The future of social media is, well, social

27 10 2009

Social media a flash in the pan? Say it ain’t so, Drew.

I believe the opposite will occur. Social media won’t be a flash, it will be a light bulb. Just as we flick a switch and expect a light bulb to turn on, so will we expect social media to be readily available anytime, anywhere when we flick the switch that is our Internet connection. It will become so ingrained that we won’t think of it as any separate form of communication at all.

For years we’ve been able to blog and email and generally leverage digital communications to be social. We’re just now recognizing this activity as a unique phenomenon and branding it accordingly. Twitter, Facebook and the like are just organized, centralized places to have conversations using basic communications forms – digitized type, images, audio and video. The only thing new here is how we can so easily share the conversations.

What does this mean for communications professionals thriving or drowning in what social media is today? The same as if social media went away like a flash in the pan. “Social media” experts will be about as sought after as typists because all digital properties – from news sites to product pages – will soon be inherently social. Especially as social media sites act less as destinations and more as services (The first steps of this evolution are Facebook Connect and Google SideWiki) we’ll rely less on those centralized locations at Facebook or Twitter and look more to have conversations at socialized Web sites (think Web 3.0) that work with what we know now as our Facebook or Google profiles to organize the conversations.

As social media become decentralized and turns the Internet into one huge forum where anyone can comment anywhere, communications professionals will no longer focus on isolated sites and conversations and have to think about broader communications strategies. Businesses will continue to need help navigating a digital communications landscape without boundaries, and communications professionals will have greater opportunities to access consumer perspectives with those walls torn down, which will hopefully result in better products and services to come.

When I grow up, I want to be what I am today, a communications professional. I think what comes of social media will make this career path more steady and sought after.


He’s a columnist, he’s an actor, he’s Pogue

20 10 2009

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue provides an entertaining example of how traditional media outlets can deliver video.

Most great columnists have a pronounced tone of voice and identifiable writing styles in their articles. Pogue is no exception, and he manages to translate these qualities into his videos. Each week, he contributes a print column, an e-mail column and an online video, and in my opinion his videos are his most compelling product.

His videos usually weave humor and concrete analysis. He shoots himself in singular locations but with several different angles, limited soundtracks and frequent sound effects (crack, boom, bang). While the quality of his videos is usually low by industry standards, they are wildly popular because of their humor and Pogue’s ability to create engaging stories within the format. The amateurish qualities of the shots actually help the videos as they create a contrast between the professional columnist and his chosen delivery method – akin to a famous chef like Mario Batali filming food tips at a McDonald’s.

Take, for example, his video “The Great Netbook Compromise.” The video features limited locations off a highway, cheesy acting and great comedy. None of this could be accomplished in his written work, and he still manages to educate viewers about the good and bad of laptop form factors. When the iPhone came out, his review of the revolutionary device stepped apart from others’ reviews and even their unboxing videos because he created a larger narrative around the review. In his video, “The iPhone Challenge: Keep It Quiet,” he poked fun at Apple’s secrecy, posturing its PR team like Secret Service agency protecting a device that threatened national security if it was discovered. Viewers enjoyed a short, funny narrative combined with an important device review.

As mainstream media increasingly looks to video to deliver stories, Pogue provides a great example of how to take advantage of the medium. Rather than just retell his written stories, he optimizes what video offers him and actually acts to embellish the story and make it what it’s often not in print – entertaining.

Free or not to free (content)? That is the question

13 10 2009

I have a vague understanding of Chris Anderson’s “Free”. I got half way through the (free) eBook before I was too distracted by (free) kitten fights videos on YouTube, which I found far more digestible at the time.

I recall Anderson arguing that costs of digital production and distribution are driven so low that digital content (newspapers, music, etc.) will always skew toward free or near-free costs for consumers.

Hopefully that’s close enough.

I had previously read Malcolm Gladwell’s review/counterargument and re-reading it was refreshing. Gladwell attempts to go head-to-head with a handful of Anderson’s statements, but he really just explains how “Free” is more of a marketing model than it is a business model. Mark Cuban’s blog (which desperately needs a copy editor) drives this point home in plain English.

I tend to agree with the counterargument. As Gladwell points out, trying to monetize truly free content is bad business, and YouTube is his star example. There are still fixed costs for operations of any business, even digital ones, where people spend labor building and maintaining infrastructure for the distribution platform of the free content.

So where does the money come from to support the operational costs? This is where I think Mark Cuban provides insight. His idea that controlling the distribution of free content is spot on. This is how content providers have functioned profitably for decades. Print is a distribution method. Cable TV is a distribution method. Before the Internet went mainstream, media companies were able to control how audiences consumed content through those channels, and advertisers bought-in for a slice of audience attention.

Online advertising has so far failed because media companies have failed to effectively control the distribution of their content. Why advertise with the media companies when their content is aggregated to a hundred other places through RSS and other digital syndication? Newspapers, for example, shot themselves in the foot embracing RSS. It broke their media networks by allowing readers to create their own networks. We don’t even have to discuss pirated content to emphasize how greatly content is devalued.

So long as content creators control their distribution models, they can still price their content as free but make money by attracting advertisers.

Example: Let’s say you could watch Saturday Night Live for free on, or you can subscribe to a fictional NBC service, which allows you to view the video anywhere else it is embedded on the Internet. Those would be the only two ways to consume the content (legally). Let’s look at this model from the perspective of a blogger or someone wanting to host video. You would only want to embed the video if you believe enough of your audience subscribes to NBC, and you would create demand for those who don’t. This would drive up the value of the subscription. Or maybe you’d save everyone the trouble and just point a link back to That would drive up the value of NBC’s hosting site. Either way, that’d be a win-win for the content provider and incentive for advertisers.

Until content providers get ahold of the distribution of their content, “Free” will continue to cannibalize existing media business models.

Class project topic idea: The holidays

4 10 2009

I propose that our Web storytelling class project topic should be “The holidays.” We have the unique advantage during fall quarter to experience Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas (preparations), Chanukah and a number of other American and religious holidays. Additionally, international students may celebrate their own or variations of the aforementioned holidays.

I believe this topic is broad enough that everyone can focus on something different and explore their own interests. Some ideas could be:

  • Costume shopping
  • Trick or Treating
  • Pumpkin patches
  • Thanksgiving dinner
  • Black Friday (holiday shopping)
  • Christmas bazaars
  • Student holidays away from home
  • Christmas tree hunting/decorating
  • Traditional holiday foods
  • Holiday food banks/non-profit events

Students should have little trouble accessing venues and events related to the holidays, as many of the above are public events. Students can also think about documenting their own family traditions or take a journalistic approach and join a family, group, or religious affiliation that interests them and report their experiences.

The holidays will be of high interest to broad audiences by the time the videos are finalized in early December. We could possibly attach these videos to holiday stories that university communications will be writing for the university Web site, which could gain the MCDM program exposure as well.