OPINION4 July 2013

Share space


Napkin Labs founder Riley Gibson offers his top tips for creating spaces where consumers can come together, share ideas and participate in brand development.

Social media has transformed consumer culture beyond one focused solely on consuming into one that participates. As a brand on social media, this presents a daily challenge: How do we engage consumers beyond a like and inspire them to get involved? If they do participate, there is a world of opportunity for collaboration, increased loyalty and advocacy.

Back in 2006 – which seems like centuries ago in terms of social media – Henry Jenkins, director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT and an advocate of the participatory culture movement, defined the participatory culture as one that has:

  1. relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  3. some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
  4. members who believe that their contributions matter
  5. members who feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, they care what other people think about what they have created)

Years before most brands had come to see the opportunities for collaborating with their consumers, Jenkins nailed down the elements essential to creating a community where individuals want to participate. Today, many brands find themselves struggling with developing a collaborative consumer culture and can find a lot of inspiration in Jenkins’ research on how to develop a space that motivates consumers to share and take part.

Low barriers

Low barriers are essential in motivating consumers to participate. If you’re asking something of your consumers, don’t make it difficult for them. Asking them to jump through hoops discourages them early in the experience. Creating a space focused on collaboration makes it easier for consumers to know where to participate and how. They don’t need to re-learn a new space or process each time.


Consumers may have something to share, but they may not know it is important for a brand to hear or see. The biggest motivation to share is a simple ask from a brand. If a brand desires a collaborative culture, it’s the brand’s responsibility to set the tone and inspire. This doesn’t mean simply posting a bunch of brand related posts, but diving into the consumer conversation and being a part of it. If you see a topic bubbling up from a consumer, highlight it and see what other consumers think.

Being heard

The number one complaint from consumers when asked to give feedback is that it is a waste of time because they don’t feel like it goes anywhere or adds to anything. So let consumers know you are listening. Close the feedback loop. It’s important to give updates on projects where consumers have provided feedback or ideas. This shows them they are being listened to, their opinions matter and motivates them to participate.

Social connection

The biggest motivation for consumers is to feel a part of something bigger. Establishing a community where consumers can connect with the brand but also with each other brings them a sense of membership. The social connection also allows consumers to play off each other. One consumer may mention something that could inspire a flurry of ideas from others.

As we’ve grown to learn over the past decade, a participatory culture is essential to any brand. Now more than ever, brands benefit from collaborating with their consumers. Brands have a lot to learn from consumers and consumers have a lot to share. They just need a space where they feel comfortable and are inspired to participate.

Riley Gibson is the CEO and co-founder of Napkin Labs. You can find more of his writing at Inc., Fast Company and Mashable

1 Comment

11 years ago

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