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Social Media Theater: What a Twitter-Savvy Playwright Can Teach Brand Advertisers

Chinaka Hodge, a Bay Area poet and playwright, is using blogs and Twitter not only to stay in touch with fans of her work — she’s using social media to shape characters and scenes before they debut on stage. When the fans help create the characters, there’s a high likelihood those fans will be more engaged in the final product.

It’s an approach smart brands are using, too. Brands like Asus (see WePC project) are enlisting customers to shape product design. Others, like Old Spice, are sending “commercial characters” like Old Spice Man into social media to have real conversations with potential customers in ways that create viral hoopla, sure, but — more importantly — make a brand pitchman more human. As we begin to view Old Spice Man as a real guy, one who’s friends with someone we know (see his video get-well card to Kevin Rose), we’re a whole lot more likely to tune into his funny commercials. Next thing you know, we will all want to smell like him.

Kevin Tweets About Great Old Spice Ads

More on social media theater at Boing Boing, in a guest post by Youth Radio producer (and my wife!) Lissa Soep.

James Patterson's Next Novel Will Be Crowdsourced

James Patterson's Crowdsourced Thriller

From Springwise:

“Best-selling crime author James Patterson will write the first and last chapters of AirBorne, a 30-chapter thriller that will be released one chapter at a time beginning next month. For those in between, Borders and Random House held a contest to find 28 writers who could each create a fast-paced and thrilling chapter in less than 750 words.”

Winning contributors will get a free copy of the final book, and one grand-prize winner will get a one-on-one writing tutorial (by phone) with Patterson himself. Great way to engage a core audience of fans, who will undoubtedly emerge as evangelists for the book.

Related: Asus and Intel invite their customers to crowdsource the next generation of laptops.

WePC Fans Shape Asus's CES 2009 Product Line Up

Or did they?

Back in October, Asus and Intel (in partnership with FM) launched WePC, a social media site that invites gamers, business people, hipsters, designers and anyone else who cares about technology to help crowdsource the next generation of laptops. (More here.)

Fast-forward two months to CES 2009, and some WePC participants credit Asus with not only listening to customer input at WePC, but bringing some of the ideas to life within 60 days: Among readers of Engadget’s review of the Asus G50, one commented that the product idea was his, submitted to Asus by way of WePC.

Comment on Engadget's Asus Review

Are the engineers at Asus that good?! I’m sure they’re terrific, but I also doubt it’s possible for any industrial engineering corp to launch a new product design that quickly. In fact, given that Asus is both a maker of Asus-branded laptops as well as an original design manufacturer (ODM) for other leading laptop brands, its product design cycles are likely faster than anyone else in the industry. But still.

Instead, I’d chalk this up to a happy coincidence: An Asus fan submitted an idea at WePC that was already under development at Asus labs. It’s a case of Asus knowing some of its customers well enough to predict what they want. And with this particular customer (and the other Engadget readers), it just got some extra credit for proving it.

UPDATE: I Twittered the above post. Four minutes later @ITProPortal reports back that Asus delivered on his PC dreams this CES, too.

ITProPortal Sez Asus Delivered On His Dreams

Asus's WePC Shows Up in Fujitsu Laptop Review

Fujitsu Review on Engadget

Engadget readers of a Fujitsu laptop review brought Asus’s WePC project into the discussion. This is a new approach to “conquest marketing,” the tactic where brands buy ads alongside editorial coverage of their competitors. Only this time it’s free and organic — which, I bet, means it will be more effective.

Engadget Comment on WePC

WePC Boosts Buzz for ASUS and Intel

Matt DiPietro, FM’s PR manager, surveyed the web to see if the launch of the crowdsourced-laptop-design project, WePC, made an impact on press and blog coverage for ASUS and Intel, the site’s sponsors. Was there a halo effect in which news of the WePC project got more people thinking about and talking about Intel and ASUS?

Of course, coverage of WePC itself spiked — it didn’t exist prior to the last week in October.


But press hits for “ASUS” alone also spiked the week WePC launched — up 10% over the prior week, and up more than 100% over the final week in September.


Articles and blog posts that mentioned both “ASUS” and “Intel” jumped roughly 65% versus the average week in October.

Meltwater_Asus Intel

It will be interesting to watch how this plays out. The giant press bonanza hit the week of launch, which explains the peaks on these graphs. As visitors to the site build their dream-machine concepts and share those concepts (or others they like better) with friends, I wonder, will the buzz expand outward from the mainstream press and professional-grade bloggers to the far reaches of the conversational media landscape? If so, will the WePC project carry the ASUS and Intel brands with it as the bloggers chat it up?

Press Coverage for Crowdsourced Laptop Site WePC

Man, this project — sponsored by ASUS and Intel, with participation from several FM authors — is striking a chord.




PC Magazine.



PC World India.



The Tech Herald.






The Guardian.


Marketing VOX.



The Inquirer.

(Disclosures: UberGizmo, Mashable, Core77 and Searchblog are affiliated with FM.)

Engadget on ASUS and Intel's Crowdsourced Laptop Project

From Engadget:

“True power is derived from the people, yes? Asus and Intel know this well, so they’ve launched a website called WePC, where users can draw up concepts and specs for new netbook and notebook models then argue about how fantastic or utterly impractical they are. In a sense cooperative laptop design is not new — we’ve seen groups of companies work together to develop products, and Best Buy’s Blue Label is somewhat similar to this — but Asus and Intel are going full-on populist (or at least the appearance of it) with WePC. The promise is that designers will lurk on the site and implement some ideas — probably (and thankfully) not including the ones that are completely whacked.”

My colleague Liam Boylan’s dream machine, the Waterproof Laptop:

UPDATE 11:55am: ClickZ coverage as well:

“Coming soon to a Best Buy near you: The world’s first crowdsourced computer, courtesy of Intel, IT company ASUS and Federated Media Publishing.

“The three partners yesterday launched a site called to solicit the public’s idea on what the ideal computer would look like. Visitors to the site can upload their own ideas or discuss and vote on what others say.

“Sometime next year, Intel will review the proposals and produce computers based on the most popular suggestions — limited, of course, by what is actually possible (don’t hold out hope for a laptop that predicts stock market fluctuations).”

Crowdsourced Notebooks: ASUS, Intel Launch WePC

WePC logo

Battelle, FM’s founder and CEO, announces the news at Searchblog:

“For the better part of a year, we at FM have been working on an innovative new project with Asus and Intel. Today it launched. is an experiment in crowdsourcing an entirely new piece of hardware, and I’m very proud of the work we’ve done together.”

According Intel’s release:

“Consumers become product designers at, a Web site launched today by Intel Corporation and ASUS. is where consumers can collaborate with each other and with Intel and ASUS to design innovative new products. The plan is for the two companies to deliver to market what could be the world’s first community-designed PCs.”

Early reviews are coming in, starting with Mashable and Wise Startup Blog.

Congratulations to Kevin Huang, Wanting Yang, Mike Hoefflinger, Deborah Conrad, Mona Mameesh, David Dechant, John Cooney, Ryan Baker, Jeff Hsueh, Jonathan Schreiber, Jason Ratner, Josh Mattison, Sacha Lien, Liam Boylan and Josh Stivers. Who can identify, at this point, which of them work for ASUS, for Intel or for FM!

And keep your eyes peeled for the ChasNote Deluxe.