Architecture of Participation: Make your fans teachers

classes_from_kids

The impulse to teach is a powerful one. For me, it provides me with my Joseph Cambell “bliss.”

It’s not just me, of course, who has this compulsion to share what I know. My kids (ages 6 and 8) recently set up an elaborate instructional day for my wife and me. They made signs and schedules for the classes each was going to teach; Annabelle taught dance, Henry: arts and crafts.

They delighted in sharing information about something they felt they had expertise in.

I talk a lot about how the key to marketing is shifting the burden of promotion from the band/brand to the fan/customer. This truly is a requirement if you’re ever going to experience real growth. However, it’s easier said than done.

One way to shift this burden is to think of your fans/customers as teachers in waiting.

For a product/service/band to cross the chasm from early supporters to a larger group (early majority) the product/etc. must either improve one’s life without requiring the user to learn new skills, or – if it does require new skills to be learned – improve a customer’s life in a very substantial way. The DVD player crossed the chasm because of the former — it improved users’ lives without forcing new skills to be learned; it’s a VCR, but better. The iPod crossed because of the latter — it radically improved peoples’ lives, even though requiring new skills to be learned.

There’s an interesting relationship between products that do require new skills to be learned and teaching.

Think about it: if a new product/service/band requires the user to learn new skills, it means, axiomatically, that people have to invest time in understanding/appreciating the product. Once this time has been invested, and they are rewarded for their effort — i.e. the product really does improve their life; again, the iPod being a good example: hard to understand at first, but once grasped, impossible to imagine living without — the customer has a true knowledge surplus that is looking for an escape valve. That escape valve manifests in the form of teaching.

Those who mastered the iPod early on were the ones who taught others. They did this directly and by blogging, etc.

The same is true for pretty much every product/service/band that isn’t just an iterative approach that slightly improves upon a predecessor.

Whether it’s a new fitness fad (think about all the Cross Training or Tough Mudder “experts” out there right now) or bands (I was an R.E.M. “teacher” back when people were interested in deciphering what Stipe was going on about in “Laughing”; I had done the research, etc., and was eager to share. Phish, Rush, The Grateful Dead, At The Drive In, etc. all have experts who guide the “newbies.”) or wine, or technology, or cars.

Anything that has a steep learning curve that rewards those who make the climb, tends to result in compelling some percentage of those who took the time to understand the benefits of the product/service/band to help others understand. They become sherpas; guides who make the climb more navigable, and, thus, flatten the learning curve for others.

The key is that those who make the climb now have this knowledge surplus, and tend to actively look for people to foist this upon. Ever been around someone who has lost a bunch of weight because of a new diet? Ever been around someone who has recently started training for a marathon/taken up Yoga, etc.? They can’t shut up about it.

Same deal when someone has “cut the chord on cable.” They will expound relentlessly on how they’ve done this to anyone who will listen about the relative merits of the AppleTV versus Boxee.

Don’t get trapped around someone who has just “seen the light” about Thomas Pynchon or DFW, or had an epiphany regarding John Cage, or tasted their first Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

When something goes from esoteric to understandable, people have…well…something resembling a religious experience. (Of course, you really don’t want to be trapped around someone who has just had an actual religious revelation.)

Religious or otherwise, these people who have put work into something, and seen the light/benefit all become the same things: evangelizing teachers.

This is the best possible thing that can happen to a product/service/brand.

No longer does the company/band have to explain the (clearly, difficult to explain) benefits of their product/service/music, their customers/fans do it for them.

This is the truest “burden shift” in terms of having your customers promote your work that can possibly occur.

It’s imperative therefore, whether you’re a band or brand, that you encourage those who self-identify as potential evangelists with the tools to become teachers.

    Think about how certain restaurants have “hidden” menus.

    Think about how artists, such as Kristin Hersh provide access/benefit to super-fans.

    Think about how Yoga studios offer Teacher Training certificate classes, knowing that many/most of those who attend will never become official Yoga teachers.

    Think about how certain restaurants offer customers the opportunity to cook with the chef.

    Think about Avon (certainly MLM is frequently an unsavory example of this concept, but when it works…).

    Think of how many tech companies “promote” certain members of their forums to the role of moderator

    Video games.

    Easter eggs in DVDs, etc.

    up up down down left right left right B A

In each of the cases above, a certain group of people are more in-the-know than others, and therefore take the lead in exposing new people. They have knowledge about something they are passionate about, and are driven to seek out others for whom they can equalize this information asymmetry via their teaching.

There’s tremendous opportunity for most bands/brands to cultivate an environment — an architecture of participation — where their most passionate users become teachers. In so doing, they not only reward those who have put forth the effort to understand the benefit of the product/music, but also provide them with an outlet to share their knowledge, and, in so doing, attract new customers, some of whom will also become teachers, spreading the knowledge even further.

We are all teachers. A company/band who provides their customers/fans with the ability/permission to educate others about their company/band is creating bliss. Bliss sells.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>