http://arielmoore42303.wix.com/con-cast – link to Con-cast homepage
The goal of this project and the website it produced was to satirize the ways in which companies view and correspond with their audience (in this case, their customers): with a view to exploiting them, rather than interacting with them. We used as inspiration for this the story behind a website mentioned in the book, “Comcast Must Die,” which collected stories from customers who had negative experiences with the customer service provided by Comcast. We also tied this in with a demonstrated trend in how companies interact with their audience in that they often attempt to manipulate participatory culture to their benefit, unprepared for the backlash such manufactured participation can bring when customers either get wise to the manipulation or use it for purposes not anticipated by the company. This is shown in several examples where companies had complaints brought against their Twitter pages by prominent community members and where the companies attempted to use antiquated methods to deal with these complaints, not realizing the damage that disparaging comments can do when presented in such a public forum.
We constructed this project aiming to parody and critique this paradoxical attitude held by many companies towards interacting with customers in a spreadable format. They want to foster a participatory culture with their user base, but only if they are in control of the net message that it yields. This is a difficulty faced by many businesses in a modern market, primarily because the idea of harnessing a participatory culture is a contradiction in terms. For this participation to be natural and productive, companies must relinquish control of the discussion. This is demonstrated in our project in that the comments made by customers are contained on a page within the company’s larger website. This carries the double purpose of streamlining our project and eliminating the need for additional pages, while also demonstrating the attitudes detailed above. Though the company attempts to move towards a social web presence, they clearly have not prepared themselves for the kind of backlash that is so elegantly laid out in the ‘Customer Reviews’ section of the website. Among the comments, most relevant is the one claiming that the author’s earlier comment was deleted. This indicates the paradoxical viewpoint outlined above: the desire to control something that by definition is not controlled. It’s not hard, either, to imagine that within a few days (or whenever someone at Con-cast decides to check the page) these comments might all be deleted, effectively shutting down the customer participation that the company was trying to allow for. Given more time, we might also see another common practice not represented in the current state of the website: paid positive reviews.
The actual parody of the site works in that it represents in an admittedly harsh light what one might imagine actual companies to be like behind their doubletalk and promotional messages, as is common to other parody videos we have viewed throughout the semester that provided inspiration for the project, such as “This Is a Generic Brand Video”. The site itself features a slideshow of stock photos that were chosen intentionally to give a vague image of the company. They are of a fairly low quality, and consist of images with no context, such as what looks to be a customer service representative, two children using a computer that you might imagine would use Con-cast internet, and my personal favorite, a smart phone being held under a graph that connects the word “Business” and pie charts, along with other business-like illustrations. Moving down to the rest of the homepage, these sections are what members of the group imagine corporate marketing talk really means when it comes from a company like this one. The negative, sometimes belligerent descriptions are a cynical view of the contrast between how companies market themselves and how they actually behave. When participants realize that a company isn’t behaving genuinely, they begin to suspect that their participation is also not genuine, and thus are more likely to react negatively to the business. The humor in our parody lies in confirming this suspicion on the part of many customers and participants of these companies (as well as in creating fictional managers naive enough to miss the sarcasm of the front page’s testimony). On the subject of the company’s executives, they were written intentionally to seem as out of touch as possible, precipitating the skewed views of participatory culture that cause the mistakes seen on this website. It is taken a step further, as well, in implying that some of the managers make these mistakes on purpose to anger or damage the community.
The design of the website itself was intended to mimic that of a company who had hired a competent website designer to make their website appear professional without adding much substance, as illustrated by the fancy buttons that lead nowhere. Our original idea was to make a website that looked as bare-bones as possible, like a company had thrown something together to just have a webpage up. We decided against this because we felt that it spoke more to the current state of businesses to have a page that valued very heavily its outward appearance but couldn’t care less about the actual substance of those pages, just as it seems that many times companies will put far more effort into creating a positive brand image than they do into making sure that the company lives up to that image. Our project, in summary, is much the opposite of this: on the surface it seems a sarcastic dig at a fictitious company, but its elements provoke discussion of many relevant and harmful contemporary business practices.