The NY Times got me again. To say that this is a great read for any marketer is an understatement and it may be worth reading more than once.
At the risk of violating one of the premises of the article, the section that really struck me from a communications standpoint was a concept the article attributes to Cass Sunstein called “cyberbalkanization.” Essentially this is the ability for anyone to easily use online and social tools (as well as traditional ones) to surround themselves with news, opinions and ideas that are in-line with their own existing ideas, perceptions and beliefs. This eliminates the need to listen or learn from anyone that has an opinion outside of your own - this part is towards the end of the story.
While I believe much of this has been around for years via traditional media catering to specific consumer, business and political interests, the future is certainly accelerating the opportunity and dropping the barriers to entry while increasing the gap between opposing views. Instead of paying for subscriptions or content, I can now get almost whatever I want, free and delivered to virtually any screen I want while mashing it up with any other content I wish. I’m able to create my own happy little news world - surrounding myself with my preferred bloggers and authors (thanks to my RSS feeds, readers) and my own social networks (that , naturally, consist of likeminded ”friends”). It is easy to see how small my world can become and how easy it is to block out the culture, ideas, thoughts and perspectives of those outside of it.
From a technology standpoint, some research groups are working on ways to try and intesect this trend. Take a look at the Dispute Finder project developed by Intel (Disclosure: Intel is a client) and UC Berkeley - here is a good video of the project as well. Through a Firefox extension, I’m able to read all the news and views I want, as normal. But when the Dispute Finder picks up a keyword phrase, I’m presented with the option to hear two perspectives of the story one supporting it and one opposing.
Until this type of technology is available for broad use, we’re faced with the challenge of determining how we speak with people and communicate with them if they’re not even listening or tuning in. Certainly we need to understand the habits of our target audiences (both online and offline) as well as the technology they use to gather their information - but we also need to be willing to listen to opposing views, learn from them and find ways to apply that knowledge to reaching our audience. Some of this may be engaging with them in discussion (online or offline) and that it is the beauty and fear of social media. I also think this is part of the reason we all jump to read the cyclical “PR is Dead” story or the debate about the death of embargoes (search Twitter for #newscartel) or how the media industry is dead (or dying - @themediaisdying).
We should be paying attention, and more importantly, we should be listening and learning.
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