Inspired by the recent piece on GigaOm about information decay, and perhaps due to a bit of laziness about posting something new more consistently, I’m throwing up a few things I’ve written that have shown up other places over the years in an attempt to not let my digital info decay. Most, if not all, of what I put up originally appeared over on the website of my good friends at iMedia.
I’m finding it interesting that though this stuff is “old” (most of it from 7 years or more ago), the topics still feel, for the most part, of the now and, for the most part, not really resolved. Lots of progress has definitely been made for sure, don’t get me wrong. But not having full resolution on stuff from 7 years ago I don’t necessarily think is all bad, just that sometimes (frequently) the pace of change in the industry is such that we never really get things resolved before we move on to the next thing. Or we evolve the thing we haven’t resolved to a new place somewhat compounding the lack of resolution.
Anyway, installment one of Stuff I’ve Said Other Places was posted on iMediaConnection back on August 19, 2005 under the title “New Media to Media Pros: Don’t Label Me”. Ironically, I arrived back at this piece after numerous, recent email and in person conversations about the evolution of “social” and what, exactly, does “social” mean. This piece was spurred by an article in Technology Review (read it in print) called Social Machines (the link isn’t dead and seven years later this is still a good, pertinent read).
In moving to a research firm, I have found the concept of The Mathematical Mind flourishes here as it does for the media strategists I was originally referencing. Actually, I found it alive and well in my time on the client-side as well. Maybe even more funny is that though “Web 2.0” feels so passe, when you look at how it’s defined, are we really onto whatever the next version is just yet? Enjoy…
The past couple of months have been an interesting time for me. I was entrenched in a couple of new business pitches, as well as in many discussions and presentations involving emerging media.
Now that I’m coming out of this intensive time spent primarily talking about the future of media delivery, media consumption and subsequent models for planning and purchasing said media, I’ve been reflecting a bit on what I’ve learned. Where I feel I’ve gained the most insight is in how our media minds need to evolve and adapt to these emerging media trends.
The Mathematical Mind
It took me awhile to put my finger on it, but I’d have to say the biggest drawback we as media people have in fully understanding and applying “emerging media” is a want, I would say a need, for specific order and categorization in our work. We may use big words and a lot of acronyms that many don’t fully understand, but in the end, we want nice, neat, simple labels applied to what we do and how we do it. Our logical, mathematical minds always want one and one to equal two.
Think about it: We do detailed analysis on target audiences so we can label them based on demographics and behaviors that will allow us to better decide the mix of media to use which are nicely separated based on how the message is delivered to the audience. Yes, from a professional standpoint, the majority of us are the dreaded “Type-A Personality,” seeking order and control in what we do.
Case in point:
As mentioned above, the current rash of hot emerging media trends has been the focal point of my professional life for the past couple months. Most of these things aren’t terribly new (especially things like mobile, blogs, podcasting, RSS, social networks, P2P networks, etc.) per se, but are emerging in terms of advertising opportunities. Most were developed on a “grass roots” basis by people reaching out to other people, not as a means to push messaging to the masses.
I was having a difficult time sitting in meetings where folks were trying to place them into unique, simple categories. My opinion was, and still is, that most of these things don’t live in a vacuum in the eyes of the consumer, and most consumers don’t see these things as “media” or media delivery mechanisms. Therefore, we shouldn’t be placing them in silos without context around how people are actually using these things: to be more connected with others.
It could’ve been I wasn’t as articulate as I needed to be in saying that. It could’ve been that I was fighting a losing battle against rooms full of Type-A Personalities. Most likely, it was a bit of both. Regardless, my point didn’t seem to resonate.
It’s about the community, stupid
Then, the August issue of Technology Review hit my desk and crystallized my point, as much as a publication from MIT can “crystallize” anything. The cover story, “Social Machines,” provides an in depth look at the phenomenon of “continuous computing” and what, exactly, that means. In essence, it means that “always on” connectivity between the slew of gadgets we now rely on has led to people’s use of technology as a means to develop communities — of family, friends, co-worker, or others they’ve never met in person but have strong ties to for one reason or the other. It talks about the phenomenon of “Web 2.0,” whereby what once was a repository of relatively static documents is now becoming “a platform for personal publishing and social software.” And the desktop and laptop computer are by no means the sole or primary devices being used to get at these platforms.
(Before I move on and tie this together, let’s keep in mind my initial pronouncement regarding media people’s need for categorically defining things. I’m about to make a couple of broad statements about mankind and a few thousand years of history that will, in short order, lead me to my ultimate point. I only insert this interruption to let you know that I do not completely stand outside of this need to have things labeled neatly, at least when it suits me. Anyway, back to our normal programming.)
I make no claims as a cultural anthropologist, nor do I claim expertise in the finer points of human interaction, but I feel like I can safely say over the course of millennia people have proven that they will use advancements in technology as a means to draw closer together as a community. Initially, that meant physically closer together. It could have been to get things to market; it could have been to simply get from Point A to Point B. Think of the wheel.
But when you think of communication innovations, such as the printing press, the telephone, or short-wave radio, it was about the community that can be built via shared likes or dislikes simply by having discourse with others regardless of location. And that is the mindset with which things like mobile, blogs, podcasting, RSS, social networks, and P2P networks, i.e. Web 2.0, have flourished.
Thoughts on moving forward
So what does that mean? It means that we need to redouble our efforts around being focused on business objectives, as well as be consumer-centric, not media-centric, in everything we do. Define the business objective, understand the audience, and then determine the channels for reaching out to that audience.
It means we’ve got some growing pains ahead of us when it comes to our want for simply defined buckets vs. actual consumer behavior. People are empowered now to NOT be easily placed into preconceived buckets of demographics, behavior and media usage. Linear usage of media is quickly becoming a thing of the past, if it hasn’t already completely evaporated.
It means we’re going to have to define the best ways to become part of these communities of communication where ideas are freely passed back and forth, not simply consumed. It could be we move from being advertisers within content to creators of content to best take advantage of some of these emerging media. That, in and of itself, is a pretty large shift in the way we think about the business our clients are in, and our jobs of planning their media and communication.
It means we’re going to have to seek units of purchase and measure that make the most sense in a new paradigm of media usage and creation. We’re going to have to question where “media” value exists — in the delivery of a large audience, in the inclusion and acceptance within, or maybe in the development of, a community, or at some other point.
Don’t be alarmed. Much of this work is already in progress, and that’s the exciting part. Right now, we’re in a time where we can say things like “a new paradigm of media usage and creation” and have it mean something. We can all participate in this new definition of what we do. It’s like we’re all one big community or something.
Then, when digi-pod-mobi-socio-blogging takes off in a few months, we won’t be trying to figure out under what line item on a media plan it should fall.