Where are we going?

I’ve kept an eye on all this online stuff for a long time, I’ve moved through phases from passionate advocate to bored pragmatist and back again, but the big question that no one has the answer to is: where is all this stuff going?

Are we moving into a world (eventually) where everything is online? Are we moving into a hybrid world that blends online with traditional – and if so, what’s the mix?

This is a really tough question. It’s not enough to wave the Web 2.0 flag, nor to keep one’s head in the sand.  This is a serious matter.

I’m waiting for an answer.

I do still believe – that for the foreseeable future – we’ll have a blend. I think we’ll see some re-balancing with traditional media offering more online content, with channels such as blogs and podcasts capturing more visitors, with broad and special interest publications remaining important.

But that’s a guess – and not even a very educated one.

Maybe we need to wait for a shake up before we’ll get a better view.

In the meantime the vast majority of PR practitioners will continue to work with traditional projects, tools and channels while slowly blending online elements for specific clients or projects.

The Online world is impacting everyone’s reputation,but we’re still waiting for the tools that will enable PR practitioners to have a “conversation” with 3.2 million consumers.

I think there’s some preparatory work to be done in better understanding how out audience(s) is moving online.

Maybe the recent explosion in Facebook (even among the old farts) adoption will give us an insight into the broader implications of the online network.

Change is coming, but where, how and why is still a little unclear.

For those now tempted to write a startlingly intelligent comment about how “I don’t get it” and if “you’re not online it’s too late” – don’t bother. Here in the real world it’s not quite that simple.

We should embrace change – I do – but that doesn’t mean it’s not puzzling and confusing.

That’s why you have to keep your eye on it.  Try it.  Measure it.  Review it. Again. And again.

If anyone has the answer, drop me a line, we’ll keep it our little secret and clean up :-)

13 thoughts on “Where are we going?

  1. Hi Tom, sorry no answer to your question as yet (I’ll keep you posted) but refreshing to see someone holding their hands up to say the huge changes we are experiencing are a tad confusing – you’re not alone!

    The part about what the pundits tell us we should be doing Vs how it works in the real world, where, as you say, “it’s not that simple..” particularly resonates


  2. Well there is a clue with facebook. It took me about 6 months to recruit my first 50 linkedin contacts. I did that in facebook in two weeks and they were inbound requests for links.

  3. You’re right–no one knows what channels will resonate the best in the world of social media. I think the diversity of channels is fracturing online conversations at the moment.

  4. My answer – and I mean this with all due respect and then some – is that I really don’t care.

    I don’t mean to be flip. The tools we use will evolve as they always have. The pace may be faster but the principles communications professionals employ are the same — relationships matter, honesty matters, and transparency matters, and the tools we use should depend entirely on the strategic communications needs of the client.

    As public relations professionals, it’s our obligation to know about the tools available to us, but it’s more important to understand the strategic applications each tool possesses. This strategic relevance may or may not be readily apparent. Clients will continue to depend on our creativity and persistent commitment to service. Much of the work we do will be online, some of it still won’t. But the strategic and ethical principles we maintain have not changed.

    We’re at a point in time and technological evolution where tools are being invented faster than we can discover and evaluate the strategic relevance of each. As communications pro’s we just have to suck it up and learn as much as we can as fast as we can. But I take solace in the fact that there are absolutely no experts in the technology, we’re all learning as we go.

    I tell my clients who ask about “facebook” or “that twit thing” to worry less about the specific features of each tool and worry more about your audience and its needs. But I told them that before we ever had a facebook or twitter. As a profession, we need to be less fascinated with gadgets and more obsessed with the needs of our clients, the audiences they serve, and the best strategies to connect the two in a transparent and honest fashion.

    The details of the forum and the specific tools will work themselves out.

    (getting off my soapbox now…) 😉

  5. David, I think you’re right on the money – focus on the message first, then work out the kinks in using the proper medium.

    We’re unfortunately (or fortunately) in a time where tools are being invented faster than we know what to do with them. And in a fast-moving market like this, there’s too little interoperability. As Bernie notes, right now that’s leading to a fracturing of conversation. On the reader side, tools like Yahoo Pipes or Jaiku can help us to create a unifeed, as described by Eirepreneur at http://eirepreneur.blogs.com/eirepreneur/2007/02/why_comments_wi.html (though I think Jaiku doesn’t execute very well). We need to improve these tools, but as content providers they can be incredibly powerful. We can offer feeds to people consisting of various pieces of our online presence (say I only want pics from Bernie, but not his writing, or only his Twits). I think this allows us to almost automatically tailor our message delivery, so visitors to my blog can get posts only on specific tags they’re interested in.

    Where we’re currently lacking is on the content creation side. If I want to keep up with Facebook, Jaiku, my blog, etc, I currently have to use several tools to manage them, their web sites, my phone, software. Nirvana will be when we have one central location to enter our content, and easily indicate where it should be fed to. Some of these linkages exist, but we’re in the early stages so it’s a little painful, but I think we’re going to end up with some pretty powerful stuff.

  6. What a great set of responses (now of course I’m saying that because I agree with them).

    I’m glad to see more people are stepping back from the Kool Aid dispenser… there’s hope for us all yet!

  7. Very interesting discussion. While I agree that in this rapidly evolving environment we shouldn’t obsess about specific tools or applications, I do think we need to recognize that there is a fundamental change in how people access and share information. Yes, traditional tools will continue to be relevant…I think. But as PR practitioners I think it’s delusional to believe the Web 2.0 world is just adding a few new cool arrows to our quiver. In short, it’s no longer our quiver. We have lost a great deal of the control we had over the message, the channels and the delivery of information. The trick now is to remain relevant in a world where somebody could get credible and timely information on an event or company through a live video report from citizen journalists, a commentary string from friends on a social network like Facebook, a parody video on YouTube, a peer-to-peer IM tool like Twitter, and so on. It’s a brave new world, no matter what the latest fad. At least, that’s my take.

  8. Bernie,

    I think you make some very valid points.

    I think the idea of “control” was no more than an illusion and the volume of “crises” is a clear illustration that the illusion is no more.

    I would agree that the biggest challenge facing every PR practitioner is where we are relevant in the online environment, however I would temper that by saying that humans are by their nature lazy, not everyone wants to participate or generate content, many are happy to pass the job of aggregating information and opinions to others (e.g. journalists).

    I also think that traditional media will remain both relevant and essential for the foreseeable future.

    Great discussion!

  9. Tom,
    After the High-Tech environment I went to Tourism…and I’m currently advocating Travel 2.0 because this field of the economy is ahead of most of the other industries applying the Web 2.0 concepts. Have a look to the latest financial reports of EXPEDIA… their results including the one of TRIPAdvisor (their social network and UGC) are far above any tranditional business of this industry. They are making monney where the others are loosing their shirts, they are growing at a rate with 2 digits where the others are losing market shares. The PR role in the tourism industry is definitively more influenced by the UCG concepts (User Generated Content) than by the marketers of the Hotel companies or Tourism Office. This approach will undoubly spread among other industries.

  10. Just to reinforce what others above have implied – what is changing and being “invented” most rapidly are the tools for delivery and publication. The “push” for the most part, imo.

    I think that we need to be aware of how people and the tools they use to receive the message are changing (or not).

    Just because twitter and Facebook etc. have been invented and are being pushed as the second coming of the WWW, does not mean they are significant, yet, in terms of how John and Jane Public receive the content they want to receive.

    As above, relationships matter, eye to eye contact still counts, and traditional media is STILL GIGANTIC with respect to how J and J Public consume content, especially if you consider the 40+ crowd which is where ungodly amounts of purchasing power still reside.
    All that being said, I want this change to happen and new media to grow into adulthood – asap!

  11. Web 2.0 is a never ending saga but as confusing as it is their remains one key point. It’s essential to have an anchor on the web and the best anchor is your website. I’ve watched too many people, including myself get caught up in the latest wiki, social group, etc. and put time into trying to make the latest thing be the big breakthrough. All of this is fine but if the anchor, and in this case your website is not fully optimized then there is no way we’ll ever get the biggest bang for the buck in the time and effort put into all of these other sites.

  12. Its a great discussion,PR Practioner we need to move with changing technologies without throwing away our business uniqueness and status quo believed by our clients and which satisfy and justify their money spending.
    The cognitive disornance which could be experienced later because of changing technologies have to be slightly reduced.Societal and point of transparency and truth we tell our clients will make ourselves subsist.
    This world technologies are moving so fast and leaving a pace we should run but be carefully not to fall on our steps,since there blocking stones which have to be looked at and aforeseen.
    It is really confusing and am together with Murphy,let us keep our pace and move in parallel way without ignoring changes.


  13. I believe that it’s going to be the community platform with the most open APIs, that will win the online competition for most users.

    It’s quite simple. Users want one point access to all their services, contacts, information etc. – on their own terms This has been tried by many but most have failed by not being open enough. They are locked by specific content partners with exclusie rights and/or don’t provide the social nature of Facebook, MySpace etc. Great examples of these falures are AOL.com and MSN.com.

    The most open (and succesful) service right now is Facebook. While MySpace and Youtube, due to traditional corporate thinking, have been figthing with content rights and the rights to show content from eachothers sites, Facebok and Google have opened up. Of these two Facebook are miles ahead.

    1) Facebook let’s everyone build applications that can be integrated into a Facebook profile. It’s a win/win situation as Facebook don’t have to develop the stuff themselves (cuts costs dramatically) and via trial and error they let the users choose what is a great app and what is a loser.
    2) All high quality niche players (commercial and non commercial)that would have a hard time generating enough traffic by themselves can plug into the vast Facebook population of users delivering their services.
    3) This approach also turbo charges the introduction speed of new services that hardly any service provider could develop themselves

    The biggest hurdle for Facebook and Google as I see it right now is to make sure that the high quality and serious apps don’t drown amongst the many trashy apps that are already there.

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