Thursday, April 10, 2008

Community and Competition

Part 2 - Street Teams

A little while ago, I read that street teams were growing at a really steady clip over at Etsy. This got me thinking more about the original purpose of street teams and what they have grown into. I used to work at a music store and had more than my fair share of experience with the street teams that work for music groups. They are generally hard core fans that do promotional work without any compensation, save for the occasional free CD or other promo material. They are passionate about their cause and seem willing to do most anything that they are asked.

Flash forward to Etsy street teams. When they first appeared they were exactly the same as the music versions. People so enamored with Etsy that they were willing to do the foot work in their community to get the word out. Then something weird happened. The first street teams based on demographic rather than geographic location started cropping up. The first one was the now defunct Etsy Dark Artists. I know that because I was in that one. We all sold different products that appealed to the same basic customer base. Well it made good sense, we could target a specific group with ads that would help us and Etsy. We got along very well, until money and participation issues got in the way. We imploded partly because we were misunderstood by others and partly because, like any large group of people, we disagreed on what our individual contribution to the group should be. Some of us were looking for a community and others were looking for a lucrative business arrangement and we discovered that the two could not co-exist for us.

At least we were careful to not let too many of any one craft in, so we were never competing with each other. That is why some of the new street teams have me scratching my head. I mean, if you had a brick and mortar store that sold baby clothes, would I want to not only invite 12 other baby clothes retailers to move in next door, but advertise with them as well. I'm all for community spirit, but it seems a little backwards to me. What would make sense as that same store owner is to invite a maternity store and nursery furniture retailer and a toy store store to move in and combine advertising.

If you wouldn't do it in the real world why would you do it online? I have heard the argument that since everyone has different taste, as long as your styles are varied you can still support each other without cutting into your own potential sales. It's a valid argument, but that's not really what I see happening with these street teams from the outside. I don't honestly know how each of them really works, but you can see what's got me a little confused based on the original purpose of the street team. I imagine a lot of them have the same business versus community argument brewing under the surface. Maybe we just need to redefine the street team or just rename it. I'm afraid I don't have a solution with this one, just a whole lot of questions and concerns.


SewCrazyDogLady said...

You know, I just left a street team for this very reason. There was so much expectation of participation but no one could really nail down for me what I was expected to do.

I'm contemplating starting a street team for the Upstate New York Area .. Capital Region, ya know.. but I probably should get my store up and running first.

Anonymous said...

I just tried to leave this comment and something went wrong, so hopefully I'm not repeating myself:) I wanted to say that I think I've been lucky with the team that I am a member of. It is a very diverse group, so I don't really feel a sense of competition. Also, expectations about participation and financial contribution are quite low. It's more of a community that promotes, rather than a heavily promotion-driven group.

Waterrose said...

Once again this is such an appropriate observation. I have tried a few street teams. Two that no one wanted to take the lead, so no one knew what role to play. Another that someone started and wanted the benefits, but didn't want to follow their own rules. And, now I'm a member of one, but it has to do with promoting blogs. This one has a lot of members and a lot of rules that are very confusing.

So I don't know the answer either. Co-op advertising can work, but I agree there has to be a genre that the group fits in, rathe than everyone doing the same thing and competing.