TEDx: use our brand but make sure people know it’s not us

In my networks class today we were talking about co-creation: what it means to co-create, when it makes sense to do it, how it relates to the two-sided market model, and the state of Steven’s iPad. Now, with soy latte in hand and my first seat at Free Speech Cafe (!), I’m thinking about how this all relates to networking events like TED and their latest offshoot, TEDx.

Organised by potentially ‘anyone in the world’, TEDx events are independently organised events with a distinct TED flavor. TED determines the platform (events share the same format, documentation and purpose) while organisers ‘curate’ the content on the platform.

This is an example of a two-sided market model because TED must court both speakers and participants in order to develop a successful product. Much of the value in bringing both together is in the value of the brand and the extent to which the brand’s promise is fulfilled by both parties. Having one’s brand dependent on external parties who aren’t formally contracted with one another is a new and fascinating phenomenon. In the past, you knew that the company selling you a conference ticket was responsible for your experience. When TED informally contracts out this service to people who aren’t responsible to TED, they must trust that the resulting product will fulfill the brand’s promise.

TED has done something pretty clever here in order to gain maximum value out of connecting with people who want to co-create the brand with them, while still attempting to mitigate some of the risks. TED makes sure they select the people who will organise the events (‘no one can host a TEDx event unless he or she has been granted a license to do so by TED’) and they have clear guidelines about the use of the logo and the TED format. Instead of asking organisers to use the TED logo, they use the logo marker (‘TED’) as a way to signal to users that this is the TED platform but that content is independently curated (‘x’). It’s almost as if they’re saying: ‘This is TED but it’s also not TED. We are the platform, but we are not the content on that platform’.

I’m not sure how analogous this is to video game platform producers who have video game developers producing video games on the platform, but it’s definitely new, and it’s definitely something that people who produce events must think about – especially those like TED whose brand is global and who are then under pressure to find a way to scale up the event in the most efficient way.

I’m left with a lot of questions. How do you extract the platform from the content in an event? What role does the brand play in an event like this? And will TED try to control the brand in new ways if and when there are any risks to it by this move towards ‘co-creation’?

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