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March 19, 2007

Ze Frank, thinking so you don’t have to

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Looking to build a strong site community and increase your branding efforts? Here are some fun ways to build a following so strong that your visitors will near worship you a year later.

Simply ask the community on your site to:

  • Perform seemingly impossible tasks, like turning the Earth into a sandwich.
  • Tape themselves jumping around like morons. Have them call these ridiculous creations "power moves" and then air them.
  • Create short intros for you to air on your videoblog.
  • Challenge them to a 36-week long you vs. them game of chess.
  • Adopt a lonely MySpacer.
  • Create the ugliest MySpace page (a most difficult feat).
  • Carve a pumpkin and take a picture of it with some body part inside the pumpkin.
  • Create remixes for some guy named Ray they’ve never met.

Or at least that’s what Ze Frank did.

If you weren’t sure about the benefits of inviting a genuine, natural-forming community on your site, you don’t have to look much further than Saturday’s airing of the final episode of Ze Frank’s "The Show" to see its true power. In one year, Ze formed an ORG army of 20,000 dedicated members and sent 30,000 crazed fans to his site a day anxious to view his latest 2-3 minute video.

Imagine the power of that dedicated audience if you could leverage it for your own site.

Over the last year, we’ve created an environment where everyone’s looking for the hottest piece of linkbait that they can use to send visitors to their site. Copy-cat social media sites continue to pop up in droves and companies are contemplating taking advantage of the misfortunes of others just to get some traffic and new links. We want to create something controversial with the hope of "tricking" people into visiting our site.

Here’s my challenge to site owners: Instead of using your time and energy to create something with little or no value, do what Ze did. Make your content the linkbait. Make it so exciting and fresh that people are willing to send videos of themselves sticking their arms in decaying pumpkins to be part of your community. You shouldn’t need a Flash game to get users excited about you. Your product and services should do that.

You hear a lot of talk today about "knowing your audience", and for good reason, it’s important. In order to connect to your audience, you have to know them from a demographic standpoint. But you should also know what about your product scares them and then create something to take away that fear.

Ze launched his show when videoblogging was starting to take root in the early adopter community, but was still scary for most. Users weren’t sure how they were supposed to react or respond to it. Did they talk back? Just watch? Was there room for them at all? Ze took away their anxiety with the medium by creating a two-way conversation. He invited them into this world and gave them an opportunity to engage not just with the show’s host, but with each other as well. And because he was able to do that, Ze is now forever connected with the birth of videoblogging.

If you want users to rally around you, take away the fear they’re holding on regarding your product and show them how to use it.

One of the highlights for me during November’s Ad:Tech was attending the session on consumer generated media where Ze Frank was a speaker. I didn’t do my homework before attending, so when I found out Ze Frank was sitting in on this panel I near fainted. Being within five feet from Ze Frank was without a doubt the most memorable part of my entire trip. (Other than running into Britney Spears ice skating in Rockefeller Center on the day she announced her divorce from K-fed. I mean, c’mon, I’m forever part of pop culture history!) During the session, Ze commented that defining user engagement in today’s world was about learning how to take advantage of the Internet, facilitating energy stages and figuring out how to play with the Web. As a site owner, it’s time to stop being all about business and conversions and to start playing.

If you want to take advantage of a strong site community you need to figure out how to play with the Internet and the mediums that are just now beginning to take root. How can you use video and social media to engage visitors? What will get visitors excited and naturally complement your content? What can you bring to the table to makes users voluntarily want to interact with you?

The Show worked because it broke down users’ fear of video and encourage interaction. Ze’s following of Sports Racers sent in power moves, show intros, and pictures and videos of themselves doing ridiculous things all in the name of being part of the experience. Two hundred and fifty episodes later, Ze’s The Show has become the new model for user engagement for those smart enough to realize it.

Realize it.

Below is the The Show’s final episode which aired on Saturday. Blip.tv will sponsor the archives of Ze’s show so that his awesomeness will able to live on. If you haven’t watched each and every episode, there is no better way to spend a Monday afternoon.

Thanks for everything, Ze.

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