Web Community Lessons from Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert urges fans to edit Wikipedia and game Google, but instead of Internet ostracism, Colbert’s Web abuse has netted a Webby Person of the Year award and, more importantly, a broad and active online community.

Old guard Web folks might frown on Colbert’s intentional disregard for Web community standards, but the Webby award is rightfully deserved. Colbert’s use (or misuse) of Web-based tools shows how interactivity and brand building can be harnessed, adapted and evangelized in Web communities. There’s a lesson amidst all this cheekiness, and Colbert knows it. From the Associated Press:

“The Web is essentially improvisational … The Internet is the shortest, hardest wall against which your voice will echo back,” Colbert said. “It’s a big place, but, boy, you get an echo back really fast.”

Colbert’s recognition of the Web’s ability to “echo” reveals a forward-thinking perspective. This same perspective can help book publishers form and engage their own Web communities.

For example, Colbert and his staff take full advantage of their most important asset: the TV show. The creation of a top-down, far-reaching platform — like a TV program — is arduous and risky, but this is familiar terrain for book publishers. What publishers need to realize is that the hard part is finished; the expensive infrastructure required to publish books is already built. Now, publishers should take a page from Colbert’s playbook and use their established platform — books — to engage with the audience through the Web.

As we’ve discussed before, these book-to-Web efforts can be simple add-ons, such as message boards, blogs, widgets and social network integration, or more intricate initiatives like online/offline meet-ups, immersive games, mash-ups and writing experiments. The key is to pay attention to those “echo” opportunities and then look for ways to use a book’s core themes, ideas or characters as community builders.

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