Gonzo marketing related to the Flash community

Some interesting thoughts about what the net is doing to marketing.

gonzo marketing

What replaces mass market, broadcast advertising is Locke’s “gonzo marketing”, which is not really marketing but “market advocacy” through participation, sponsorship and support. The internet replaces the us-and-them relationship (creative people broadcasting to couch potatoes) with a network of conversations, which is all markets are, really.

Photodude has written some interesting commentary on trying to pitch gonzo marketing to the average company.

For me personally it hits home with the relationship I see between the Flash community and the companies making their living with products and services targeted to the community and the regular customers. I miss a more thought-through relationship with the community from the likes of Macromedia, the related software houses, book publishers and the big Flash conference makers.

I think these people should read up on Gonzo marketing and try to figure out how their relationship to the Flash community sites need to be. There is a need to become more aware of the fact that many people are contributing a large amount of their time and money to be able to support these companies and their products, and that the companies need to provide back to the community helping them out. In more ways then what I see today. Its great to see Macromedia providing the community with more information and insight into their products, but at the same time – shouldn’t that be expected when someone is delivering a for-pay product?

I have a feeling we will continue to see many good resources go under because of the lack of thought these companies have put into how they support the community. Even the largest Flash resource site today, Flashkit.com, has been struggling for a long time, and is only keeping its hair above the water because of the backing from their owner Internet.com

Will the large Flash resources survive in a climate where banner ads no longer pays the bills, and where the companies that are actually making money aren’t backing them up with sponsorship and other important support?

I am not optimistic for the future of the Flash community sites. I hope that some of the big players will start to think about how they can contribute back to the community and help out the community resources, so that we can continue to have access to this broad range of high quality resources.

I would appreciate others insight and suggestions for how the community sites should handle their need to pay the bills, and at the same time be able to provide high quality to the community.

19 comments

  1. Jarle,

    Great post. You’ve said something that needed to be said. I run Flazoom.com, a sort of community Flash blog with a focus on usability.

    I too wish that Macromedia would spend a bit more attention to the needs of their community that are served by Flash community sites. After attending half-a-dozen Flash related conferences, I have met someone from just about every Flash community web site. Either one person or a small group of people ran just about every one of them.

    When we go to FlashForward conferences we are the ones eating in the cheap restaurants (Tick-Tock in NYC). We are the people who travel on our own dime. We run our sites as a labor of love, and every one of us cares passionately about Flash.

    Time and time again I have seen friends get pulled under trying to keep their site meeting the needs of an extremely hungry for content community. In effect, the community sites online around the time of Flash 4 literally wrote everything there is to know about ActionScript. The Flash 4 manual was useless.

    Where was Macromedia in all this? Well, they were buying larger wheelbarrows to take their money to the bank in. Soon every one knew that if you wanted to learn about Flash, the place to go was FlashKit or ShockFusion.

    Some gonzo marketing would have been fantastic. A banner sponsorship here and there, or free computers (Apple sponsors K10K through the gift of free laptops.). Something to assist the community sites in supporting their product.

    The Flash tie-in software market is no better. One of the big players repeatedly uses Flazoom.com to troll for e-mail addresses. I have asked them to stop, but it goes on and on.

    I have to disagree with you on the conference end of things. FlashForward has been absolutely fantastic. Free conference passes for community sites to give away, a free pass to the community site owners. Many of the conference also feature a community site session. Lynda and Stewart always thanking the community sites for our support as a final part of the conference.

    A few of the book publishers do well also. I get more books than I have time to review about Flash on Flazoom.com. But they don

  2. Chris and Jarle (or anyone else reading this), do you have any suggestions?

    We are already very active within the community, both on the mailing lists, community sites, and more recently our weblogs.

    We already work closely with the main community sites (although most of it is behind the scenes).

    In the coming weeks, we will start a new column on the Des / Dev center : “Featured Macromedia MX Community site”, which will drive traffic to the sites. However, in addition to more visitors, it also leads to higher bandwidth sites.

    We do advertise on community sites (were-here recently had a flash mx countdown ad running), but as jarle noted, online advertising doesn’t seem to work for either side.

    Aside from outright funding the sites (which is not an option), how can we work to address the concerns your hinted at in your posts?

    Mike Chambers

    mesh@macromedia.com

  3. I don’t think anyone is accusing Macromedia of not taking part in releasing information to the community. I know the Flash community best of the communities that exist around the Macromedia products, and I am happy to have been able to witness that Macromedia has understood the value of this community, at least by taking part in the exchange of information that is going on.

    “Featured Macromedia MX Community Site” sounds like a good idea, but I fear it might just put another nail in the coffin for the already struggling Flash resource sites. As it is today, there is really no way of generating the necessary revenue to sustain the high traffic resource sites.

    I am still trying to think out good ways that Macromedia could participate economically to the Flash community (and the other communities as well). I realize that the sponsor-a-site-for-goodwill is a hard sell, but I still think its worth thinking through at least twice before disregarding. Maybe Macromedia could give out sponsorships to some selected sites based on some criteria. Macromedia might also make it easier for the community sites to become resellers of products from Macromedia. Being able to be direct affiliates with Macromedia would provide many resource sites with some hardly needed cash.

    I would love it if Macromedia took a good look at the community sites from the perspective of wanting them to survive, and try to find ways Macromedia can contribute back to the community.

    Its interesting that you mention the problem with advertisement. I think the situation right now is that Macromedia is harvesting a lot from the active community sites, and that the weight is on the site of the community sites. In my mind its up to Macromedia to try to shift the balance. Even if Macromedia would just give away money to the resource sites, it would still be a balance in my mind. The resource sites provide tremendous value to Macromedia and the products sold by Macromedia.

  4. so i run flash enabled and i’m in the same boat, i pay more in server fees than i used to in rent…sad but true, if anyone wants to see the bills i’ll scan them in and post them.

    the only way i’ve been able to break even is to sell stuff through amazon and also sell software / content. lots of folks bitch at me about that, but that’s the way it goes.

    macromedia was going to run some ads on my site awhile back, but that didn’t work out with the $, everyone is broke, the world still sucks–we’re all in need of fuel, cash.

    so what can we do? i really don’t know. i do know i’m moving more and more towards a pay model in some form.

  5. Mike and Jarle,

    Interesting comments.

    From my discussions with friends running Flash community sites the biggest complaint that I hear is the cost involved with hosting all that content. When Amanda Farr was running Virtual-FX (before it was stolen from her) she used to tell me how expensive running the site was becoming. Her monthly bills were approaching $1000 a month, just for hosting. Much of that cost was due to the file transfer costs associated with running a site that offers downloadable FLAs (which is why Flazoom.com is ultra low-bandwidth). What Macromedia needs to do is find a way to assist with that cost.

    If sponsoring sites is not the answer, then perhaps Macromedia could look to other solutions. They could commission community site owners to create content for the Dev/Des center for example. Tutorials, columns and interviews are all content that most community site owners would be able to create. When I was commissioned to write the white paper I used the money on Flazoom.com (well, that and a nice dinner for my wife).

    Another solution might be for Macromedia to sponsor a server to host many of the large FLAs that quickly drive up the costs of running a Flash site. Offering community sites say 200 to 500MB of disk space and no bandwidth limits would be a great help. This could be based on the community sites needs. Something like a ‘matching funds’ server where the amount of server space you use is related to the amount you get.

    Jarle’s affiliate program is also a good idea. Amazon.com just isn’t paying the bills like it used to.

    As for the featured site, PLEASE make sure that you get permission from the site owner before linking to them. Ask them if they can take the traffic that you will be sending their way.

    I’m glad that we are discussing this.

    CHris

  6. i stradle the device arena as well as the flash arena, and the community sites on both sides are saying the same things, it’s all about the hosting, chris’s ideas are on track with some actionable items.

  7. Lot’s of interesting comments, I’m new to the community site thing so I’m not rolling in freebies at the minute – not even any books! The only thing I get from running the site is the thanks of my peers ;)

    I can’t really afford to buy copies of all MM software so free copies would be good. 30 day trials don’t really cut it in the long term and I can’t justify buying all MM software for home use.

    One of the reasons I decided to just host a news blog rather than a tutorial/forum site was the hosting cost. The idea of Macromedia providing server space & bandwidth is a great one – lowering monthly overheads would have a positive impact on the bigger community sites.

    I think the idea of sponsoring sites in some way is a good one – perhaps yearly awards for excellence in the support of the Flash Community, Macromedia could put up the money and someone else could award it? Surely some of these sites are worth an investment of some kind.

  8. Howdy… fwiw, Macromedia as a company is moving in this type of direction… last year we split technical support into product support and developer support… Mike & I are in the latter group, along with Team Macromedia, the DesDev Center, the User Group program (hurray!), the Exchange (“fixme! fixme!” it cries), more.

    I’m happy there’s such increased investment in this area, even though Macromedia hasn’t made any money in the last year or so…. ;-)

    One of the understandings that I’ve seen deepen throughout the company over the last year is that folks out there know more than we do… Macromedia has certain specialized information, and is the prime locus where different people meet, but it should be a gateway to the various specialized interests who can discuss practical experience in depth. It’s also important to set up business models which are sustainable for all parties.

    What I’m taking away so far:

    — downloads are desirable, because they let you stand behind things and show who you really are, but they’re expensive to host

    — watch out for unexpected links!

    — at conferences the company is negligent (that’s my opinion, if we can’t even do a face-to-face)

    — banners or direct sponsorships are a two-edged sword

    hmm, we’re still forming stuff here, and the new Exchange is still in development… this seems like it might offer opportunities for sponsored downloads…?

    jd

    (PS: Jarle, I put in Mozilla RC2 last night and can type in these comment fields now… never showed up in NS4.75/Mac in this and other Movable Type blogs.)

  9. John wrote:

    “downloads are desirable, because they let you stand behind things and show who you really are, but they’re expensive to host”

    I’d say that downloads are desirable because they are a better tool for learning than just text and screen shots. Of course, there really is no reason for many of the FLAs for download to be as large as they are. I’ve downloaded very simple tutorials that clock in at over 400k (and I’ve been guilty of creating them too). Community site owners should be aware of the content they host, and the costs involved.

    Wait, now I’m on the wrong side of the discussion so let me say this. I think that the community sites offering tutorials on Flash with downloadable FLAs are an essential part of the growth and popularity of Flash. Heck, I nearly scratched my head bald trying to figure out ActionScript with the Flash 4 manual. Thank goodness for FlashKit and VFX.

  10. Let me offer some input from the perspective of a small-fry independent designer/developer…

    Flash has become a very important tool for me; a competitive advantage as well as a robust authoring medium. More and more of my web projects are 100% Flash, and with each job my skills seem to advance almost exponentially. Flash is my future.

    But I wouldn’t be where I am today without the community sites. If I had to rely on Macromedia for insight in how to actually use the product, I would still have the Flash 4 manual parked beside the toilet for those special contemplative moments of deep concentration and helpless captivity.

    It is the tutorials and most especially the FLA’s that bring the possibilities of Flash to life. There is no substitute for getting inside a FLA and seeing what’s going on with your own eyes. And even the worst examples often illuminate, if only by showing how NOT to do something.

    There’s something bizarre about it, if you ask me. I’m locked in now — I’m a guaranteed Macromedia multiple-product-upgrade-cycle cash cow — but Macromedia only gets my upgrade fees because of the volunteer community support that makes those products USEFUL to me.

    In fairness, I will admit that I am encouraged by some of the things that Macromedia is doing now. It’s better, no question. But even now, their focus seems to ignore the larger community of small developers in favor of large shops and enterprise customers. There’s a hell of a lot more stuff on the Macromedia site than there used to be, but most of it doesn’t help me very much specifically.

    You want a case study? Not long ago in an issue of The Edge, Jonathon Wall said that within a year, 99% of all websites would be dynamic. Later on, he added that “If you had a dynamic site, web page developers wouldn’t even need to be involved.” First of all, I didn’t quite buy the prediction, and, second of all, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about being made dispensible.

    Personally, I think the community sites deserve abundant and aggressive support from the mother ship. I realize that Macromedia’s development and support costs are substantial, but they need to recognize that to a certain extent, they get a free ride on the backs of their users.

    If it’s just a question of where the money is going to come from, then factor it into the pricing structure. Dedicate a percent or two of revenue from Flash sales to the Flash community. And if that’s too hard, then raise the price. I would pay an extra fifty bucks if I knew what it was for.

  11. Great conversation point. This has been an issue from way back when I first started visiting sites like Flashkit, Flazoom, etc. Every resource site out there is trying to find a new way to generate revenue, but fail everytime. I have been looking at deviantart.com and I think that they just might have the best solution I have seen yet ( i know they werent the first to do it, but its the first site I could think of that does it ). They have a section where members that pay, dont have the popup ads, etc and the members that DONT pay, have the ads there, etc. So they really dont lost as many users as you would if you were to just REQUIRE payment.

    I personally think that there arent many real solutions to this, other than a HUGE company like internet.com to take over, but then you get the whole “corporate” feel of the site, and it just never is the same as a “community” run site. Its hard to charge a user for a Source File that an author has freely submitted to you, same goes for Tutorials, etc…. I also dont think that community sites will ever dissapear, as there will always be that Newbie out there yearning for fame and fortune, only to end up with bandwidth bills out the wazoo…

    Josh Dura

  12. I’m also running the small community site about flash – http://www.valyard.ru , and I think that the future is for such relatively small sites as mine… big flash communities as Flashkit are really TOO big and it is getting harder and harder to find there something usefull and not to feel like just a member of the croud.

    ~thanx

  13. Ok, first a quick introduction: Waldo Smeets, first day on this blog (nice discussions btw) and co-founder of http://www.UDzone.com (the biggest third party site on Dreamweaver and UltraDev?).

    To be honest I am very pleased with the support we get from Macromedia. I know that it’s unreasonable to expect that they support us community sites financially , it’s important that each site has his own business model. And I know how difficult it can be to come up with one.

    I think the key issue to success is communication: you need to have communication skills to run commnity sites. Why? Because you need moderators to help you and they need to be managed (lots of communication), you need to approach sponsors and they need to be pursuaded (lots of communication), you need to make your community aware of the fact that not everything can be done for free for them, etc etc.

    So what can Macromedia do for community sites in this area? Well, simply communicate back to us. And when I do my best and take the time for it Macromedia really is willing to communicate back and will try to help wherever they can. Just as long as you can make clear what’s in it for them (which is logical for me).

    When we started with Udzone there weren’t many UD related sites. Macromedia understood that and understood the importance of such a site I guess. They made us site of the day which gave us lots of traffic (auch… Couldn’t they tell is a week before that day? We were running the site from our own little server at home, connected with a very slow cable modem which just couldn’t handle all that traffic!) and they invited us to speak at UCON. Just these 2 things only will help you much more in your future adventures as community site, because in each and every conversation you have you can use these 2 things as backup: “We are UDzone and have been Macromedia site of the day and been speaking at UCON 2001.” Very often this helps.

    To be honest, we even got more from Macromedia: They helped us very much to make our Dynamic Zones Conference come true (which didn’t happen, but that’s an other story), they helped us to contact local software distributers so we could offer Flash MX for lower prices to our community, they want to work together with us to promote their certification programm to our members (of course our members will get a big discount in return) and so on. This helped makes our members believe in our site and so makes it easier for us to do what we have to do to make money: sell extensions (our own or the ones from third parties, which we try to specialize in).

    The only thing that I really would love to see improved is the appearance of Macromedia employees at our sites. Maybe it’s just too much an issue for us as Dreamweaver/UltraDev site, but I have the strong impression that the dreamweaver engineers can’t/won’t really appear on our communities. It would be cool to see them every now and then when they post a reply to a topic/extension, share their knowledge or maybe even post a nice article. But I am affraid that this isn’t going to happen anymore now the desdev center is alive and kicking.

    Urm…. Time to stop I guess ;-) I’ve written too much and I’d better submit this before I regret all my words again ;-)

    Waldo Smeets – http://www.UDzone.com Co-Founder

    ——————————————

    http://www.UDzone.com : A dynamic Dreamweaver,

    Ultradev and Fireworks site for developers

    by developers.

    ——————————————

  14. In addition to that: I think that our Business Model also can be applied on Flash community sites. Set up a decent area where developers can sell their stuff, make sure that there’s always quality content and quality support.

    Ask the developers a small fee and explain them what they get in return. This is what you’d get in return for selling at UDzone f.e.:

    – the popularity of your site (almost 50.000 members, mentioned in lots of UD books, x visitors with y impressions a day etc etc)

    – selling the stuff within 30 minutes at our site

    – no need to setup a payment site themselves which supports both PayPal and Kagi and bank transfers

    – lots of tools to help them support the product (mass mails to all customers if there’s been a free upgrade, pre-build support forums, rating and comment sections etc etc)

    – Direct Marketing tools

    – Many many more

    I have to admit that it’s not eays to set up. But I really think the market it ready for is, especially if you plan to sell components.

    ps: We still have our community site FLzone.net on hold. It runs on the same engine as UDzone. We only need some crazy people with too much time ;-)

  15. hmmm..it’s been a while since anyone posted on this, but my mind has been stewing on this subject and the steam is starting to rise.

    Suggestion:

    –Pool resources, with creative freedom under the umbrella of a tax-exempt non-profit organization (to which macromedia, other companies, and individuals could contribute and write off as tax deduction)

    Getting 501(c)(3) status (in the states) isn’t that hard, if you’ve got some help with the paperwork, and this would definately qualify as being for public benefit and would have public support.

    Question:

    –What kind of server set up do many of the flash community site have?

  16. Again it’s been a day or 5 since this started but I only just read it. Wished I had earlier.

    Yes it’s hard to get support from the big boys, esp when your small. Adobe is just as bad as Macromedia. Apple have to be the nicest, they’ve loaned Studiowhiz gear to review which is great.

    Maybe there is room for a collective within the community? Maybe we need to form our own “Internet.com” to handle adveritising, and promotion. Sure Were-Here had Flash MX advertising .. but the letters I sent to MM about giving advertising FOR FREE, in return for ONE Flash MX to give away went unanswered. Studiowhiz gets about 1 million hits a month and we are SMALL. I imagine that Flazoom, UltraShock, Were-Here, etc get many more times that amount.

    I find it hard, when one week I get an email from the DW product manager saying that MM want to put their content onto Studiowhiz and then I hear nothing for weeks.

    I wouldn’t mind if they said NO GO AWAY … but they need to say something. I’ve had a few emails with Mike over the last couple of weeks to let him know of Flash-Component.com – but that’s the most I’ve ever had over 1 year of running Swhiz almost full time.

    I’ll take a leaf from Waldo and shut my trap before I say too much more.

    I think there is room for ALL of us as community to work closer together, esp with all these great blogs coming together.

  17. Came across this link accidentally and thought Id comment. As the business guy behind FlashKit.com

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