Can the User-Generated “Shell” Be Controlled?

April 16, 2007

In offering his “shell” metaphor for user-generated blogs and comments during a speech last week (see previous post), science-fiction author Bruce Sterling asked rhetorically whether the perceptions created by such opinions can be controlled.

(Backing up a second: Sterling’s “shell” is the layer of commentary that users apply to products and services online.) Now — can marketers control these opinions?

Sterling’s contention was an unequivocal, “No.”

Some major-league marketers agree. Mark Tutssel, Worldwide Creative Director at Leo Burnett, put it this way, as reported in the Financial Times: “Marketers must learn to let go of the control they think they have over their brand. Once consumers have interacted with brands, they will not go back to being shouted at by marketers.”

Sterling and Tutsell have it right.

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Bruce Sterling’s Useful “Shell” Metaphor

April 14, 2007

I had a chance to hear Bruce Sterling, the science fiction writer and author of the seminal book “Shaping Things,” speak yesterday. Among other things, he described an interesting metaphor for the ratings, reviews, blog opinions and other comments that products and services accumulate on the Internet via user-generated content.

Sterling proposed thinking of Internet opinions as a “shell” laminated onto the space occupied by the actual product or service.  

One question his description provoked from the audience was particularly insightful: Is this shell of opinions more important than the product or service itself?

Sterling asserted that it is not, but I would contend that a brand’s perception is everything — and that the shell of user-generated content is a critical shaper of marketing success or failure.