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.
Not too long ago, the NY Times ran a very interesting story that covered the emerging new marketing buzzword — Curate. This week Steve Rosenbaum added a new perspective in the Huffington Post introducing the notion of a Curation Nation. Fascinating read.
Certainly the concept and theme around agreggation as well as compiling and sharing content is nothing new, but the art and technology around this process is certainly changing. It has evolved to the point where we’re all becoming curators without even realizing it — whether that is through Twitter lists, Foursquare, Facebook or a seemingly endless array of platforms.
For brands the challenge remains how they can either move beyond simple content aggregation for aggregation sake and add value to the chain…or find a way to be an essential element in the content that is being curated. In other words, do you create the content that is curated or do you curate the content yourself?
I happen to believe that, for most bands, the best approach will be a blend of the two where they can deliver an experience that intersects the conversation around a particular area while creating and sharing relevant original content that adds to the dialogue. Its not about “owning” a topic or subject, its more about being a relevant listener and contributor to the conversation around that topic or subject.
Let me start by saying, I’m a big fan of RSS readers, etc. thanks to their very tangible benefits. My iGoogle page is still the first site I go to when I get online everyday and I’ve started using TheDailyInfluence as well (this is an Ogilvy PR Reader we created with NetVibes and is a good site to consider if you want to jump start an RSS Reader).
Earlier this month, Mashable posted a story on RSS readers and their possible decline, but the poll at the end of the story showed that more than 70% of respondents still use some form of reader daily (as of May 27th). Only 1% use something else, 5% never use a reader and 16% use it less than they used to.
The one thing I’d pose and recommend for my peers and colleagues in the industry is to not live and die by your reader and set some personal ground rules. Early on I found myself so reliant on the convenience of the site that I stopped visiting the main pages of the publications I enjoyed reading. RSS readers are certainly addictive thanks to their efficiency, ease of use, how comprehensive they have become, how flexible the platforms are and lets just say how flat out convenient it is to get the news from the sources I really care about (or the topics I care most about) on one screen at one time.
But, they don’t replace the good old fashioned need to visit a website. I’ve seen quite a few PR professionals fall into the trap of just relying on their RSS reader and don’t spend the time learning about the publications, sites and, dare I say, hard-copy issues that are critical to their clients.
There is still a lot of value in spending time reading publication sites and blogs and bouncing around from section to section. Not only do you learn about news, trends and discussions that are outside of your specific areas of interest, but often times you find something you wouldn’t normally expect to see that is relevant to your interests — maybe a new section or a new feature added to the site or a new contributor or just an interesting story you wouldn’t have read otherwise.
I found myself so reliant I created three personal rules of using my RSS reader that I thought I’d share:
1- Keep my RSS Reader open all day, but only check it 3 times per day max. (Morning, Lunch, Evening)
2- Visit at least 5 news sites directly per day
3- Read at least 3 unusual stories or new sections per day
Happy RSS Reading and let me know what works for you?
David Carlson: Social Media and Traditional PR