Participatory Culture: A Culture on the Rise

In 1975 the first wave of personal computers were released, all serving the mere purpose of a one-way communication machine. However, as the growth of technology continued and time moved forward, new digital communication technologies allowed for the worlds population to develop informal collaborations and empower individuals to participate within the public sphere. Today, individuals are now given the opportunity to effectively negotiate texts, create and share content, showcase ideas or even provide lifestyle propositions (Flew, 2011). These possibilities have all resulted due to the emergence of the modern day phenomenon, participatory culture.

As defined by Henry Jenkins, author and scholar, participatory culture allows for individuals to not only consume media, but also work to help produce new media (Jenkins, 2006). Jenkins further explained the culture as one with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, with those associated holding strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others. Furthermore, participatory culture allows for members to feel that their contributions have impacted discussion and allows for a feeling of social connection to be established. Simply put, as quoted by Henry Jenkins himself, “Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement” (Jenkins, 2006).

The concept of this culture is further explained in the exert below:

The field of public relations is one that has welcomed the emergence of participatory culture with open arms. With the evident help of social media, many companies have been able to launch campaigns that engage consumers by creating a participatory culture, while further gaining free advertisements and promotion. This has been an undeniable trend in the public relations sector, with major corporations such as Calvin Klein and Coca-Cola taking part in creating these cultures.

Introducing the #mycalvins campaign in early 2014, the Calvin Klein movement now boasts 442,761 public user posts on Instagram, all of which have incorporated the campaigns hashtag (Instagram, 2016). Utilising some of the most followed individuals on Instagram to kick-start the campaign, including the likes of Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Iggy Azalea, it was a simple yet beautiful way for the company to begin a participatory culture in their own right. Having consumers view such prominent figures of pop culture flaunt the campaign across their social platforms ultimately led to fans going out and purchasing the thirty-something dollar underwear for themselves. This then led to fans providing free advertisement to Calvin Klein, posting their own interpretations using the #mycalvins on social media. The campaign effectively obtained ample growth for the company, attracting an additional 2.2M followers on Facebook, 1.8M on Instagram and 1M on Twitter (Leo, 2015).

Below shows an original video for the #mycalvins campaign, one of which helped spark the revolution that it one day became:

Another notable public relations/participatory culture success can be found within the 2015 Coca-Cola ‘Share a Coke With’ campaign. The promotion employed the idea of swapping out the company’s traditional logo with the titled campaign slogan and using
various names to fill in the blank. Utilising titles such as BFF, mother, father, soul mate and many more, the campaign was able to generate mass amounts of social media content through consumers sharing posts and stories relating to their experiences (Gugliemli, 2015). The company provided complete creative control to their consumers, allowing for multiplatform conversations on social media sites to occur. Becoming completely controlled by consumers, Coca-Cola successfully planted itself into the homes of their consumers, ultimately becoming an integrated part of their everyday lives. The online campaign was a complete success for the company, surpassing more than 500,000 photos incorporating the #ShareaCoke hashtag on Instagram (Instagram 2016), and gaining approximately 25M additional Facebook followers as a result of the success (Tarver, 2015).

Both the #mycalvins and ‘Share A Coke With’ campaigns are textbook examples of what a successful participatory culture promotion looks like. Both campaigns have allowed for a more interactive experience, leading to higher customer satisfaction rates while being completely tailored to each individual consumer and/or consumer group. Through implementing these tactics, each company has attained copious amounts of positive brand exposure; all while securing free advertisements across social platforms. These factors are key indicators that the campaigns have amounted to great success, and evidently utilised the idea of participatory culture to the full degree (Hutchins & Tindal, 2016).

The implementation of participatory culture into the field of public relations has allowed for the emergence of the most successful campaigns to date. Through allowing consumers to engage interactively with ongoing promotions, participatory culture allows for brands to achieve greater amounts of exposure for a fraction of the cost. This newfound culture has completely changed the way of interaction between campaigns and consumers, ultimately causing a more engaged industry to progress. With such success resulting from the culture, it prompts the thought of what interactive campaigns will amount to in 20 years time. Will they be the same? Will they even exist? Only time can tell how this culture will continue to shape the public relations sector.


Calvin Klein. (2016). Calvin Klein Fall 2016 #mycalvins Global Campaign [Video File]. Retrieved from:

Flew, T. (2011). New Media: An Introduction. Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Gugliemli, V. (2015). 3 Marketing Lessons from the ‘Share a Coke’ Campaign. Retrieved 27 October, 2016, from

Hutchins, A & Tindall, N. (2016). Public Relations and Participatory Culture: Fandom, Social Media and Community Engagement. (1st Ed.) New York: Routledge.

Instagram. (2016). Instagram: #mycalvins. Retrieved 26 October, 2016, from

Instagram. (2016). Instagram: #ShareaCoke. Retrieved 26 October, 2016, from

Jenkins, H. (2013). What Do We Know Now About Participatory Cultures: An Interview with Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson (Part One). Retrieved 26 October 2016, from

Leo, S. (2015). #MyCalvins Campaign Takes Over The Internet. Retrieved 27 October, 2016, from

Tarver, E. (2015). What Makes The ‘Share a Coke’ Campaign So Successful? Retrieved 27 October 2016, from

Zuidwijk, C. (2014). You Featuring Who? A Video About Participatory Culture [Video File]. Retrieved from:


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