December 14, 2007
Surrounded by Smart Folks: Fanscape and Communispace

While we've been working on rounding out the semester here at MIT and pushing several projects forward, I've had the chance to cross paths with quite a few interesting people. Of course, FoE2 brought all sorts of fascinating people through our doors, and I've been fortunate enough to follow up with more than a few of them.

One of those folks is Natalie Lent, who is coordinator of business development for Fanscape. Natalie, a Harvard grad who previously worked for Creative Artists, "works to determine how potential and existing clients can creatively utilize a multitude of non-traditional online marketing strategies to connect to their target audience in ways that are engaging, personalized and seamlessly integrated into their preferred online properties and communities."

In short, Fanscape is a company that works to create proselytizers for brands and media properties. According to their site, their approach is based on this concept: "If you bring people closer to the things they love and make them feel a part of the marketing process, they will become active participants in the growth and awareness of a musician, movie, or product."

Unfortunately, Natalie and I didn't have the chance to talk as much as we'd planned at FoE2, but we're hoping to have her back up MIT way soon. Not only does her organization work with some common partners with the Consortium, but she approaches her work enthusiastically.

As we've seen, encouraging proselytizers can be tricky business. As the fan labor panel we had here at FoE2 discussed, fans want to be respected and to have their opinions heard, but companies have to be very careful riding the line between building business models around active fan opinion and exploiting audiences. Fanscape seems to have a strong approach and philosophy. I encourage our readers to learn more about the company by perusing their site. I know I plan to.

Another group I'd like to recommend you take more look at if you have not yet had the chance is Communispace, a company based in Watertown here in the Boston area. Since 1999, Communispace has specialized in creating closed online communities of customers for its clients, a community of users that are given greater interaction with their favorite brands or services, and others who share an interest in those brands and services, and members of the company itself. They stress that they want to create an environment where clients "are building long term relationships with customers and generating continuous intelligence that helps them innovate and grow."

In short, this is an environment somewhere between the guided construction of a focus group and the wild jungle of an open online forum. Here, the initial environment is constructed, and some official questions or surveys are occasionally posed, but a community is set up for users to interact with one another and form communities and create discussion naturally. Their approach is worth a look. The folks that I met on my jaunt out to Communispace last month are Debi Kleiman and Manila Austin.

See a summary of some of Communispace's work here. Also, see one of the research projects Manila led at Communispace here, on the powerful results driven by small community interaction.