Russia is fast becoming the new digital frontier, but without local knowldge, contacts and objective opinion, how can you break into the market?

10 things that “social media experts” can do to help me

1. Actually prove that you understand the medium; by this demonstrate to me that you understand how to engage an audience and cause interaction that delivers benefit to your clients.

2. Tell me something I don’t know (and for the sake of clarity), things like “it’s jolly big” or indeed, “social media is going to be very important” do not count. At all.

3. Please stop banging on about “how to market yourself on Facebook or Linkedin”, and rather than talk about it, do it. Please?

4. Come up with some original content, if I see one more statement along the lines of “If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than…” I fear I will have to wage digital war.

5. Stop retweeting clever people’s ideas and articles and try to interpret what they might mean. We all have a retweet button – I’d like to know what you think, not what you think you should think.

6. Try to entertain, educate and teach. Don’t preach – we get enough of that from politicians – and they know fuck all too.

7. Recognise that you are probably not an expert, you probably never will be, so please stop trying to be. Become a trusted advisor, maybe even a consiglieri, not an expert. Unless your surname is either Dorsey, Zuckerburg or Crowley – you are not likely to be an expert, just a practitioner.

8. Please be accepting of the natural course of digital evolution; try to understand that the platform is less important than the user, and as such, treat your clients with the commercial respect that they deserve.

9. Social engagement is not a ‘one fits all’ strategy. Different entities and people have different objectives and needs – so do not shoe-horn a standard methodology onto everyone – it does not work. I know this and so do you.

10. And finally, if you are not able to do any of the above, please go back to what you were doing before you saw an opportunity to exploit those with partially less knowledge than you.

“Time for a digital comet”

I was lucky enough to be asked to participate on a panel at a conference recently. The conference was aimed a professional publishing organisations seeking to monetise their content online. I was looking forward to hearing how many of the thought leaders in the industry were positioning themselves in terms of how to drive revenue from content. At the conclusion of the conference, I was left feeling disappointed, for not only was it obvious that many of the industry stalwarts who should be leading the charge in digital content transformation are the very individuals at organisations forcing inertia into the content monetisation process. Here are the rather sad observations, and (I promise this is true) observations and sound bites from some leading lights and content domain experts:

  • “Content should be monetised thorugh advertising alone”
  • “Pay-for content will not work”
  • “Not many people will actually read content on their smart phones”
  • Mobile payments are a few years away”
  • “It really helps to measure activity”
  • Social media should drive audience to established content delivery sites”
  • “Tread carefully in the social ecosystem”
  • “Stick to what you know”
  • “Only quality content carries a value premium”
  • “Professional content is the key”
  • “Social media ‘likes’ are very important”
  • “Try to re-purpose what you have and eek out every last drop of value”

Well, here’s my take, it is time for some of the more ong-serving internet innovators to stand aside lest they become crushed by the speed of evolution. In one specific case I was actually embarrassed for one of my co-panel commentators who remains locked in a content exploitation strategy that could easily leverage Netscape’s Navigator, HTML on-the-fly and Cyber-malls while using ‘Beanz” to buy content. While another thought that it would be jolly helpful if those jolly nice chaps at Facebook would share some of the data that they harvest from users. Wow – that’s a good idea!

My direct take on the comments are as follows:

  • “Content should be monetised thorugh advertising alone”

Utter rubbish – what i-tunes has achieved has irreversibly proven that people are prepared to pay for content if it is reasonably priced, well packaged and easy to access. Apple have made billions and will continue to do so.

  • “Pay-for content will not work”

Works fine with paper and ink, and as above, it is, can and will work. The trends that we are seeing magnify the fact that people want relevant content engagement that they are prepared to pay for it.

  • “Not many people will actually read content on their smart phones”

I am not even going to comment.

  • “Mobile payments are a few years away”

In short, bollocks!

  • “It really helps to measure activity”

No shit Sherlock.

  • “Social media should drive audience to established content delivery sites”

This really made me angry. Why would I leave an information rich, relevant and real-time content platform like a social network in order to access a dull content site? Sure, that’s the way it has been, but its not the way things are going.

  • “Tread carefully in the social ecosystem”

Sorry, that’s the last thing any self-respecting content owner should do. Get among it!

  • “Stick to what you know”

No, don’t! Embrace every new idea that emerges – frankly, who knows what will work and what will fail.

  • “Only quality content carries a value premium”

Nope – ‘fraid not. Lots of things work in the social context that would simply never see paper or ink.

  • “Professional content is the key”

No, comment and curation is the key! User generated content has far more impact in interest groups than authoritative content. Pinterest?

  • “Social media ‘likes’ are very important”

“Likes” are an unbankable currency.

  • “Try to re-purpose what you have and eek out every last drop of value”

No, re-cut, re-hash and re-align for social channels.

Anyway, I a secretly hoping that a large digital comet crashes into the internet 1.0 planet shortly, such that evolution can get on with the business of evolving without the weight of digital dinosaurs strutting their outdated stuff.

Stupid is as stupid does

“Stupid is as Stupid does”, or so Forrest Gump would have us believe. The single simple truth of this statement resonates with me when I see the absurd investment frenzy surrounding social networking. For some, we’ve seen all this before, we’ve seen start-ups with business plans etched out on the back of napkins achieve market capitalisation values that make the eyes water – in many cases before a line of code has been cut. For others, for whom this is a new phenomenon, a simple message, again from Forrest, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get”. And so it goes within the realm of social networks. My conjecture is simple, we’re still at the beginning of the innovation cycle in social networking, and ultimately, the same drivers that have always dictated the winners or losers will remain, contacts, communication, context and (as Bill Gates would have us believe) the king, content. To this end, I am not sure that anyone really knows who will win the social media war that is looming. With knives drawn on both sides of the Facebook:Google divide, are we not looking at two monoliths who are achieving little more that Netscape and Microsoft did in the late 1990s? Are we in danger of forgetting that users are the key to ‘winning’, not the digital enablers.

Some context. In the early days of the internet, nearly 20 years ago, value was perceived to be in the connection to the internet, not in the data that the network carried. As such, internet service providers, or ISPs (typically the larger telcos initially and latterly the more opportunistic independents) achieved utterly extraordinary market valuations as they boasted their millions of users and what seemed to be ever-increasing revenue streams. Notionally, ISPs has established a new digital domain, boundless in its opportunity and limitless in flexibility. A digital utopia. However,  overnight, with the advent of the commoditisation of bandwidth we saw these businesses stripped bare of value in terms of service provision and differentiation, and ultimately, in terms of market capitalisation. We also saw the scope of the internet reduce as user driven selection saw the emergence of a software driven internet.

The age of internet software leap-frogged the value of internet connection and associated value to the contacts and communications between users. Netscape, Microsoft, Yahoo and AltaVista ruled the bitescape, they were unassailable, monolithic, gargantuan and wholly in command of all they surveyed. Well actually, not. Like the ISPs before them, they were merely the enablers of content and communication. Inevitably, their value was inextricably linked to their fickle and transitory user base who, as they became increasingly internet savvy, were prone to migration from one product and service to the next on a whim.

Now fast forward to the early noughties. The age of the social network had begun, Friendster, Friends Reunited, Asmallworld, Linkedin, Bebo, Myspace and many others used viral battering and expensive colouring in departments (marketing teams) and peer pressure and insecurity to lure new users into their network ecosystems. In effect, the size of the internet domain reduced with each incarnation of technology evolution. Internet 1.0 reflected the total number of people connected to the web while the ‘browser wars’ saw the start of division of audience as they elected to adopt one technology over another. Portals further reduced scope as people became bound to Yahoo or the second incarnation of AOL and other notables. Walled garden mentality drove business models that were monetised based on simplistic advertising models, models that, while we may not want to admit it, have changed very little in the past 15 years. However, the evolution of advertising models is at the very core of what will drive the evolution of social media. Today, in order for the major search and social businesses to make money, user data is harvested, categorised and exploited. Users are told that this is the ‘cost of free’ and that this is what powers the internet eco-system. Utter tosh!

While the internet is the new mass medium, it would do well to learn from its predecessors, radio and television. Riddled by advertising, both have been forced to explore premium models that see users pay to have advertising excluded, this is secondary though, to the on-demand, interest driven features that these media have had to introduce to retain audience. So, inevitably, will the internet have to evolve. People are prepared to pay for their privacy, define their interests and what they want and when they want it. Audiences are no longer driven by a vanilla broadcast schedule punctuated by advertising, they want relevance, accuracy, privacy and interest driven experiences that save them time and in future, will save them money.

My conjecture is simple, social networks are no different from the early ISPs and the first internet software and search companies. They are digital enablers, albeit very good enablers, but in their absence, believe me, content would find a way to the masses. We are dealing with a different kind of internet user than we were 20 years ago. Increasingly knowledgable, increasingly connected the novelty factor of ‘connecting’ or ‘friending’ is long gone. The macro walled gardens of social networks are increasingly restrictive, they do not enable the free flow of interest drive content and relevant advertising, rather, they provide wholesale content deposits and measures of irrelevance in advertising that are increasingly leading to people leave the walled gardens of facebook and google in search of environments in which their needs are respected and catered for. Call them if you will, discerning internet users. Driven by the need to retain a deep degree of privacy, time constraints that demand accuracy and an interest for some in monetising their knowledge, their identities and their digital assets.

As such, I am convinced that technology has finally caught up with the market. Forget social networks, they will become irrelevant. Future focus will be (as it ever has been) on social data and digital platforms that enable user data on behalf of users and not the platforms that users associate with.

“And that”, as Forrest Gump might say, “is all I have to say about that”.