Tag Archives: social media

Signs of The Media Meltdown

I’ve been struggling with the ground-level reality of media transformation over the past couple of weeks, working out the details of a business model, advertising structure and platform for MarketingRev. I’ve been a little shell-shocked by the practical obstacles and some of the attitudes I keep running into among people dealing with rapid and disruptive change. Let’s just say a lot of people who have a long history in traditional media are not all that hunky-dory about what’s happening to their beloved fourth estate.

The bottom line is that traditional media is against the ropes. Advertising dollars are peeling away from print, television and radio, and advertising dollars are growing online. The problem is, the size of the growth online is only a fraction of what’s being lost in traditional media, which means old line companies can’t simply shift online to save their butts. It’s more like falling off a cliff.

A lot of people from traditional media are not too happy about the state of affairs. But I can’t help noticing how their responses to the situation highlight precisely why they’re in this predicament in the first place. Resistance to change–and a skewed perspective on reality. We have mainstream media pundits continuously writing off bloggers as "not journalists"–as shrill, opinionated, trigger-happy typists. They refuse to examine much less embrace the incredible power of distributed eyes and ears–many of whom are, actually, journalists–because it undermines their own power to determine the agenda. If you think blogs are by definition lightweight, here’s one recent example of how lightweight the media is compared to an informed and passionate blogger.   

Then we have major media executives blustering about how they haven’t even begun to fight.

"The Googles of the world, they are the Custer of the modern world. We are the Sioux nation," Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Richard Parsons said, referring to the Civil War American general George Custer who was defeated by Native Americans in a battle dubbed "Custer’s Last Stand". "They will lose this war if they go to war," Parsons added, "The notion that the new kids on the block have taken over is a false notion."

But my favorite recent quote is from Sean McManus, explaining why Katie Couric is taking CBS for a nosedive in the ratings.

“Maybe we underestimate the huge shift this represented,” Mr. McManus said. “It was almost a watershed event to have a woman in that chair.” He added, “There is a percentage of people out there that probably prefers not to get their news from a woman.”

Yeah, that’s it. It’s a woman problem. Not a problem with one of the biggest media companies trying to replace a serious newscast with a $15M creampuff. Not a problem with traditional media vastly misreading what the public wants to consume as news. But this is the epitome of why traditional media is melting down. People know they can’t trust the shiny representation of reality that is packaged to improve consumption. And now they have alternatives.

Obama Stumbles into Social Media

The netroots are on fire this morning after a major theatrical event in the world of social media and politics. As I’ve said many times, politics is the most important analog to business when it comes to social media evolution. What is happening there is a vision of the future for social media in business. And this debacle with Obama is an object lesson.

The story is that some time ago an Obama fan set up a MySpace site devoted to the presidential candidate and his campaign. He secured the MySpace Url www.myspace.com/barackobama, and started building a clearly labeled "unofficial" site for the campaign. Obviously the Obama brand has some legs, and the site started to build a large network of MySpace friends. Eventually the campaign connected with the grassroots fan, and made some requests of him to fix up the site, edit some content and nix some of the "friends" in the MySpace network that might be embarassing to the campaign. The site owner agreed, and thus started a closer working relationship between the site owner and the campaign. Such a close working relationship, in fact, that it quickly became a second demanding job to keep up with the growth of the site and the campaign’s momentum.

140,000 MySpace friends later, the campaign started getting nervous about having such a prominent outpost on the Web run by someone not associated with the campaign. And they started seeing greater value for the site as MySpace began creating more political content and promotions to spotlight MySpace members like Obama and Hillary. So dialog began between the two parties about how to transition control of the site to the campaign. A lot of he-said, she-said arises now, but the apparent picture is that the campaign asked the site owner for a price to take over the site, and he asked for $39,000, plus a cut of advertising revenue from the traffic he had built. Up to now, this was all work he done as a fan, but it was a substantial amount of work–and in the world of high-priced campaigns, building a social network of 140,000 isn’t trivial, even if Obama has a lot pull-through.

The campaign allegedly responded without a counter-offer–only the claim that they didn’t have any money. Hard to believe given their record campaign contributions, and somewhat odd since they had asked for a price. What followed became an ugly use of power. The campaign decided they could take control without payment, simply by pressuring MySpace and claiming that someone was squatting on a URL they had the rights to–the URL after all was ~/barackobama . So MySpace blocked access to the site’s creater, and handed it over the Obama campaign, no questions asked.

Now it is a PR and social media nightmare for Obama. Much of his support in the blogosphere is screaming foul, and comparing the campaign’s tactics to Karl Rove’s–not a kind comparison for a liberal Democrat.

You can read more about the whole debacle here. Suffice it to say, whatever the site was worth, the PR problem would certainly have been worth $39k to avoid, and points out one more shining example of how the fundamentals have changed. This is precisely the kind of tactic that social media has evolved to spotlight and spread like the Bubonic Plague. And it’s incredibly ironic that the campaign was not able to see the obvious consequences–it wasn’t only the kind of strong-arming that lights a fire in the world of social media, it was carried out *in* the social media environment. Talk about stepping on a rake…

Take note, businesses. These kinds of PR crises can be avoided. 

On Being a Blogging Fool

I’m at an overlap for a couple of weeks where I’m writing for four blogs. It’s a little insane, but it’s keeping me very well engaged. I’ve decided that after I finish my gig guest-blogging for Unica, I’m going to continue the same focus with my MotiveLab blog, and turn Marketonomy into more of a dedicated look at the broader issues of marketing–in essence just distilling out from Marketonomy the social media content and leaving the rest.

I’m working on an editorial plan that will turn each blog into a dedicated area of focus. So my expanding media empire of one will consist of MotiveLab (social media), MarketingRev (marketing tech) and Marketonomy (the marketing profession). I’ll eventually put a small meta-navigation bar at the top of each blog to link them together. I should have this all in place by the first week of April.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing today about a new blogging platform for businesses at MarketingRev, called HubSpot, which looks promising. I’ve been writing about some funny social media trends at Unica, including speculation over how American Idol Sanjay has survived despite really bad singing, and Expedia’s Wiki Whitewashing (hat tip: Mike Moore). And finally, I wrote a short entry about the market penetration of the Social Media meme at MotiveLab.

Customer Centricity and Social Media

I’m heading down for a brainstorming session this morning with a major company that I can’t talk about. We’re looking for ways in which a large and mature enterprise with a deeply engrained culture can embrace social media. They see competitors connecting with the market in ways that may shift business dynamics, and they’re highly motivated to close the gap. This is one of those engagements that make business worthwhile for me–sitting down with a group of smart people who are motivated to try something new. It will be a while before I can talk specifics, but I’m hoping even the generic insights that come out of the brainstorming session provide some fodder for practical dialog.

In the meantime, I’ve posted some new material at the Unica Marketing Consortium. The latest piece is on customer-centricity, and what it means in a market of networked customers, partners and suppliers.   

Social Media: One Dead Horse We Can All Flog

One feature that I’m finding I don’t particularly enjoy about social media is the disjointed way in which we bang our heads against the wall while failing to achieve much progress in shaping knowledge. One pod of pundits has an interesting discussion about the definition of social media, and some sort to consensus is reached, even if tacit detente. A few weeks later, a different pundit pod has the same discussion, and either the same or a different consensus is reached. Rinse, lather and repeat. At some point, someone links one or more of the pundit pods by a comment, and the whole discussion begins again, with an exponentially declining rate of return of intelligent new insights. It feels like we’re just reinventing academia, but without all the research.

Personally, I feel the discussion over the meaning of social media is important. This is a major milestone in a transformation that has been going on for a very, very long time, and it impacts almost every facet of our society and institutions. Some pundits are sagely discussing the roots of social media in early BBS systems and forums. Is the fad really that old? When my father was an editor for the New York Times, they used to talk about the incredible democratizing revolution of the IBM Selectric Typewriter. Then it was the Wang Word Processor. Then it was Desktop Publishing. And the thread goes back the other way in history to the printing press and before that the advent of velum. This is about how we codify, transmit, archive, shape, share and investigate knowledge. What’s happening now is big. Not bigger than the printing press, but bigger than Wang. Big enough to take seriously.

But when we use the medium to discuss and define the medium the growing pains become obvious. And they really suck. While we’re busily tearing down many of the fundamental aspects of our current knowledge industry–like centralized voices, authority, experts–the chaos of punditocracy makes me feel a little nostalgic. Let’s face it, some bloggers are incredibly insightful on some topics, not on others. Some are eerily omniscent. Others are total hacks. It’s a mixed bag. But with the magic of social media, everyone’s opinion is equal–or at least, as equal as your traffic, which may be directly or inversely proportionate to your actual knowledge on a given topic, but is always aligned with popularity. Or, notoriety. Or, well, the number of links that separate you from someone really popular.

In my profession, Phillip Kotler is the epitome of the establishment. His defining textbook on marketing has sold more copies than McDonald hamburgers. There’s a secretive but growing sect of marketers who assert that every word in Marketing Principles is in fact literally true. I can see why people would want to tear that house down. It’s timeless. I mean, it doesn’t change. By the time I tackled that beast of a book–it was the middle of the dotcom boom–there was no signature Kotler dissection of Brand, or Metrics, or Technology. It was still the four P’s. Important, but not sufficient.

But. At least it was a stake in the ground that we could reference as a starting point, to track with, or to veer away from in a new direction. Today, we have what? Wikipedia? Have you read the wikipedia entry on Marketing? It’s like a collaborative high school project for Intro to Business–an elective for those who didn’t want to take Spanish. I get the concept of Wikipedia, and it’s great. Really. But professional editors provide a real value to those of us who rely on accurate reference information. The problem with Wikipedia is that there’s no indication, and no accountability, for the reliability of an entry. One entry on the history of the Turbine engine may have been written by the guy who actually invented the thing. But when you get to the entry on marketing, it was probably written by three of your interns. And there’s no way to know the difference, unless you’re already well educated about what you’re reading. We can all hate those Encyclopedia Brittanicas, but you know when that behemoth goes to print there’s been a long process of vetting entries. What is the equivalent on the Web?

And this, really, is the crux of the challenge that defines the next big hurdle in social media. With Wikipedia. With Google. With bloggers and social media. If you already know something about what you’re searching for, or reading–or if you generally don’t care about details like accuracy–you’re in pretty good shape to dive right in, and with a little work you can find a whole lot of value. But if you don’t have a foundation to work from, you can really be hung out to dry. What do you believe? Who says? Who’s right? Do you trust Wikipedia, or the top-ranked site on Google? Here’s a juicy little factoid running in library circles after a recent survey: do you know how teenagers determine whether or not something is true? If they can find it written the same way twice on the Web, it’s true. Truth is equal to consistency. Take that, democratized content. RSS is now God.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to stop the merry-go-round and get off. This is a tremendous thing that’s happening, and it’s exciting and rich and full of ideas and energy–if you can muddle through all the noise. I guess I just thought if we were smart enough to create these tools, we would be smart enough to use them in smart ways. At least we should be smarter than that centralized knowledge industry we’re working so hard to pull down. But what I see in my own experience is that we’re not any smarter. We just have newer tools. We play the same games that pissed us off when others played them. We make the same mistakes. We create the same cliques and echo chambers, we relish the same power when we win it, and we weild that power when we can. But we have one big drawback compared to our centroid forebears that makes us dumberer: hubris. We don’t yet grasp the power, or the shortcomings, of the tools we’ve created.

The very real shortcoming that I see us stalled at today for all our tool-making prowess, is the ability to distill knowledge out of all the information we’re generating. Great, so you got 20 comments on your last blog post. What kernal of wisdom can you pull from those posts that will stand the test of time? What form will it take so that others can benefit from and build on that wisdom? And don’t preach to me about search engines making everything accessible. A needle is accessible in a haystack if you know what you’re looking for and have the patience of a saint to find it.

For all the power social media has to democratize information and the shaping of knowledge, it’s useless for anything more than entertainment if we’re not able to actually shape any knowledge anyone can agree on. I know we’re all waiting with bated breath for another YouTube, or an iTunes killer, but I what I’m really dreaming of is a dynamic distiller that can help me trawl through the information on my site to distill and categorize kernals of knowledge. I don’t want to tag it, or bookmark it, or Digg it. I want to distill the data so people don’t have to trawl through the scrap heap looking for something worthwhile. When data is distilled on my site, maybe it can be shared and distilled across related sites too. Then maybe instead of each pundit pod reinventing the same dialog, we can argue over which distillation packs the biggest punch.

The alternative of course is to keep nursing our egos and leveraging our linkbait. But without eventually inventing ways within social media to distill the dialog, we’ll turn content democratization into knowledge atomization–a world in which whatever you believe is true and no one can prove you wrong. Oh wait, was that why we wanted to get rid of experts and authorities in the first place?

The Role of Business in a Market Community

I’ve finally posted something I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time. A lot of people are talking about the impact of social media on business, and how it forces businesses to play a role as a member of a market community, rather than simply trying to build a fawning circle of customers. The effectiveness of one-way, broadcast communications is changed dramatically in a world where customers have the ability to dialog and compare what you say with what you do. But I’ve been interested in how this actually fits within the historical context of business evolution over centuries. I finally put my thoughts and research down in this post at Unica’s Marketing Consortium. I’m interested in hearing your ideas and feedback. Check it out and weigh in.

Socializing the SuperBowl

I posted a piece on social media and the SuperBowl today on Unica’s Marketing Consortium blog. There were a couple of really good ads produced by fans and consumers, and aired along with those from big league agencies during the game. The quotes around the Internet from ad agency executives and marketing pundits were not dismissive of the ads by any stretch, but their comments do reveal an ivory tower mentality–and in some cases, a fear of being shown up by ordinary people toting cameras creatively. In fact, there’s a very long history of contempt for the unwashed masses on Madison Avenue–ad execs used to famously refer to housewives as "sitting ducks"–that is covered in books like The Image Makers. The book is now out of print, but available used, and gives a fascinated window onto advertising from it’s point in history in the 1980s–a viewpoint that becomes quite poignant when you look at the comments by advertising execs regarding social media. Check it out and let me know if you agree.

A Group of Empowered Individuals

Stowe Boyd has a lot of interesting things to say about Social Media. He has one of the strongest–and loudest–voices on the web framing the way social media is understood, and if you’re not reading his blog you should. Most of the time, I agree with him, like when he says:

The power has shifted from the center to the edge, from the organization/group to the individual… And the centroids will have to realize that something profound has happened, over here, out at the edge, where the social applications are being invented.

Concise and accurate. When he’s describing the unfolding of significant trends, I think he sees the forest for the trees better than most. But when he’s peering into the future, or stumping for a frame that he likes, I think he can go off the rails.

In his last post, Boyd muses on Chris Shipley’s opening comments at Demo, where Shipley talks about the "Empowered Individual"– people who are leveraging their purchasing power to make greater demands for performance, ease of use and reliability. Shipley’s point is that even in the enterprise, where purchasing decisions are far more opaque than in consumer markets, the end users are driving decisions by "demanding better support, quicker response times, more reliable systems, all while fully addressing their specific business needs and their specific business styles."

Boyd agrees with the notion that it’s all about the individual, but doesn’t like "Empowered Individual". I agree, it’s clunky. But Boyd’s favored term is an indication of where I think he goes off the rails. Boyd is pushing for the term "Me First", as a way to concisely define the true nature of individual power. He gives some background on this idea in an insightful post about the diference between collaboration in the ’90s and today:

The basic model of 90’s era collaboration, a la Lotus Notes, is all about the group. Information was managed in group-based repositories, then passed around for review, or published to intranet portals via customized apps. Information era workflows where people are first and foremost occupiers of roles, not individuals, and the materials being created are more closely aligned with groups than individuals.

Web 2.0 social tools — largely — work around a different model. Social networks — explicit ones like MySpace and Facebook, or implicit ones in social media — are really organized around individuals and their networked self-expression. I am writing this blog post, and publishing it, personally. It is not the product of some workgroup. It is not an anonymous chunk of text on a corporate portal. My Facebook profile pulls traffic from my network of contacts, sources I find interesting, and the chance presence updates of my friends.

I don’t need to participate in groups to exist or to share — or to matter — in this world. 

That’s an interesting comment, considering the fact that he’s not writing in a paper notebook, but on a public blog with an RSS feed to distribute his ideas to a broad audience. But then, Boyd hates the idea of "audience", because to him it symbolizes the entrenched and predatory outlook of traditional media moguls, who long ago forgot that their audience is made of up real, live people.

Hayes and his ilk are unwilling to accept the notion that individuals are smart enought to know what’s important to them. Mass market media believes the individual is defined in terms of membership in an audience, an audience whose characteristics, wants and needs are defined by the media. And individuals have become canny enough to know that organizations like the London Times may not always have our best interests at heart, no matter how much they spew the dogma of impartial journalism, or wrap themselves in national or philosophical banners.

While I certainly agree with his sentiments about big media and their refined contempt for consumers, I don’t know why that naturally impugns the concept of "audience". I mean, audience also applies to a musician in a coffehouse, or a play on a stage, or a passionate blogger–it describes an important relationship of community as old as human history itself, and it does not inherently discount the value of the participants in that relationship.

Anyone who has written an email or a comment on a public blog or bulletin board knows the difference between writing in public, and writing in a notebook. At some point you begin to conceptualize the reader as you write, and it changes what you write. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad–especialy when the intent is to decieve or manipulate–but it is inevitable. It is the function of the desire to communicate ideas so that others may understand what you mean. It’s often called finding a voice. And the readers on the other end also at some point conceive of themselves, even if only in very vague ways, as part of a group. When I read the Wall Street Journal, or Boyd’s Blog, even if I’m doing it in total privacy, at some level I know by virtue of public access to the forum that others are also reading it, and that therefore I share some common experience with others, even unseen others. Beyond the interest and utility of participation, whatever it says to you that you are A Reader of the Wall Street Journal, or A Watcher of American Idol, is a function of your perception of the group, and again, it’s inevitable. It’s what media and marketing feeds on to sell you more products. But media and marketing didn’t invent this, they just figured out how to exploit the hell out of it to profit. And now that we are growing wise as consumers, knocking down exploitive marketing and media is good, but it doesn’t eliminate the dynamics of social communication, and it doesn’t eliminate the reality of audience.

Bringing it back around to Boyd’s formulation of "Me First". There is no question in my mind that Boyd is spot on when he says "The power has shifted from the center to the edge, from the organization/group to the individual." And I think he’s right to throw big rocks at the centroids on behalf of the edglings. But I don’t think groups and audiences have been annhilated. The beauty of a group and of an audience is its power to change the participants, both the speakers and the listeners–and often much of the change happens in the preparation of the individual to expose his or her ideas to an audience. If you make the group nothing more than a collection of individuals, there is no conversation.

"Me First" in my mind, discounts the value of the group, in the same way that controlling centroids discount the value of the individual. It’s a swinging of the pendulum a few points too far.

What Does Social Media Mean?

I’ve just published a post on the meaning and sigificance of social media at the Unica blog. Without rehashing the whole discussion here, I’ll post one paragraph that to me cuts to the core of all the hand wringing over the implications of social media.

I know no one does this anymore, but it’s interesting at this point to
crack open a dictionary. It turns out that media, the plural of medium,
means “that which lies between things”. It’s “a substance through which
a force acts or an effect is transmitted”. When we talk about media
communications, the substance is typically newspapers, television,
magazines, radio, books and now of course the Internet. In business,
media might also include brochures, direct mail, web sites, press
releases, presentations and demos. The force or effect that is
transmitted is information—information about people, events and ideas.
But the kicker is that media lies between “things”, and transmits a
force and effect.  The “things” have traditionally been the public on
one side, and the owners of media on the other. The force and effect
transmitted is not just information, but the shaping of knowledge. And
because traditional media—created with expensive and monolithic
tools—is controlled by its owners, the shaping of knowledge by
transmitting selected information has been very one-sided. And that’s
where the full contextual meaning of “social media” starts drawing its

It’s amazing to me how much value you can find hidden in the meanings of words. I’m sure no one sat around searching through the dictionary trying to come up with just the right definitions to wrap around blogs and wikis. A label like "social media" in one sense is just the victor in a natural selection of terms that also at one time included "user generated content". It fits, it makes sense. But at the same time, once that label sticks, and you dig down into what those words signifies, it’s really pretty damn fascinating to see the deeper layers that just pop right out. I mean, User Generated Content? How far can you dig with that? It’s almost as if the unstructured process that led to the rise of the term Social Media somehow accounted for the depth of meaning of the term.         

The Power of Social Media

Big day today.

First, today marks the launch of MarketingRev.com, a news blog covering technology for marketers. This is an evolutionary step in the development of the Value Added Marketing Association, whose mission is to accelerate the development of marketing technologies, and the advancement of a marketing technology community. MarketingRev assists that goal by providing news and insight into marketing technology and the industry at large, drawing together and informing marketers who understand the critical role technology plays in the evolution of marketing as a corporate function. If you’re a technology provider, please submit your company profile and news directly to MarketingRev for coverage.

Second, today is my first day as a guest blogger for Unica’s Marketing Consortium. I’ll be blogging for the month of February on the topic "The Power of Social Media", exploring the meaning, the origins, the hype, and of course, the relevance of Social Marketing to marketing practitioners. I’m opening today with an invitation to weigh in on the meaning of Social Media, and how you experience it as a marketer and as a consumer. There’s a lot of good dialog that’s been happening on the Unica blog, so please join the fray.

Finally, I’ve finally made the decision to relaunch MotiveLab as an agency focusing on Social Marketing. I’ve pulled down the MotiveLab site for a couple of weeks to reshape the content and position the company. I’ll be announcing some exciting partnerships after the relaunch in a few weeks. In the meantime, I’ll be digging deeper into the social media trend, both in concept at the Unica blog and in practice with MarketingRev.