Long before the 3D printing craze caught fire, a humble 3D printing website was born: Thingiverse. What started in 2008 as a community hub for free 3D printable files has now exploded into a massive library of over two million things ready to download and print. Thingiverse is quickly becoming the YouTube of 3D printable objects, with users ranging from garage-based hardware hackers, to teachers, designers, engineers, and even companies.
Like any other social network or hub for user-generated content, big brands are getting on board and connecting to new audiences. As a longtime Thingiverse user myself and a die hard 3D printing fan, I've seen the good and the bad of companies joining up and posting their 3D printable files. There are a few other platforms to share content on such as MyMiniFactory, pinshape, and Cults. Remember the race for companies to get on Twitter and Instagram and all the best practice tips about authenticity and engagement that came with it? Here some veteran tips for any brands, startups, and entrepreneurs joining the inevitable 3D movement.
1. Share, share, share.
On social media, you have to offer something -- Thingiverse is no different. Do you have a physical product? Share the design. If you can't safely share all of it, pick some components of the design that could benefit from modifications, add-ons, or attachments. The maker and 3D printing communities on Thingiverse love to test their skills and can bring their abundant creative energy to your brand -- the resulting fan art or even useful designs are small marketing tools that will continue to carry your name and theme.
2. Find your brand's inner nerd.
Every social network has unique tone and demographic: Twitter's format rewards wit, while Instagram requires good design aesthetic. But Thingiverse users are makers and 3D printing enthusiasts, which means they're early adopters of technology and more likely to have STEM skills than most other audiences. To put it briefly, Thingiverse leans nerdy,
Any product or service in this space is a natural fit for the Thingiverse community. Take the NBC owned science fiction channel, Syfy, for example. Even though Syfy isn't trying to sell a physical product, by posting spaceships and characters from the network's shows, they're offering high quality brand artifacts and lore to a massive audience, and are getting serious engagement in return.
3. Let the makers make.
The maker community it going to create mods, hacks, re-boots, parodies, and everything else they can around your product if they find it interesting or useful. Let them! Keep in mind that if you issue widespread takedown notices to Thingiverse users, your defensiveness may trigger the internet's now famous "Streisand effect." By trying to restrict or hide something, you may encourage antagonistic users to post it back up faster than you can take it down.
This universe of 3D printable things is full Star Wars characters, cases and mods for Apple devices, even an accurate clone of a Subaru engine. A number of these designs may technically infringe on a company's intellectual property (I choose you, Pikachu), but not pose any actual threat to the success of the product or the business at large. Fan communities are famous for these sort of remixes, and in almost all cases they add to your brand's equity.