July 22, 2009

Q&A on the state of social media

Econsultancy

JD LasicaOne highlight of the Traveling Geeks‘ trip to London came during the Econsultancy Roundtable that took place on our last day in London, in the storied Globe Theatre overlooking the Thames.

Patricio Robles of Econsultancy conducted a Q&A with me about the state of social media. Here’s part of our conversation:

In your opinion, what are the two most exciting things taking place right now in the world of social media?

The open ecosystem that Twitter has established — allowing the community to develop applications on the Twitter platform — is extraordinarily exciting. Its success is helping spur Facebook to consider dismantling the walled garden approach that doomed AOL and other old-school media giants in favor of joining the rest of us on the open Web.

The second cause for excitement is the way in which social media, in its various incarnations, has broken into the mainstream lexicon over the past six to nine months. A couple of years ago, no one knew what social media was. Now, young people take it for granted as part of their daily lives. There’s something mind-jarring about the fact that social media, in all its limitless possibilities, is the new rock ‘n’ roll. Regular citizens now understand that when people break out a Flip Mino or a Nokia camera phone to conduct an interview or live-stream an event, it’s not a curiosity but a sharing experience to be celebrated.

Many industries have been impacted by social media and many are now making extensive use of it. Which industries do you think have been affected the most and which do you think have the greatest opportunities to use social media to their benefit?

Traditional media companies, particularly newspapers, are being hard-hit by the tectonic changes whipping through the mediasphere. The megatrends of nichefication, fragmentation and personalization do not play well with a business model based on packaging mass market content for a mass market that is largely disappearing online.

Social media is about being human — it’s about connecting with real people with real identities. So industries that stand to gain the most are the ones that have traditionally been cast in the public eye as aloof and impervious to the wants and desires of ordinary people. The cable company, the phone company, large corporations, companies whose brands seem beyond redemption may well be among the biggest benefactors of social media. But they need to begin to engage with the public and their customers first.

Are you worried about the level of hype that exists in the social media realm? What advice can you give companies trying to cut through the clutter and navigate the space?

It’s true that there’s a lot of noise and not enough signal. But I think a lot of voices in traditional media are secretly rooting for social media’s collapse so that they’ll be able to collect their pension on the way out. I’m not sure how one can label the social media revolution as hype if its fallout is having such profound effects, ranging from how we elect national political figures to how large institutions are forced to interact with the public. Yes, social media’s impact has been overhyped — it won’t ameliorate the economic meltdown or bring about world peace (though there’s a move afoot to nominate the founders of Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize) — but in most of the corporate sector, executives are still underestimating the impact of the forces at work.

Companies that are open to transitioning to the new economy will come to realize that social media is not just another distribution vehicle but a fundamental strategic approach that entails a rethinking of business as usual. The precepts of participation, innovation and inclusiveness need to be instilled at all levels of an organization, and social media offers a way for customers and employees to engage in meaningful, productive ways.

There will always be a fear factor in moving into strange new waters. You may want to bring in some outside experts to help navigate the terrain (and bypass the gurus for the companies and services with a track record).

Your book Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation discusses the clash between Hollywood and consumers in the digital age. Arguably, the newspaper industry has been much harder hit by the rise of the internet than Hollywood — at least thus far. Do you think Hollywood will eventually go the way of the newspapers? What does it need to do to avoid that fate?

I wrote the book as warning call in anticipation of escalating clashes between media titans against grassroots media publishers in the areas of copyright law, remix culture and innovation when it was becoming plain that we were entering an era of media that was becoming more decentralized, fragmented and personalized. Newspapers have thus far refused to embrace the idea of readers as true partners in the news equation.

Hollywood is a different creature. Where news has become a commodity, the talent that produces a sterling work of mass entertainment is still a rare thing indeed. Ten years from now we’ll still be going out to the theater and watching prime time TV on the telly alongside the rich stream of independently produced works pumped in via the Internet.

I don’t think file-sharing of movies will ever rise to the level of music file trading. Hollywood can avoid the fate of the music and newspaper industries by continuing to produce high-quality programs with style and heart, but the studios need to take a more proactive approach in embracing alternative distribution methods ($1/day movie rentals, digital access to tens of thousands of past programs, etc.). Remember how successful King Canute was in commanding the waves to halt.

Speaking of newspapers: you were an editor at the Sacramento Bee for 11 years before you made the jump to digital media. What are your thoughts on the crisis the newspaper business is facing?

The crisis facing newspaper is one part inevitable — other mass media such as magazines and broadcast television are also experiencing the financial turmoil accompanying the shift to a more nichefied, fragmented mediasphere — and one part self-inflicted, given a newspaper culture that continues to punish, rather than reward, experimentation, innovation and failure (without which innovation is impossible).

The important point is not that newspapers are preserved but that public-service community journalism, in-depth reporting and investigative reports continue to be supported by people who do it for a living, in addition to those doing it as a hobby. That will eventually require a decoupling of journalism from newspapers.

For the rest of the conversation, see the story on Econsultancy.JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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One thought on “Q&A on the state of social media

  1. Love the answers! Particularly love the point on: Social media is about being human… …ones that have traditionally been cast in the public eye as aloof and impervious to the wants and desires of ordinary people." In my business we recommend social media as part of a conversation marketing mix for clients to achieve 5 objectives (the amount of activities optimal to meet their business goals within each objective is specific to each company):
    1) Listen to current customers, prospects, industry experts and other influencers in the market space and internalize what you hear to improve your business.
    2) Speak to the overall market conversation with quality, supportive and helpful content that people want to respond to, inquire about and pass on to others.
    3) Care about what is being said about your products, your company, your competitors and your industry, but mainly care about the wants and needs of your customers and prospects.
    4) Share your experiences—positive and negative—and your insights as you grow your company and evolve your product lines.
    5) Build relationships with market conversation Influencers, Participants and Listeners based on the mutual interest of the consumer problems that need to be solved with product innovation.