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A good epigram is worth a thousand words

October 30, 2008 1 comment

I had the good fortune this week to attend a conference on the future of social media organised by some of my colleagues who run the leading trade show Internet World. There was some fascinating insight into how people think this thing may affect the world and, while we are at it, the way we do business. 

Strangely for a discussion a maturing technology there seemed to be a remarkable if straightforward consensus on the impact – it’s going to be big.  Beyond that the message seemed to be “your view is as good as mine, suck it and see”.   

Ian Pearson, a futorologist, created a horrendous vision of a surveillance state and that the Orwellian 1984 would be truly with us by 2012.  On the up side he did predict that we, the public,  wouldn’t stand for it and there’d be a user uprising in rebellion.    He also produced the first epigram of the day – I love these things as a takeaway from this sort of event where there is so much information you can’t possibly remember it all so it gets summed up in a few choice words and phrases.  Also as a former journalist I can’t deal in big concepts without a few snappy quotes to interpret them.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Pearson observed that this new world is different to the original dot com boom where good ideas sometimes failed because the users weren’t ready.  In this world “if your web site idea doesn’t thrive it’s because it’s a crap idea.”  For the next world his observation was “The next generation of customers will be computers.”

Rohit Bhargava, of Ogilvy 360, put forward eight counter intuitive truths of marketing – to me the most startling was that in web world “we are now more likely to trust the opinion of someone we don’t know than someone we do”.   To me the advice of strangers in reviews has been the equivalent of a “bloke down the pub told me”  – where a vat of salt would need to be employed in its consumption.  But he is right – I’ve found myself doing it.  So what does this mean to the  business world:  “Companies can not choose who their spokespeople are.”

The other presentation of special note was Andy Hobsbaum of Agency.com.  Here was a reassuringly traditional agency man – in the uniform of jeans, casual open necked shirt, mismatched suit jacket – who has obviously been around a bit (by that I mean he had lived in pre-internet days).  He talked convincingly and with enthusiasm about the work he’s done and his views on where social media is taking business. 

Couple of nice phrases that stuck – “Technology is a natural condition of life – like oxygen.”   “We’ve gone from the old world of ‘think, feel, do’ to ‘do, feel, think’.  That’s the nature of the social media world.” 

But there was a key admission.  “I don’t know what’s going to happen.  Nobody does.”   So, gang it seems we are all in this together.

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Do readers care about genuine content?

October 21, 2008 Leave a comment

As a traditional print journalist turned digital publisher I find the debate about resources that should be applied to deliver what degree of editorial coverage occupies a lot of my time.  To my mind there should be no difference to the quality of the story that goes on-line to the one that is published on-line – it all goes under the title’s brand. 

There are differences of course.      Because on-line is immediate there is a pressure to get it published before it has been subbed properly let alone researched.  There is a huge, effectively infinite, demand for content every second of the day not a finite six pages a week.  It seems that often the writer, sub and web editor are one and the same. 

But the principal difference was rammed home to me recently when one of our initiatives the Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service  produced some results we felt newsworthy so we produced a press release.   We got masses of on-line coverage on supposed industry information sites – the vast majority of which just produced the release verbatim.  The only media group to at least try and extract something individual for their readers was the regional press (print and digital).

What this suggests is a huge demand for ‘content’ (free, of course) and a scant regard for journalistic values among these sites.  Now, we invest a huge amount in our journalists and I see that as the only way forward for any site trying to build a community based on content.  What troubles me is that in the ‘three seconds and click’ digital world that readers are going to hang around long enough to appreciate the difference.

Can blogging make a difference?

October 15, 2008 2 comments

A colleague’s blog encouraged me write a blog today on the subject of poverty because today is Blog Action Day Poverty.  Why have such a day?  What difference would it make?  Who cares what I think (apart from me)?  

So for me here is an interesting test of blogging?  Can a whole bunch of digital outrage at this social injustice make any difference in the very physical world of poverty and its subsequent physical hardships? 

Sure I’m outraged that people in this world starve and freeze to death or die because they can’t afford the simple drugs to help them.  I guess most of us are.   But what should our response be?

Do we give up our jobs and join the VSO and help people directly?

Is it better to give some funds to one of the noble global charities that take direct action?

Or is our best response to write a polemic in cyberworld and sit back and think “there, that’ll change the world”?

Most of us, including me,  will just do the latter. Not something I’m proud of but the fact is I know in my heart of hearts I have no will to take on all of the troubles of the imperfect world – I have enough problems worrying about family, friends and even colleagues.

Good luck to the organisers of the campaign, I hope it can make a difference.  I will watch to see if it does.  However I can’t helping thinking the self-serving and frankly rather pompous self-important blogging community may be an easy place to start but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good one.

Hello world!

October 10, 2008 1 comment

That sound you just heard was another blogger’s cherry popping as I embark on a journey into the world of social networking.  So far it’s been limited to a plod around a few sites such LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube – still can’t quite bring myself to do Facebook – but I am persuaded by my digital director that this is the new wave and unless we get on board now we’ll be swamped in the deluge that is coming across the Atlantic.  I have six months he reckons and his advice was get in there and start paddling – so here I am.

I guess my big aim is to look at how I take my existing print brands – very strong in their markets – and leverage them not only in the digital world but also face to face.  I have a tendency to believe that unless digital can achieve some sort of physical manifestation it is a largely phoney world so I’ll be putting that to the test.