, 2015).
The strategy has been hugely successful with over 66,000 people attending the 2014 expo. More importantly however, media around the event generated 20 billion media impressions as Disney fans produced and shared new content related to the insider information available at the expo (Z. Mucha, personal communication, May 27, 2015). By empowering fans to disseminate the company’s latest news, Disney has gained enormous world-wide exposure.
According to Lewis, Kaufhold, and Lasorsa (2009), citizen journalism is being practiced “when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another” (p. 166). Disney fans are not only acting as produsers by sharing photos and videos on social networking sites, according to Zenia Mucha, Chief Communications Officer of The Walt Disney Company, the community of dedicated fans are behaving as citizen journalists by writing and sharing new content about the D23 expo.
Applying this strategy elsewhere
Given the spectacular success of the Disney D23 expo to generate media, I believe aspects of this public relations strategy can be adopted by a not-for-profit organisation such as Clean Energy Future. Firstly, Disney’s approach reinforces the key learning of this Social Media Communication unit – an organisation’s social media platforms should offer audiences opportunities to participate in the production of content. Secondly, an organisation’s social media platforms need to be user-centred, not a top-down approach whereby communications professionals determine what an audience hears and reads.
Over the last five week, my research into the social media platforms of not-for-profit organisations has revealed that many organisations are still using a model based largely on one-way communication. I believe it would be advantageous for such organisations to adopt new strategies that encourage their audiences to become co-creators. This could be achieved by inviting an audience to submit content to be published on one of the organisation’s social media pages, with a moderator from the organisation determining the suitability of the content.
Using the D23 Fan Club model, it may also be clever strategy for not-for-profit organisations to hold more real-life events. If such events are organised well, and stimulating material such as special guests, celebrities, activism workshops, and briefings about issues are provided, the audience would be more likely to actively engage and produce new material for sharing on social media. Likewise, creating a special member only component of the organisation would provide a loyal community of users with insider information that could be disseminated via social media.
Trust and reputation
Lewis, Kaufhold, and Lasorsa (2009) state that the biggest consideration for an organisation using citizen journalists is the extent to which they are willing to “open the gates” (p. 165). This is a very serious consideration as the public have a great deal of trust in not-for-profit organisations and the information that they publish. The Edelman Trust Barometer, a reputable annual survey of trust by the world’s largest public relations agency, reveals year after year that Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are the world’s most trusted institutions. Evidently, there is inherent danger in empowering audiences to publish content in online spaces.
To neutralise this danger an organisation would need to employ a communications professional to moderate the social media pages and have final say over what is published. However, I believe the D23 Fan Club model of having a member only club that is given privileged access to new information also diminishes the threat of reputational damage. Because of their commitment to the cause, signed-up members of an organisation are more likely to contribute considered and well-informed content.
As the primary objective of my social media project was to combat ‘slacktivism’ by asking my audience to contact their local MP and formally voice their dissatisfaction about the federal government’s cut to the Renewable Energy Target, it seems appropriate to finish on this subject. Evgeny Morozov (2009) argues that “feel good online activism has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in ‘slacktivist’ campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group” (as cited in Fuchs, 2014, p. 188). Slacktivism, according to Morozov, is the activism of choice for a generation of lazy people.
I find it hard to disagree with Morozov’s view in light of my experience with this social media project. My audience engaged with content that was informative and political in nature, but no one engaged with content that asked them to take their activism off social media. I believe social networking sites offer organisations enormous potential for awareness raising, but significant challenges exist in attempting to translate that awareness into meaningful action. As the D23 Fan Club example shows, the answer undoubtedly lies in using social media in conjunction with innovative and stimulating real-life events.
Bruns, Axel. (2008) The Future Is User-Led: The Path towards Widespread Produsage. Fibreculture Journal, 11, 1-10. Retrieved from http://eprints.qut.edu.au
Deuze, M., Bruns, A., & Neuberger, C. (2007). Preparing for an age of participatory news. Journalism Practice, 1:3, 322-338. DOI: 10.1080/17512780701504864
Edelman. (2014). Trust in Government Plunges to Historic Low. Retrieved from http://www.edelman.com/news/trust-in-government-plunges-to-historic-low/
Fuchs, C. (2014). Social Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage Publishing.
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding Social Media. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Orwall, B. (2003, December 1). Roy Disney Quits Company Board and Calls on Eisner to Resign, too. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com
Seth C. Lewis , Kelly Kaufhold & Dominic L. Lasorsa (2010) Thinking About Citizen Journalism, Journalism Practice, 4:2, 163-179. DOI: 10.1080/14616700903156919
Walt Disney. (2015). D23 – The Official Disney Fan Club. Retrieved from https://d23.com/