On many levels I’m appreciating this oral history of the legendary Mystery Science Theater 3000 just as a fan of the show. While I wasn’t involved in those usenet groups, wasn’t actively involved in trading tapes with others through the mail or anything like that I did love the show, identifying immediately with the humor on it and absolutely aware that what I was watching was incredibly unique. I had dozens of VHS tapes with episodes recorded off of Comedy Central (and later Sci-Fi) that I would watch over and over again, always on the lookout for new episodes to add to my collection.
But there’s one section from the article that I want to call out because it hits me where I am *now* in my career as a content strategist while the rest speaks to where I *was* as a budding geek all those years ago.
It’s this quote from Kevin Murphy:
We always encouraged people to share tapes of the show with each other. But the online thing was born of itself. The whole newsgroup that started was self-generated. We didn’t have anything to do with it.
Compare that to the countless lists and articles and blog posts that have been published about how to make sure your content goes viral. Or how to make sure you hit the front page of reddit. Or how to optimize your headlines for Facebook. Or any of the 7,492 other examples I could list here.
There was a fan base and they found a place that was all their own and used it to share and discuss their fandom, free of corporate or other interference.
Yes, you can say “Well this was before the internet is what is now and so there just wasn’t the possibility for Comedy Central to get involved in or spur those conversations.” But that’s missing the point, which is this: Corporate conversation participation isn’t always a good thing.
Sometimes it’s alright – in fact it’s often preferred – for companies and organizations to just stay out of it these fan conversations. Sometimes these places need to happen where the fans want them to happen and not on the platform where the brand wants them to happen. And sometimes brand participation can actually hurt and turn fans off by the constant “Hey! Look at me!” attitude that’s often conveyed.
That’s a big lesson we can learn from the pre-corporate web, that to paraphrase Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, fans will find a way. And often the worst thing that can happen is for some “stakeholder” to jump in and feel that their participation is always a good thing. There are lots of times it is but not always. And it’s the smart marketing professional that can tell the difference and provide the appropriate guidance.