IFTF has a vision, social networks for toasters worldwide. Love the visuals.
Jay Rosen has a terrific post about the state of media, beginning with this clip from the film “Network”:
Pretty timely, eh?
Jay analyzes the scene:
… the filmmakers are showing us what the mass audience was: a particular way of arranging and connecting people in space. Viewers are connected “up” to the big spectacle, but they are disconnected from one another. Or to use the term I have favored, they are “atomized.” But Howard Beale does what no television person ever does: he uses television to tell its viewers to stop watching television.
When they disconnect from TV and go to their windows, they are turning away from Big Media and turning toward one another. And as their shouts echo across an empty public square they discover just how many other people had been “out there,” watching television in atomized simultaneity, instead of doing something about the inarticulate rage that Beale put into words. (“I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the streets. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad!”)
He goes on to ask what would happen today in response to a “Howard Beale” event…
Immediately people who happened to be watching would alert their followers on Twitter. Someone would post a clip the same day on YouTube. The social networks would light up before the incident was over. Bloggers would be commenting on it well before professional critics had their chance. The media world today is a shifted space. People are connected horizontally to one another as effectively as they are connected up to Big Media; and they have the powers of production in their hands.
Jay follows with an expansion of his comments, and concludes with a set of recommendations for today’s journalists. (The post is a must-read for journalists and news bloggers.)
There’s been too much hand-wringing over the supposed collapse of journalism as we know it, but journalism’s never been more exciting, never had the kind of tools and channels of information available today. We’re seeing, not collapse, but evolution. I’m wanting to spend more and more time with journalists, and think more and more about the relationship of professional journalism to blogging and other more or less informal information channels.
Increasingly I’m finding that, as a consultant about effective Internet communication, I have to talk about marketing, how to market to, for, and with communities and social networks.
Marketing is, always has been, an important part of the media mix, and it’s important to understand how the transformation and evolution of media – the emerging world of “social media” or “new media” or “digital media” – will change how we think about marketing and how it works.
To say what I want to say here, I have to devote a few paragraphs to my background. Over twenty years ago my life took a turn when I discovered a technology that connects people to people. Since then I’ve followed a career path that’s all about computer networks and social networks, and how the former mediates the latter to ever greater effect.
In the 1990s my focus was on cyberculture and Internet policy via the Electronic Frontier Foundation and related tribes, including EFF-Austin, and on Internet-mediated community + commerce and web publishing via FringeWare, Inc. and Whole Foods Market. At Whole Foods, I learned so much about building web sites that, when the dotcom bust ended the ecommmerce projects I was working on, I started a web development company, Polycot Consulting. Polycot was a cutting-edge, standards-based, open source web company, a partnership with two brilliant developers, Matt Sanders and Jeff Kramer. Part of my role in the company was based on what I’d always done, surf the edges of web trends and understand what technology patterns we should recommend and build for our clients. Because of my focus on community, I was particularly focused on the evolution of the social web. Because of my focus on publishing, I was particularly interested in the trend away from professional to personal content – the blog. Because I hung out at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology conferences and SXSW Interactive here in Austin, and because I had so many connections within ‘net culture, I was spending time with many of the best and brightest thinkers about the direction of the web. I was in conversations about trends that came to be labeled “web 2.0,” and the evolution of social networks, social media, social web.
So I was drawn into the “social media” conversation when it started within the last 3-4 years. I had been building a consulting methodology focused on helping people understand and leverage their relevant social networks to accomplish their personal or organizational goals. As a consulting practice, it worked well. When we heard people talking about social media, we thought there might be a conceptual link to what we were doing. I started paying attention, and thought I would consult in that space – really a matter of effective communication in the new world of participatory, omnidirectional, Internet-based communication. It was the sort of consulting I was ideally suited to do.
I’m presenting all of this background to make it clear that I’m not just talking to hear my head rattle. The Internet, the web, and what we’ve come to call “social media” and “social business,” the social web, is my career and my life, what I live and breathe, something I feel passionate about. A digital culture has been emerging for two decades. It’s opened up a world where anyone can produce and publish content; it’s a powerful and disruptive context for human energy, intelligence, and innovation. On the Internet we can mash up our personal and professional lives and selves and effectively channel creative impulses we never knew we had.
My life online led me into a company called Plutopia Productions the name of which derives from “pluralist” + “utopias.” The Plutopia krew has evolved a vision of a DIY world where everyone can build to a unique, personal set of specs – configurable homes, configurable scenes, all mediated by pervasive technologies… the realization of the cyborganic vision many of us were talking about in the 90s.
So here’s the drum roll, and the point I’ve been working toward in this post:
The Internet is not a marketing platform.
Obviously marketing is a powerful part of the mix of many things we all do online. Increasingly I find myself consulting about effective marketing communications using social media, and I know how important that can be for some people. The Internet is also an effective platform for getting customer feedback into both product marketing and operations.
For some, there’s a temptation to want to structure the Internet as an environment for sales and marketing, where those activities can be as dominant as they became with television when it emerged as pervasive media in the fifties and sixties. Marketing was such an obvious use for the medium, which was saturated over time with commercial messages. Over decades in a world of persistent, pervasive commercials, audiences started shutting down, became marketing resistant.
As this was happening, the Internet emerged, lowered the barriers to media production, and now anyone can produce as well as consume media. We are empowered, and we feel that we don’t have to follow marketing messages at all – we ignore them, even suppress them. If Facebook decides to become less of a social engine and more of a marketing engine, someone else will build an open alternative that isn’t about selling, and Facebook might just be doomed to beocme the 21st Century AOL.
We do see an emerging Internet marketing discipline, an approach that can be summed up in a word: spam, which has come to be used as a term for any unsolicited commercial message delivered online.
However there’s another approach that is lighter and more consistent with digital culture. When I give talks about social media, which is often, my message is that you have to forget manipulative or interruptive marketing and selling and build authentic relationships with your customers/clients/constituents instead. That’s hard to do and it doesn’t scale very well. Traditional marketing people are often uncomfortable going there, and that’s not unreasonable – they have efficient processes geared to mass marketing and advertising, and those do scale, and they do seem to have an effect. But mass media’s fading if not evaporating, mindshare is fragmented, and in a social network/digital media context, mass marketing feels like, or is, spam.
I don’t have a marketing background, but as a new media expert, I believe that, if you’re in marketing, you have to rethink all your strategies and processes and get your head around a media environment that enables symmetrical relationships with customers. In this context, your customer is your partner, not your “target.” Read The Cluetrain Manifesto (which I’ve been advocating since it appeared in the 90s). Get familiar with Project VRM. Marketing strategies that empower the customer are the new black. (Those that don’t are the new black and blue.)
If you want a good model for new thinking, check out Tara Hunt’s work. She strikes me as particularly clueful about 21st century marketing, viewed from an online marketing professional’s perspective, but also from an online community builder’s perspective. You can also contact me if you need help in thinking about how your business can be more effective with new media.
Three years ago I started thinking about how I might do consulting around my knowledge of online communities and collaboration, social networks, and general web strategy. I started meeting with David Swedlow, then Bill Anderson and Honoria Starbuck joined us. We were thinking how organizations could work through their social networks to build collaborative efforts. This could include viral marketing and collaboration with customers and clients. Bill and I had an engagement with an academic client that seemed to work as a proof of concept. I went on to form a partnership with David Armistead at Social Web Strategies, and as we worked through the construction of an ontology for our potential work, a couple of things happened. First, marketing communications professionals started seeing one point that we had been discussing – that mass aggregation of mindshare was becoming a thing of the past, that attention was fragmented and distributed among many niches and applications. Second, Twitter caught on with marketing professionals and they started thinking how they might use it, Facebook, and other social networking platforms to create presence for their clients. We started to see the label “social media,” and a few people who sort of knew marketing and sort of knew social software started building buzz for a new discipline, hoping they could sell consulting hours based on their (more or less limited) knowledge. However, well-established large consultancies started adding social media expertise, and selling social media consulting as just another of many services. Also, just incidentally, the economy crashed and money stopped flowing. (We started thinking about low barrier to entry/low cost of production as a social software plus, and we also started thinking hard about the impact of low transactional costs – thinking how we could consult on the uses of social software for coordination and collaboration inside companies – what others later started calling social business).
So now I’m seeing that the enterprise will buy social media marketing expertise from the same large consultancies that they’ve always used, and the same will probably be true of social business expertise, as thinking about the impact of social media on internal operations evolves. Medium-sized companies seem to be hiring rather than outsourcing expertise, if they’re willing to spend money at all. Small companies are doing what they can on their own. As a consequence of all this, there’s not much of a market for small social media consultancies and freelancers – I keep hearing of “social media consultants” who’ve gone to work for larger companies doing community management or working with marketing groupss to help address social media channels.
At Social Web Strategies, we saw that our best option was to do corporate training. We’d been doing these workshops anyway, so it makes sense to build a business around them. I changed my relationship to the company, giving up my partnership but staying on as a principal, partly because I didn’t want to be as focused on training, and partly because I wanted more time to think and write – hard to do when you’re charged with building and running a business.
I also think that we’ve lost “social” in social media like Twitter and Facebook, that are set up for drive-by posting but don’t facilitate real collaboration very well. I’ve been working (with Kevin Leahy of Knowledge Advocate) to become a Google Wave expert, because I think Wave really does support collaboration. I want to help people build true collaboration and true community, where connections become sustained relationships and lead to authentic experiences. I’m also interested in support for collaborative innovation, and how R&D works in an network environment (I’ll post more about this later).
Currently I’m freelancing, and planning to write more here and elsewhere. I’m also still working for Social Web Strategies, and will be co-presenting a training on social media for entrepreneurs in February, based on Dave Evans’ book Social Media Marketing an Hour a Day.