As technology enthusiasts it’s often easy to forget that technology is not, in and of itself, a solution to anything. This article in Slate on the potential negative impact of programs such as One Laptop per Child is illustrative. Here’s one key point:
“So what happens when good fortune delivers vouchers (and hence computers) into the homes of Romanian youths? . . . computer use also crowded out homework (2.3 hours less per week), reading, and sleep. Less schoolwork translated into lower grades at school—vouchered kids’ GPAs were 0.36 grade points lower than their nonvouchered counterparts—and also lower aspirations for higher education. Vouchered kids were 13 percentage points less likely to report an intention to attend college.”
The article also links to this CNET article from May reporting on a survey showing that one-fifth of all Americans have never sent an email or never used the Internet. That number is striking – but also easy to believe.
Why wouldn’t 60 million Americans reject the Internet? It is possible to live a pretty good life without unfettered, 24/7 access to everything from the most sublime to the most squalid output of human civilization.
That said, I think this all amounts to further evidence of the fracturing of the digital divide into digital subdivisions: increasing numbers of distinct groups defined by widely varying degrees of technological sophistication. (I’m further persuaded by the fact that it’s my idea).
As professional communicators, however, I think it behooves us to take note of this fracturing; the growing complexity that is coming to define how people experience and view technology. Today’s survey measures email use. Tomorrow’s, I have no doubt, will measure take-up, impact (and rejection) of social networking – won’t that be interesting.
A few weeks ago John Bell, managing director of our Digital Influence practice, made the case for every company to have a video content strategy. I agree (he’s breathing easy now) but it occurs to me that far too many companies don’t have any sort of content strategy to begin with.
Most try to coordinate messages and spend a great deal of time worrying about the content on their Web site – but that’s as far as it generally goes. Furthermore, the larger a company gets the less able it is to ensure that even this relatively small amount of content is in any way coordinated. Quality control is easily sacrificed.
For most of my career this wasn’t much of a problem. Companies had limited opportunities to place content anyway, so why worry about it? Today, however, there’s an almost moral (and certainly a business) imperative for clients to produce more and more content. The media is increasingly more accepting of it (more fuel to drive Web site traffic and increase ad revenue), and self-publishing is, of course, a breeze.
Still most companies struggle because the executives and in-house experts counted on to be the sources of content have – who knew – regular full-time jobs that – shock – do not include writing (or even reviewing) articles and blog posts, recording audio or video commentary and so on.
One solution may be to recognize that ongoing content development is a business priority and create a content department responsible for devising a company-wide content strategy and shepherding all content to completion.
Of course creating and staffing a department full of twitchy creative types and content queens isn’t likely to be any company’s idea of a business priority – but the companies that get this right will reap the benefit.
And if they can’t do it, well there are plenty of PR firms – see our shiny new copywriters – that can help them.
For the past couple of years I haven’t been in a client meeting or industry event where “social media” isn’t mentioned. Forget “mention”: it has been at the core of the discussion. But in all these conversations, what hasn’t been covered is how traditional media, in particular tech press, is evolving, changing, adapting; and what this means for “traditional” tech PR professionals. Publishers like CMP (or better the former CMP) and IDG are changing. They have been “socialized”.
From now on, when I talk to a client or colleague, I’d like to make a distinction between social media and socialized media.
Of course I believe they are both very important, but they are critically different. And since all the attention has been focused on the first one, in this post I want to share some initial thoughts on the latter:
So what’s the net-net? As PR practitioners we are in front a very complex ecosystem, with a lot of moving parts. I think knowing and understanding the different motivations of all the players (the blogger, the journalist, the publisher, the editor) will make us better counselors and strategists.
Yeah, as in Wonka. Remember the scene? Charlie at the gates? Thousands upon thousands of fans standing in eager amazement as the gates were about to open. Would we see oompa-loompas for the first time? Gorge on chocolates to our hearts content? Just what would we do with the gates open?
And that’s a bit of the sensation I had as a tech PR professional upon reading that some mainstream media (MSM) are responding to the surge in growth and buzz (there’s a difference) in and about social media. They want some too (yes, get me some of that social media, but as a means to growth and buzz) so they’re opening the gates. Call it readership community! Collaboration! Co-creation! Whatever you call it, BusinessWeek and others want to let readers guide story topic selection; heck sometimes they’ll let them write the next sentence! They want to engage with readers, and in doing so cede the ‘we are the experts, we’ll decide what to analyze and then do the analysis’ mantel.
So like I said, at first the PR pro in me gets giddy. What an opportunity! More ways to suggest topics! More ways to influence! More ways to get the experts I want to see espousing with more air-time than your experts! Alas my clients will be heard!
But wait. Then the New Englander in me speaks up. The New Englander automatically furrows the brow and looks for ‘the angle’ in anything that looks good at first. There must be a downside dammit. And then it hits me. The thousands of fans at the gate. Some of them are maybe not evil, but certainly not upstanding. Let’s just say, they won’t be operating with transparency. They might just dupe those MSM. They might steer, influence and suggest too far. Why, with the news staffs shrinking, who will ensure that some bot doesn’t just keep changing names and suggesting similar topics that mislead a tag cloud of story ideas! Those poor unsuspecting MSM!
Then I decide, maybe the change actually lands somewhere in the middle. Of course BusinessWeek needs to socialize itself. They must innovate or shrink. They’ll succeed in places, fail in others. And after all, this is about conversations and relationships, and that’s why I got into this field 20 years ago. It’s a good thing, right? As long as those of us acting transparently traffic the rest of the crowd. After all, someone has to protect the Ever-lasting Gobbstoppers.
It’s a good thing. Right?
This AP article by Peter Svensson strikes me as potentially very significant. The digital divide has always referred to the imbalances between those with access to information technology and those without. Now we see the term applied to imbalances within relatively tech-savvy populations caused by next-generation broadband.
The article quotes Dave Burstein, editor of the DSL Prime newsletter saying: “a quarter of the U.S. is going to get one of the best networks in the world.” The rest of us have to make do with DSL and cable – the horror.
But actually I think there’s something to this; in fact, I think the issue is deeper and more problematic. It’s very easy to think that everyone is embracing the latest thingamawhatsit but most people have, if not better, then at least more important things to do.
If we are about to be divided by connectivity speed then there’s every reason to believe that we will also be divided by either our ability to use, or our affinity for, social networking, blogging, twittering, current Web 2.0 applications and future applications enabled by the semantic Web.
If the pace of technological change is creating digital subdivisions – and I think it is – it’s going to create communication and marketing challenges for certain, but will also lead to real societal and cultural divisions that have the potential to be as profound as any that have come before.
I may be wrong as to the degree, but there’s no question in my mind that ‘digital divide 2.0’ is coming. What does everyone else think?
A really interesting IDC study, titled “The Hyperconnected: Here They Come” was released this month which talks about the exploding “culture of connectivity” and the implications that hyper-connectivity has on the enterprise and business practices.
Whilst on a fact finding mission, another interesting point that I came across is that the global mobile workforce continues to grow unabated - IDC expects the global mobile worker population to increase from 758.6 million in 2006 to more than 1 billion in 2011, representing just over 30 percent of the worldwide workforce. [see more details here]
The thing that really struck a chord with me is that we are becoming a generation addicted to connectivity. We are seeing our younger colleagues enter the workforce as ‘digital natives’ (an idea widely discussed by Peter Sheahan) - they only understand communication via IM, email, text messaging, social networking and so forth. This is the ‘conventional’ that they seek and the ‘unconventional’ that the rest of us are all so keen to adopt. Today, we are spending more time connected and switched on in both our personal and work lives - so much so that we are now seeing a blurring between the two.
More and more people are starting to leverage Web 2.0 tools in business (a term coined Enterprise 2.0) such as shared wikis, IM and social networks in order to better facilitate information sharing and collaboration between workers and provide a competitive edge to those businesses that embrace it.
I think we will see Enterprise 2.0 increasingly extend beyond the office as wireless technologies such as in-built 3G, WiFi and WiMAX become faster and more efficient for business users to access personal internet on-the-go, and as mobile devices become sleeker and lighter for users to carry with them.
The IDC study predicts that “hyperconnected business users will likely rise to 40 percent in five years”. Another five years down the track, I am sure we will see a substantial increase on this figure. Application and web developers, mobile device/ notebook manufacturers and telecommunications providers will need to cater towards making this hyper-connected experience for users a more seamless one.
Watch this space!
David Carlson: Social Media and Traditional PR