As I sit here typing my debut post for this blog, I can’t help but think of the dozens of topics I should write about– my thoughts on social media, the new widgets I downloaded on my iPhone, my new obsession with Twitter, or even Facebooking at work (I am guilty, and so are you.) Just thinking of these topics made me realize how in one very short year after moving from Pennsylvania to San Francisco, I have warped into a digital girl. Prior to working as an AAE in the Technology Practice, I had no idea that blogs were big business and social networking was encouraged at work. I still can’t figure out where all the “stuff” goes when we upload pictures or download music, it’s all still a mystery. I’m still learning.
All this digital information, mind-numbing technology, and creative innovation that surrounds us each day is extremely overwhelming, borderline suffocating but in a strange way humbling and inspiring. While studying in college I refused to read dissertation papers or reports online, I had to feel the pages, trace the words, and touch the pictures. I hardly signed on to AIM and I refused to respond to text messages, thinking it was so silly to not pick up the phone and press “call.” I honestly thought personal blogs were rants and ramblings with no credibility (many still are), and heck, I created a blog last year just for my friends and family to read so they would stop calling me in the middle of the night while living abroad in South Korea, hence the very creative blog title. In one short year, my perception of technology has changed, drastically.
We, namely Gen Y, grew up bombarded with information overload. We are a spoiled generation, not in terms of material things, but in digital goods. We watched as the tech bubble burst in Silicon Valley, we witnessed 9/11 while sitting in classrooms, we quit Harvard and started an online yearbook, and we asked Google, not God, why the sky is blue. We have a reputation of being “know-it-alls” because of all this technology. You can’t blame us, because with the click of our fingers, we feel like we know it all.
This year, Gen Y Americans have more incentive, power and voice to rock the vote and elect the next President of the United States. Presidential Candidates are blogging and even YouTube is playing a fundamental role during debates. We are optimistic for the future and are more wired and globally connected with our peers than previous generations. Yet, we are facing an economic downturn, a grim job market and a mortgage crisis. We are renting, not buying, borrowing, not paying, dating, not marrying…or maybe that’s just me ;). We are aware of what’s imminent, but hopeful because like I said, we live in a digital world, and with technology, we can find answers, innovate, communicate, educate, spark controversy and conversation, and bring about change.
[Disclaimer: author is an extreme optimist.]
China has already earned a gold medal this week. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), there are now 253 million internet users in China, knocking the US off its pedestal. The US now has a meager 223 million users.
This is one competition the US will not likely win again. Most Americans (about 75%) are already internet users while only 19% of China’s population is. With so much potential in this market, who wouldn’t want a little bite?
But I don’t advise taking a nibble without more understanding. After all, emerging markets are very different from the more familiar mature market. Here are my “three” cents for thought re approaching tech in Emerging Markets:
#1. There is no “one size fits all.” Local needs in China will differ greatly from those in Brazil or Indonesia. Tech in emerging markets often bridges the digital divide by increasing connectivity. How this is achieved varies greatly.
#2. Realize a lack of infrastructure exists. Many countries with emerging markets may not have the infrastructure (say, reliable electricity) to support technology. These countries also lack a dependable distribution system. Therefore, developing relationships with local players is necessary to your success.
#3. Now comes the most difficult part: how do we justify selling technology to someone who could instead spend their money on medicine? We know technology creates opportunities by improving access to health care and education while also increasing communication and competitiveness in commerce. How do we convince them of this in our communication approach?
Emerging markets are often seen as a sort of new “frontier.” Just remember that this is a whole new animal you’re approaching. Treat it differently from your cat at home!
Here is an important post on TechCrunch about the decision of the SEC to recognize corporate blogs as public disclosure. This is just a natural step towards more visual communication, something we have been talking about on this blog for some time and something we are pushing our clients to embrace more and more. I predict we will see companies (probably mid-size technology companies) to embrace this more rapidly than others. One thing is to have the SEC making this decision, the other is to change the corporate culture overnight. It will require time and as PR consultants we will need to sit down with our clients and help them go through this process. It seems easy. But it’s not. Game on.
So I’ve been toying around with Twitter a lot more these days. So much so, I have been abandoning my blog. I think more and more we will start to see the quality of blog posts decline with the emergence of microblogging – thanks to Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter. Twitter gives you the option to update your network/ neighbourhood on what you are doing in a mere 140 characters.
The instantaneous nature of this means that you can easily update those that are following you on what you are up to and track what others are up to as well. I was originally critical of Twitter but I am starting to find it more useful in a professional work sense. In fact, in my perception it is taking over Facebook as one of the most valuable social networking sites.
The interesting thing here for me is that you can apply it to every day work. My Twitter neighbourhood, albeit small, is a circle of PR people and journalists. The aim = to expand my small neighbourhood! Anyway, I digress…
Although many of the posts that we upload don’t necessarily provide too much insight – I find out when people need to go to the bathroom, what they had for breakfast and when they are on the train but on several occasions it can really useful. You can pick up a lead on a story that a journalist is working on, what topics he/ she covers, when he/ she is going overseas, find out what they think of products they are reviewing and reporting on, what topics light a fire under them and so forth. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse and stay in contact. Now that I think about it more, I would actually compare this to LinkedIn – it seems to be quite valuable as a professional networking tool.
I’d be surprised if blog subscriptions weren’t in decline due to the rise in Twitter feeds. This has strong implications for mobiles as well. These days, new and emerging technologies are mirroring the lifestyle trends of today’s consumers’. As people want to access to real-time information from friends, access to news, entertainment, and be able to communicate from anywhere at anytime – we are finding that today’s technologies such as mobile phones and web 2.0 tools such as Twitter are accommodating these needs.
Feel free to pipe up if you have some answers because I haven’t done all my homework in this area. Are we seeing a trend now – as people become more time poor are we seeing blog posts getting shorter? Rather than well-researched, quality blog posts – are these increasingly becoming short excerpts and randon bursts of one’s thoughts?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…
Half Moon Bay that is at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech. Reflecting on what I found to be some of the best ideas shared yesterday:
- How can social media be leveraged to make your employee talent more highly engaged? Gary Hamel of London Business School cited a Towers Perrin study across 16 countries, and it found that nobody has more than 20% of employees who say they feel highly engaged. If we can engage customers, allow them to congregate and engage with collectively work around a problem, why can’t we do more with our talent?
- Where is your platform strategy? This was a recurring theme; that innovative companies are providing platforms as a strategy to allow others to build things for them.
- CC Per Annum. OK, I just made that up, but after hearing CEOs Michael Dell, Marc Benioff and Brad Smith all cite at different times in the afternoon just how many customer conversations their companies are having annually, I think we’re going to start seeing that as a communications department proof point in an effort to show innovation from the outside in. For the record, Intuit has two billion customer conversations per year.
- Books, toys and web services? I had wondered how Amazon Web Services had come to be. Jeff Bezos shared that Amazon built web services for themselves over four years ago in an effort to free up their engineering hours that were not directly adding customer value. The idea came up a few years after that to get into the web services business. I also like the analogy he used – that we’re moving into a new world where like a brewery, they’ll be able to focus on the beer and not on having their own power generator to produce it.
- Best insight of the day: Small business owners will happily share tips and advice with other similar small business owners as long as they’re not in the same zip code. Florist to florist, etc. Just think of the opportunities to facilitate that for a company like Intuit.
Which brings me to the some of the best remarks of the day, made by Intuit CEO Brad Smith. I had never seen Mr. Smith speak before, and he has a pretty polished approach, so much so that I worried he was going to be too smooth and salesy. Many around me agreed. But he ended up surprising us all and really delivered a candid commentary on his challenge; He said they’re asking themselves at Intuit, will their 25 years of success be an accelerant or inhibitor? He says the answer is with the youth in the company. He gave a great anecdote. TurboTax is a 20+ year old product, so there is resistance to change. An engineer proposed that they put the live user community inside the product for the first time – so users can talk to other users while doing taxes. They took a risk, did a test. Guess what happened? 44% of users asked the questions and got community answers, and at a higher accuracy rate than ever before. He concluded, “And it cost us zero.”
It was a great day. And I’m looking forward to more. Oh yeah, and Neil Young is here.
I’ve been reading a lot about network effects lately. I attribute this to the large number of Bill Gates retrospectives that describe how Microsoft dominated the PC area. Also there’s Steve Lohr’s story in the New York Times this Monday which describes how the principle applies to Google.
The network effect seems to perfectly describe the value of social networks. However, I can’t help wondering: what happens as the Web becomes more open, more semantic? Doesn’t increased data portability, by definition, undermine the effect as it applies to social networking companies?
Social networking has helped individuals (and the groups they belong to) benefit from the network effect in new ways. That’s not going to go away. But is it possible that continued innovation will eradicate the ability of the host networks themselves to benefit?
What’s to stop social networks from ending up as widgets easily added or subtracted from a fully-customizable, personalized and interactive home page (iGoogle or myYahoo)? How can they stop it from happening?
I’m genuinely curious. Anyone have any ideas?
The question is a cliché but timely in light of this cover story in The Atlantic, recent books such as “The Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby and “The Dumbest Generation” by Mark Bauerlein (a former professor of mine*), and even animated films (WALL•E).
I don’t have an answer, just a hunch, and it’s prompted by two quotes. First this statement from Sergey Brin in the Atlantic: “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Then from this Los Angeles Times story: “Bauerlein also frets about the nature of the Internet itself, where people “seek out what they already hope to find, and they want it fast and free, with a minimum of effort.”
It seems to me this isn’t an issue of stupidity or intelligence, but of foolishness and wisdom. Technology is increasingly designed to provide people with what they already want, what they already ‘hope to find’. This is indisputable. The wisdom to make productive use out of having “all the world’s information directly attached to your brain” is what’s increasingly lacking.
Or maybe it’s just not well articulated. Ceaseless innovation creates a kind of permanent impermanence. Millennials haven’t grown up with the internet; they’ve grown up with several – each replacing the last over shorter and shorter intervals. Wisdom comes with experience but how can anyone develop experience if one tech fad quickly replaces another?
At some point all companies (even Twitter) will need to articulate how their innovations enrich people’s lives beyond providing a new experience. Of course I would argue that that’s the role tech PR people are uniquely suited to play – helping bridge the gap between the technically feasible and the personally (or professionally) meaningful.
Now who would have believed publicists could serve the public good?
* He wouldn’t remember me, and it’s a good thing too, my academic career is best left forgotten by all involved.
Not too long ago, I found myself standing in the middle of the “condiments” aisle in my local grocery store, staring cross-eyed at shelves full of Jelly choices. After about 5 minutes of picking up different kinds of grape jelly and studying the labels, I actually had to call my wife and ask her (with a not-so-subtle hint of sarcasm), “which of the 14 jars of grape jelly do you want?” Among others, there were organic, regular, low-sugar, sugar-free, preservatives, jam, peanut butter swirl, tall skinny jar, short wide jar, plastic jar, glass jar, etc. etc. – the options seemed limitless.
This isn’t a new discussion and there are some interesting studies that cover the impact of too much choice. I found the image that was in a recent and quite interesting National Post article particularly striking – look at all of those TVs!?.
Then, to my suprise, I read a story in the Sydney Morning Herald that actually references an experiment on too much choice and Jam…”In the experiment, two groups of supermarket shoppers were asked to sample jam. One group was given six jams to taste, the other group was given 24. Thirty per cent of the first group purchased something after the tasting, only 3 per cent of the second group made a purchase.”
For technology communications professionals, choice poses more than just challenges in our personal lives. We’re faced with the added test of differentiating both our own services as well as the products or services were are helping promote. Whether you are launching a new consumer technology, marketing an enterprise storage device, a core router or a new professional service, crafting a unique message that stands out.
We are also forced to consider the fragmentation of the media industry and understand how media is being consumed, accessed or shared by readers so we can devise the best approach to reaching a target audience is an ever-increasing challenge .
Just consider that the two stories I’ve linked to in this article are from international news sources that I found by reading Google News Alerts – not my local paper or the blogs I follow on a daily basis.
I read the vast majority of my news via my iGoogle homepage, which now includes a widget for my Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts as well as several other applications I used to have to individually check on a daily basis. Here are just a few of my Tabs on my iGoogle homepage:
PR Blogs (You’ll see my Denver Bias here as several are from my hometown)
The challenge to all of us is to be the jelly that stood out enough for the 3 percent to actually read about and then purchase.
Graham’s post on the decline in B2B blogging reminded me of this from Shel Holtz arguing, persuasively, that social media is ideally suited for B2B environments. Interestingly Holtz cites last year’s bullish Forrester report while Graham cites this year’s more downcast findings.
I agree with much of what Graham writes and suspect the recent findings are illustrative of the fact that we’re still very much in an evolutionary phase. As people jump on the social media bandwagon there’s bound to be a great deal of disappointment. Furthermore, when professionals are asked to add content creation to their ever-expanding list of job responsibilities there’s bound to be some push back or, after a quick burst, an inevitable decline in the level of activity.
I wonder if part of the problem some companies experience with blogging is that they are asking, or expecting, to much. There’s tremendous pressure for every business (in virtually every industry) to establish itself as a thought leader. I suspect that most blogs are launched as thought leadership platforms, thereby resulting in pressure on the bloggers themselves to write something new and exciting with every keystroke.
I’ve believed for a long time that this is the reason some PR blogs are unreadable. Setting aside the inexcusably poor writing, many feel the need to establish thought leadership by writing – at great length and in a constant loop – about how social media is reinventing public relations. This leads to a constant recycling of ideas which is masked (poorly) by a mixture of breathless hyperbole, impenetrable linguistic complexity and the forceful declaration of the painfully obvious.
To me, and I think the examples Holtz provides dovetail with this, a B2B blog is an opportunity for a company to reveal itself to its potential customers, partners and employees. I’m reminded of David Ogilvy’s recommendation to clients in “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” When evaluating agencies: “find out if you like them; the relationship between client and agency has to be an intimate one, and it can be hell if personal chemistry is sour.”
A B2B blog, I feel, is ideal– especially in the service sector – for providing a window to customers (and others) that will help them determine whether or not the authors are people they want to do business with. A B2B blog can reveal how a company and its employees think, their personalities, their approach to considering issues, knowledge of certain spaces and so on. With this in mind it strikes me that it’s as legitimate (and as valuable) to write about experiences with the Nintendo Wii (as this EDS blogger does), as it is to come up with, and share, a new idea.
One final point, I’m not sure Forrester’s recent findings are really all that negative. After all, if 53% of respondents spurned blogging that suggests 47% embraced it. How many embraced blogging ten years ago? From that perspective 47% looks pretty good.
I was reading a story this morning from B2B magazine that the popularity of blogging by b-to-b marketers is waning. This is according to Forrester Research’s “How to Derive Value from B2B Blogging” report released Monday. A stand out finding is that 53% of respondents said blogs were either marginal or irrelevant in their 2008 marketing strategy.
Whilst not an expert and without knowing the companies surveyed, my gut tells me that the only reason for a negative response like this could be because the content is not relevant and is not driving conversations. I also imagine the reason for starting a blog in the first place was a knee jerk reaction due to the interest and desire to embrace blogging as part of a corporate social media program.
Forrester recommends that companies give it another go, employing a few basic strategies like honing their voice on other public forums, becoming a resource rather than espousing company rhetoric.
Are we going to see a decline in the number of corporate blogs – one would expect that technology companies would have more success, especially within the markets they operate and the topics relevant to their buyers. Perhaps I am wrong. But with blogging and other conversational marketing activities now part of an employee’s job description, are we forcing the issue and as a consequence, finding that there is little of no value because the content is probably not worth the effort. These results in this Forrester survey would suggest that is happening.