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First Thoughts Ipa Social Media


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Opening 'big picture' thoughts from Mark Earls

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First Thoughts Ipa Social Media

  1. 1. Some thoughts on the Landscape (DRAFT) New media, same as the old media? That great populist scourge of the ad business of the Mad Man era, Marshall Macluhan, is once supposed to have observed that we tend to see new technologies through the lens of that which the new will eventually replace. This certainly seems to have some traction in the world of advertising and marketing: TV was first understood by many of our predecessors as radio-with-pictures; Direct Marketing as advertising but more precise and measurable; Mobile ditto but with real-world relevance bundled for free (see ESOOU website). This is the central problem that the advertising industry has to face, if it is to deal with the challenges presented by the industry - unless we understand how different this kind of technology is and how it already has and will continue to change the landscape within which business and marketing and advertising in particular are operating, we will Social Media? The truth is though that the new technologies - the things we normally call “social media” - are a very different kind of thing from those with which we have lived and in which we have worked for a number of generations. Imagining that they are (as for example, the DCMS/BERR interim report on Digital Britain suggests) is a fundamental error First, these technologies are not built, used or adopted primarily for brands’ benefits - your mobile phone is not a device whose primary purpose is to connect brands or other content providers to you; no, it is primarily a means for you to connect with your peers - your family, friends and colleagues. This is the social bit. Second, the technologies are not “media” in the sense we have traditionally understood the term - they are not best understood as “information transmission channels” for us to fill. One senior US senator caused much mirth in 2008 by referring to the Internet as a tangle of “tubes”. These technologies are not channels for the advertising industry to fill but - primarily, at least - a means to for people to connect with other people.
  2. 2. Connectedness has turned out to be the natural state of things in the modern world. We are connected to each other in ways that our great-grandparents’ generation would have struggled to imagine; indeed, many of today’s grandparents have similar problems envisaging the degree of connectedness A decade ago, precious few of us sent SMS messages; today, between us, we Brits alone account for more than 5BN a month. While some may still talk of the Web as a ‘place’ or a broadcasting system, its prime use in the UK is “social networking” - that is, interacting with other individuals. As Sociologist Frank Furedi points out, our kids are now tied by a “digital leash”, when previous generations were forced to learn about the world by running free. Connectedness is characteristic of the modern world. And it is connectedness (not flash animation or Facebook widgets or high- speed broadband) that is changing everything. Emergent Stuff Complexity theory makes much of ‘emergence”: that is, the unforeseen and (largely) unpredictable phenomena that arise from the interaction of agents within a system. It’s the stuff that happens without it being obviously planned in: like the patterns of birds flocking together (http://www.red3d/cwr/boids/) when all any individual bird is programmed to do is keep up, keep going and don’t bump! The point about connectedness in human populations is that it fundamentally changes things in ways that neither the inventors nor vendors of a technology nor its adopters can envisage ahead of time. Here is some of the more important emergent stuff that this kind of connective technology seems to generate: 1. Connectedness also allows us to outsource difficult decisions to our peers (when lots of choices are available, doing what other folk are doing makes a lot of sense). This ‘copying’ has long been a feature of consumer markets (see Duncan Watts and Matt Salganik’s music download experiments for one example) and gives rise to the signature Long Tail (link) distribution in so many
  3. 3. consumer markets - this distribution is characteristic of a certain kind of copying (Bentley Earls Admap October 09). The point being that unless you are able to see what those around you are doing and thinking, it’s hard to copy; connectedness removes this barrier. 2. Connectedness forces transparency in politics & business: when we can check other people’s opinions easily (e.g. through using Tripadvisor), we can sidestep what authorities and brands want to tell us (and want us to avoid knowing). This is also why governments in a number of countries (including most recently India) restrict the publication of opinion polls during critical parts of elections as they are deemed to distract individual voters from making independent decisions. Equally, the same phenomenon encourages us to look to each other rather than to business, brands, politicians and traditional authority figures: many sources (e.g. Edelman Trust Barometer) demonstrate the acceleration of this in recent years - well before the Economic Crisis. 3. Connectedness changes power relationships: CK Prahalad’s prescient “The Future of Competition” describes how a pacemaker manufacturer has had to change with the advent of the internet:. Previously, they contended themselves with dealing only with the medical professionals; patients were grateful for what they were given. Now - as every GP knows - patients come armed to the teeth with information garnered from other individuals, from patient groups, from online advice pages (both scientifically sound and those at the outer ends of quackery). (One emblematic example is described in HERD: how - thanks to this kind of connection - the view that the MMR vaccine is a causal factor in the onset of autism among British children spread through the UK population, to such an extent that we are now suffering a near epidemic of serious childhood diseases long effectively eradicated from the British population) 4. Connectedness encourages self-organisation and collaboration. As Clay Shirky points out, one of the most interesting and useful emerging phenomena emerging in the connected age is the degree to which it seems to encourage self- organisation and collaboration. From Wikipedia to the more challenging programmes of games companies like Electronic Arts (much of 3D Sims was built by gamers rather than the company)
  4. 4. or the Mindstorms programme that has reinvented Lego - collaboration becomes easier with connection (Shirky talks of the plummeting cost of collaboration). However, that is not to say that collaboration and co-operation are new phenomena (Charles Leadbetter’s We-Think points out the roots of this in the early industrial revolution and Prof Dirk Helbing’s recent work suggests that co-operation will emerge in human populations in even the most unlikely circumstances. The point in both cases being that connection makes it easier and more likely. 5. Connectedness is also responsible for less positive social changes. It is important not to become to too idealistic: for all the positive results of connection - for the public at least - b some of the things emerging are far from being so. By this we don’t just mean the explosion of Gillian McKeith-type quackery, which can undermine public health programmes, but at the most fundamental level, universally available connectedness can actually make social dislocation worse (as much as it might improve things). If we are free to be able to spend our lives exclusively in the company of others like us (as many disadvantaged kids do), then these individuals not only become more isolated from the rest of the population but - as Bill Bishop’s Big Sort suggests - group effects like the “risky shift” can take hold and make the members of such isolated groups even more extreme in views and opinions. The net effect is a reduction in what is called “social capital” and our shared public lives. The point here is not to scaremonger - as Andrew Keen might - but to recognise that is that connected technologies are fundamentally disruptive: they are changing the landscape for us all, in every aspect of our lives - sometimes for good, sometimes less so. Unless we marketing and advertising folk get our heads around the ways in which the landscape in which we operate is being changed by the simple fact of universal connection, we will struggle. As the Cluetrain Manifesto puts it, “there’s a new conversation between and among your market and your workers. It's making them smarter and it's enabling them to discover their human voices. You have two choices. You can continue to lock yourself behind facile corporate words and happytalk brochures. Or you can join
  5. 5. the conversation.”
  6. 6. the conversation.”