Creative Constraints – power to the people!

I love my Apple stuff and it’s always nice when I can find a way to shoehorn Apple news into my creativity focused posts. Today is one of those days. For your information I also enjoy gratuitously referencing Douglas Adams, The Beatles and Nintendo.

Today I get to talk about a new creative challenge for online content creators. Well, not exactly new, but a challenge which has been thrown into stark relief by the technology in Apple’s latest OS release.

Yesterday iOS 9 came out which is big news for Apple geeks like me but, in addition, it’s also big news for content creators on the web. iOS 9 allows what Apple calls Content Blockers to be run in Safari; in reality this means ad-tech blockers which disable things like pop up/over ads, tracking software, etc.

I’ve tried a couple out and they make a huge difference to the web on mobile. It’s faster, cleaner, better than before. My favourite one right now is Peace by Marco Arment which is extraordinarily good at speeding up loading times for some of my favourite pages.

But here is the rub; advertising and tracking is how a lot of content creators make their money on the internet. With the advent of ad-blockers on iOS an increasing number of the most sought after customers are going to be blocking ads and reducing the viability of this mode of monetisation.

You could make a fuss about the ethics of this but in the end this is one technological genie that is now out of the bottle and there’s little point trying to stuff it back in. Mobile web users are now empowered to block content they don’t like and this means that content creators need to think about their relationship with those users.

Empowered users are a creative constraint that every industry is either getting used to or should get used to pretty quickly. It’s not just that an empowered user can choose a different service, they can choose how they engage with your service too. You can’t expect them all to access you the same way, to follow the same customer journey, to agree to an all or nothing service designed around what’s good for you, the vendor, rather than what’s good for the customer.

Online adverts have become increasingly aggressive and deleterious to the user experience. Online content creators are now reaping the whirlwind of that particular path. They focused on what was delivering short term revenue, for whatever reason, and placed the customer second in their thinking.

As your user become more empowered you don’t have the option to do that. But the great thing about this little equation is that it takes only a simple reframing to change an empowered user from a problem to solve to a source of value.

Empowered users create loads of data. Right now the newly empowered mobile web users are telling content creators who they are, what they don’t like and what they are doing about it. They are aware, perhaps for the first time, of what has been pissing them off when they visit a slow loading website. Now is the time for content creators to start listening.

From this dialogue and the insights generated there will emerge the potential for a new way to monetise the web. I can’t tell you what it will be but the clues are already to be found in some of the more forward thinking parts of the internet.

Patreon, a platform for supporting content creators is already a growing source of revenue for many people who get paid by their fans when they create something. The old and nasty “paywall” is being replaced by memberships with exclusive content and special perks for the most avid users; an opportunity to get closer to your best users. Sponsorship by brands that your users will really love, partnerships that create content that the brand and the content creator will be proud of, are far more valuable than little pop up ads and they actually help to enrich the experience rather than detracting from it.

Empowered users are a fact of life and no business or content creator should see this as anything less than a huge opportunity to create new forms of value. Creativity is a team sport but there’s no reason why that team has to be entirely on the payroll.


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