Peter Espersen is the Head of Online Community and Community Engagement at LEGO and has incredible insight and experience when it comes to understanding the potential to celebrate brand communities in digital space.
This Q&A is a must read for anyone interested in new angles on how to work in social media and online communities.
To see Peter speak live on the TEDx stage, register here.
Hi Peter, what’s it like working for LEGO? What do you do there?
I currently work with LEGO fans and their communities, creating experiences with our 13+ fans. These experiences tend to be co-created with the fans. I’m so fortunate to work with a team of very passionate and talented colleagues and together we make a lot of things, such as:
Did you own LEGO as a kid?
You bet I did – here’s a picture where I’m not very happy, because my little sister is trying to get hold of my LEGO bricks!
I had a lot of different things, my favourite set was 375 – the Yellow Knights Castle. It was not my mom’s favourite; she had to fix the drawbridge with thread quite often.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever made with LEGO?
I’ve made many things but I think my castle display featuring a makeshift catapult made with my sisters hairpin was exciting. But I must admit, I’m not nearly as good as the LEGO fans.
The Pixar-like LEGO video celebrating its 80th birthday has gone viral. What’s the secret to a viral success?
I think it’s the honesty and the fact that it’s a wonderful story of the passion and hard work that went into making the toy of the 20th century.
But normally the LEGO fans make far more viral content. The top 10 videos tagged LEGO on youtube have about 100 million views – and we did not make any of them.
How did you get involved in building communities online?
I’ve participated in online communities from very early Internet days, and in many different forms: Multi-user-Dungeons (MUDs), Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs), chat rooms and other forums around my interests.
It excited me a lot to connect with people through work who had the same passions as me, and exchange opinions and ideas with people from around the world.
How do you go about engaging kids, teens and adults in online content?
We only engage kids on LEGO.com. This is because we take security very seriously, and we need to be sure that we create a safe environment for the kids.
We engage 13+ users on one of our many platforms You Tube, Facebook, and especially in initiatives such as our social bookmarking service ReBrick, and our Crowdsourcing initiative LEGO CUUSOO. But we have many interesting offerings, like the MINDSTORMS Robotic Communities, and tool like LEGO Digital Designer that allows users to virtually build LEGO creations with any brick they want.
What are some of the myths of social media and online community management?
I detest the term “Community Management.” About 50 per cent of the LEGO fans have higher than a Bachelors degree and all of them create amazing things with our bricks as a vessel for storytelling and creation. You just don’t manage these people. I prefer to co-create, amplify and celebrate them. We usually say, that we’re fans of the LEGO fans.
I think there are many who don’t understand that it takes time to create communities – you can speed it up with money and a few other things, but if you want a community like the ones you see surrounding the LEGO Group or Harley Davidson, it takes time, sincere interest and a lot of hard work.
Finally, there is a tendency from brands to engage in the social space by acting like the guy you went to high school with, who showed up at your parties uninvited, drank your beer, and always talked about himself. Did you want to talk to that guy then? It hasn’t changed has it?
What’s the secret to effective online and social media communication?
I think you need to have the right plan, and the right people.
It’s important that you know what you want, not just get a million likes on Facebook, open a Twitter account and start a community programme because you competitor has it. It’s what you do with your relations in social media that counts. Why not use it to get closer to your consumer and learn more about them, tap into their knowledge or amplify their excitement?
Reaching out to your audience on the web, or in general, is something that requires empathy and insight into who you’re communicating with. Some companies let an intern run their Twitter account unsupervised. But would you let an intern go on CNN? The audience and the stakes are just as high in the digital space.
How do you spot online trends?
I tend to spend a lot of time online, but I also exchange a lot of opinions with my network offline. Further it’s also good to look at related industries and follow the right people on Twitter.
The theme of this year’s TEDx Transmedia, WEKids, is about harnessing child-like wonder and courage to make media that has a social impact. What do you see as the potential of that approach?
There are many terms that describe child-like behavior: Peter Pan Complex, Kidults, etc. I’d like to turn this upside down. Near where I grew up, there was a graffiti piece stating: “Adults, are kids that have gone insane.” That’s probably how I view it.
The subheading is Dreamers, Geeks, Mindshifters; which do you most identify with and why?
I’ve probably shifted my mind, and admitted being a Geek that dreams :)
On a serious note, I think I fit in the Mindshifter and Geek category.
What did you want to be as a kid? What were your dreams and aspirations?
I wanted to do something that I liked. I never dreamed of being a LEGO employee or a soldier like boys typically do, even though I’ve become both later in life [Peter was a soldier 15 years ago and is a veteran from the Balkans]. The one thing I was scared of growing up, was that I had to work 8-10 hours a day with something that didn’t interest me.
LEGO is about play, what do you think is the role of playing in life?
Playing and tinkering with things is human nature. I think playing is an important way of expanding your mindset and relaxing. You know what they say: All work and no play…
What’s been the most fun you’ve had with LEGO and why?
There are so many fun episodes, I cannot single out one.
What are some of the challenges and also benefits of giving inanimate objects like LEGO a life online?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that the LEGO system of play is a creative medium. That means, that when you go beyond building what is in the building instructions, then you tap onto your creativity, and also your emotions. When this happens, the LEGO fans can create wondrous things.
What attracts you to speaking at TEDxTransmedia in Rome?
I’ve been a big fan of the TEDx events and as I work outside the traditional constraints of media, speaking at TEDx Transmedia came naturally.
TEDTalks are renowned for their inspiration, energy and focus on the personal. Can you give us a taster of what you want to bring to Rome?
I’m going to talk about who technology commoditises and the change in communication that gives rise to empowered groups who can have an impact on companies. I’ll also highlight how companies in general have challenges to face in understanding, perceiving and acting upon these changes.
What in your life are you most passionate about?
That’s a very difficult question…. I’m passionate about so many things.
And something a bit more personal, if you don’t mind? What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I try to build my mind and body by working out, going to the opera and reading philosophy...and breaking it down again eating a lot of food, watching sports and playing computer games.
Interview by Hannah Wood.