Digital Communities And The Power Of Trust: A Look At The Future
Thirty years ago news anchorman, Walter Cronkite, would finish up his hourly news broadcast to the nation of America by saying, 'and that's the way it is." Kronkite was the daily voice of gospel news truth, and America was duly grateful.
How very different it is today. Wherever you live.
Where, what and how we get and consume content and information could not be more different. We no longer live in a linear command-and-control society and for all businesses the implications are significant, for a number of reasons.
Financial scandals, political spin-doctoring, and the erosion of our faith in institutions is the recent stage scenery that has lead us to scrutinise the motive behind the message. And, Shoshana Zuboff in her book The Support Economy argues that despite the centrality of consumption for an advanced economy, and the fact that everyone is a consumer, people have come to accept that their consumption experiences will be largely adversarial. And, importantly in the west, product parity rules.
As someone pre-disposed to buy, what are you going to do?
You now SEARCH online and you talk to your peers first. This is the often un-remarked media explosion of our time - digitally connected communities.
Photo credit: Dawn Hudson
Research by Cap Gemini Ernst and Young in October 2003 found that 17% of car buyers were influenced by TV ads, whilst 71% were influenced by word of mouth. And a Nokia Monitor research project in 2004 found that 49% of mobile buyers were influenced by word of mouth, whilst crucially the decision-making has reduced from 6 weeks to 6 days.
And as Tomi Ahonen likes to say,
"In a connected world sharing information is power."
The increasing penetration of the internet, coupled with increasingly cheap bandwidth, has become our means to search for more credible, more authorative sources of information.
Consumers have learnt to be more discerning and lest trusting. We actively seek sources of information we trust. That's why, 27% of Americans now read blogs and 77% of Americans seek their primary news today online.
The aggregated result, a growing disconnect between the way consumers want to be communicated to and the way organisations communicate with them.
"Evidence is building that the paradigm of marketing is changing from the push strategies so well suited to the last 50 years of mass media to trust-based strategies that are essential in a time of information empowerment."
The internet in many ways is not so much a technology as social phenomenon.
For example, the rise of community rating sites such as Epinions, where you can get marks out of ten from well-being medicines to the latest movies, or the creation of 'folksonomies' such as flickr.com., with its social tags system, or travelpost.com, a community site for those travelling the world, with, as the site says, "174,238+ unbiased hotel reviews, travel journals, photos and itineraries." For unbiased read; co-created, unfiltered, authentic, more credible.
And like World of Warcraft, or Desert Combat (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Player Games), all these sites have connectivity of one-to-one and many-to-many. They are constantly updated or modified with new content, have built an interested and passionate community and are also successful commercial models.
The social phenomenon of the internet goes further, for example it extends into blogging, that last year toppled leading media icons like CBS anchorman Dan Rather or Jason Eason, Chief News Director of CNN, who was forced to resign over remarks he had made at Davos by Rony Abovitz, a blogger and that nearly brought the bicycle lock manufacturer Kryptonite to its knees.
Blogging showcases how enlightened companies have embraced the social phenomenon of the Internet.
Bob Lutz Vice Chairman at GM blogs on the GM Fast Lane Blog, Jonathan Schwartz COO of Sun Microsystems and himself a blogger, believes that the 1000 bloggers at Sun have done more for his company than a billion ad campaign ever could.
Jamie Oliver's School Dinners, is a more homegrown example, of one man's passionate belief that we should stop feeding our kids junk food in schools, which translated into the social phenomenon of a community of interest forming around an issue that cared passionately about what we feed our kids in school. Jamie's School Dinners motivated people to respond in a number of ways; 230,000 signatures delivered in a petition to 10 Downing Street and the creation of worldwide online forums, via Jamie's blogsite and an ongoing debate globally about what we feed our kids.
In the corporate world the Boeing Design Team with 120,000 members is another example of how a corporation has harnessed the collective intellect of many people who are seriously interested in aircraft and aviation. These people are spread across the globe and are constantly in touch with Boeing sharing and discussing information about the future development of Boeing aircrafts. The maxim that "nobody is as clever as everybody," is never truer than here.
Habbo Hotel is the preferred virtual playground for teenagers from Finland to UK to Japan, spending on average 40 minutes per session at this internet based gaming world, where payments are made by mobile phone. Over the past two years in the UK alone Habbo Hotel has acquired over a million gamers.
And we see it in mobile phone based smart mobs, which brought down the government of Joseph Estrada of the Philippines in a peaceful mass demonstration of literally over a million participants in a smart mob.
Adriana Cronin-Lukas co-founder of the Big Blog Company says that the Internet is not a channel, it is what's causing the other channels to leak and bleed 'content'. This will become more profound as the internet increasingly converges with the mobile device. It is a valuable insight.
For companies the threat is this:
The internet combined with broadband essentially changes everything. It changes the way customers can access information and changes the way they use it. It changes the way business can communicate with their customers and it also changes how a business might go to market. It changes the linking between channels, that link businesses, customers, suppliers and employees. It offers opportunity and it offers your once helpless competitors the chance to radically rethink their business strategies and attack vital parts of your business model.
Professor Anthony Hopwood of the Said Business School in Oxford believes that there has been a fundamental structural change in the way we consume information and content. This is supported by Merrill Brown, author of a Carnegie Corporation of New York report on media consumption.
On the news media Merrill says, "The future course of news is being altered by technology-savvy young people no longer wedded to traditional news outlets or even accessing news in traditional ways."
Rupert Murdoch speaking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in April 2005 reinforced the point,
"What is happening right before us is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don't want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don't want to rely on a God-like figure from above to tell them what's important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don't want news presented as gospel."
Murdoch states that where four out of every five Americans in 1964 read a paper every day, today, only half do. For younger readers the figures are even worse.
So what happened to 18-24 year olds usage of traditional media like TV and newspapers? The answer is they are early adopters of new media. New media includes:
- the internet
- picture phones
- instant messaging
- cell phones
- MP3 players
- satellite radio
- text messaging
- broadband TV and web radio.
But its not only the news industry that is feeling the pre-tremors of the volcanic eruption that technology is about to unleash, as Lord Currie described it in a Royal Television Society Fleming Memorial Lecture in 2004. He believes that over the next 10 years audiences will move away from the linear, scheduled world where relatively limited number of distributors who push their content at the viewer.... "we will instead enter a world where content is increasingly delivered through internet-protocol-based networks that are non-linear, on-demand and entirely self-scheduled. In that world, the viewer - not the broadcaster - will decide what is consumed and how."
IPTV aggregates and amplifies this fundamental change in how we, collect, edit and consume information or content and share it with our friends.
That is why MTV have recently launched 2 broadband channels whilst AOL has created a partnered multimedia production company that will accelerate its live entertainment events online, as well as for TV, cell phones and other media platforms.
The internet + broadband has put the "me" into media, and Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine describes traditional mass media channels as cold media, whereas, community sites like wikipedia, blogs, commercial online enterprises like ebay, Amazon etc., are what he describes are hot media.
Vital, emergent, with two way flows of communication, the connection of many-to-many - social media.
To put this in context, last July's tragic bombings in London demonstrated how far we have come in how we collect, share, create, and disseminate information. Newsweek (July 9,2005) describes the most dramatic example of this,
"The biggest story on Thursday was Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that Internet users around the world freely add to and edit. Yesterday's entry on the London bombings was amended, edited and updated by hundreds of readers no fewer than 2,800 times throughout the day.
The entry has photographs, detailed timelines, contact numbers, a complete translated statement by the jihadist group claiming responsibility for the attacks and links to other Wikipedia entries."
The first video pictures broadcast from CNN came from a citizen journalist, as did many images broadcast by the BBC.
The BBC is no slouch these days has understood the implications for its organization. And has for example taken a "pioneering new approach to public access rights in digital age." For example The Creative Archive Project. The project will allow British residents to download clips of BBC factual programmes from bbc.co.uk for non-commercial use, keep them on their PCs, manipulate and share them, thereby making the BBC archives more accessible to licence-fee payers. In the next, pilot phase of the project the Creative Archive will make 100 hours of BBC content available.
To see how connected communities are generating a paradigm shift in how businesses can connect and co-create value with their audiences, we look to Korea and the online newspaper, OhMyNews. OhMyNews is the third largest newspaper in Korea, but the important part is that it has 26,000 citizen reporters that contribute to the newspaper. Get your story published and you receive $20 USD and your name in print.
Founder and Editor Oh Yeon-ho said in an interview with Wired Magazine "With OhmyNews, we wanted to say goodbye to 20th-century journalism where people only saw things through the eyes of the mainstream, conservative media. Our main concept is every citizen can be a reporter. We put everything out there and people judge the truth for themselves."
The Guardian (who has its own blog) has described it as the world's most domestically powerful news site and, a South Korean diplomat was quoted as saying that no policy maker can now ignore OhMyNews.
Ebay, Yahoo Social Search, SMS messaging and Skype in telecoms, music file sharing, Wikipedia and OhMyNews all show how enabling or capturing peer-to-peer information flows can transform business models. Companies need to understand that today value lies with the consumer not the other way round.
And Simon London writing for the Financial Times Monday 27th June 2005, said,
"In business as in art, we live in a postmodern era. Old certainties are being demolished and relationships redefined. Everything you thought about business has been upended. The relationship between companies and customers is no exception. The old notion that producers produce and consumers consume is regarded passé by management theorists."
In its cover story entitled the Power of Us, of June 20, Business Week said that community power is the biggest change to business companies have faced since the Industrial Age. In context, that means bigger than the telephone, TV, credit cards, the PC and the internet. The Economist, in its cover story Crowned at Last, on April 2 2005 , said, "Many firms do not yet seem aware of the revolutionary implications of newly empowered consumers. Only those firms ready and able to serve these new customers will survive."
Peer-to-peer communication is the life force of communities - the rapid emergence and convergence of the mobile phone and the internet means that we suddenly have access to our peers, our friends, our colleagues and family members. And like search that is changing peoples habits and attitudes. We are getting used to living in a connected age where we naturally draw on our participation in various networks for assistance information and support.
The problem for businesses and marketers is that traditional marketing has become in the eyes of everyday people, adversarial.
Customers have changed and adapted to this new always on, always connected, media fragmented world, they seek value by searching, they are not waiting for you to interrupt them with unwanted messaging, they look to their peers for voices of authority.
They are in effect doing it for themselves.
Shoshana Zuboff, in her book "The support economy" Penguin 2002, said,
"In today's market, supporting end consumers is not an occasional event, but a necessary condition of being in business."
Some companies are responding to consumer power by pushing harder down more channels using traditional marketing methods.
But you can no longer take one way broadcast or a monopoly approach into a consumer empowered world. Because the internet and increasingly the mobile phone has fundamentally changed this.
Photo credit: Aleksandar Bracinac
The harsh reality for all businesses today is that they need to change they way they think about marketing and marketing communication strategies.
And the notion of mass media is fast becoming an oxymoron.
The current language and behaviour of our post-modern culture is one of:
- Peer-to-peer networks and flows of communication between them.
So what are the implications for companies as a consequence of these developments?
Companies need to ask:
- Are our products and services the very best they can be?
- How can we support our 21st Century consumers in a real and credible way?
- Can we facilitate positive co-creation?
- Does our current operational structure allow us to support this?
- Are we engaging our audience or are we overly transmitting to them?
- Can we deliver a genuine valuable experience across multiple platforms?
- Do we have the metrics to support such initiatives?
- How can we align everything we do to deliver enhanced customer advocacy?
- Can we become a dynamic engaging brand that is true to ourselves and true to our customers?
- Can we continue to accept mediocrity?
"...there's one more fundamental notion that informs this new society, a notion that big companies and institutions invariably forget because they were built in the old order.
This is no longer a centralized world, a world controlled by those institutions.
This is a decentralized world, a world controlled by us.
And if you try to take control away from us, you will lose.
It used to be that you could take control away from us and we had nowhere to go. But in this post-scarcity world, we can always go somewhere else for content or information or service.
There's always another news story, always another email service, always another search engine.
Thus my first law, once again: Give us control and we will use it. Don't and you will lose us."
All marketing interaction should deliver an experience that actively and positively links customers, media and brand in relevant and meaningful ways. Brand experience replaces broadcasting in its broadest sense.
Successful brands today are:
- Life Enabling
- Life Simplifying
Set those as your guiding principles.
And finally a word from Glen L. Urban who writes:
"As customer power grows, innovative companies are moving beyond traditional push marketing and customer relationship management to become full proponents of the customer agenda."
(source: Glen L. Urban. The Emerging Era of Customer Advocacy. 2004)
Amen to that.
About the author:
Alan Moore is the CEO of SMLXL a next-generation creative marketing company, focused on enabling businesses and brands to engage with their audiences and succeed in the 21st Century.
Alan Moore is also the author of Communities Dominate Branding, a new book co-authored with Tomi T. Ahonen. "Communities Dominate Branding: Business and marketing challenges for the 21st century" is a book about how the new phenomenon of digitally connected communities is emerging as a force to counterbalance the power of the big brands and advertising.
Alan Moore -
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