This session for the largest U.S. chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators was titled "The (Social) Medium is the Message," and prompted me to go back to Marshall McLuhan...who presciently said that the medium is the message because it “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action," just what social networking and other "new media" tools are doing today. And, even more apt, he said “it’s not so much the message as the sender who is sent," which sure sounds like Facebook to me.
To practice what I preach--you need to follow the audience--I started by asking the group to put their questions to me before I started talking. Those who really wanted to get hands-on used my Flip video camera to record their questions, which I answered in person and will post and re-answer on this blog in a few days. The meeting was also live-Twittered here by an audience member. Then I asked the audience to rate themselves on how far they've come in adopting social networking and "new" media technologies in their communications, based on how far into the metaphorical pool they've come: Olympic swimmer? Still wearing water wings? Dipping a toe in? Standing by the chaise on the dry pavement? It was a mixed group, with lots of early adopters, experimenters, and beginners, with a healthy mix as well of enthusiasm, curiosity, skepticism and struggle.
We looked at research on where communicators lag behind audiences and clients:
- A McKinsey study conducted this summer looks at areas where companies are satisfied--or not--with use of Web 2.0 technologies, and some of the barriers to adoption. The good news: where users are satisfied, they report building bridges to customers and suppliers and an expectation that the technology will lead to innovation. Satisfied firms that invested in Web 2.0 plan to invest more. Useful: Dissatisfied company users report that their IT units often are a barrier to implementation--while satisfied users say the leadership on Web 2.0 came from leadership or some other unit than IT.
- Smaller surveys from TNS/Cymfony and London-based Parker, Wayne & Kent note, respectively, that agencies don't "get" new and social media, according to their clients, and that PR pros in particular prefer print to online media, despite the latter's proven popularity with consumer audiences.
- An interesting anecdotal report from New York Times reporter David Pogue relates reactions from an audience of PR pros when they were asked why their organizations weren't using Web 2.0 technologies.
- Online video: We've told you before that viewers of lunch-hour online videos are more likely to make purchases after viewing. Take a look at a leader in that regard: Blendtec's "Will It Blend?" videos boosted sales of its super-strong home blender 700%--the first five videos cost them $50 to produce, and today, companies pay them to feature products in the videos. This month, NBC joins in with 2,200 hours of live-streamed coverage of the Olympics, plus videos in formats for all sorts of devices, desktop to mobile. And even nonprofit causes like the Ad Council are seeking supporters from online video.
- Internal/employee communication: Check out McDonald's new Station M--but you'll only get so far, as it's for "crew members." Rick, the blogger, was voted on by fellow employees after submitting an essay and video--and now has been taken off deep-fryer duty for a year. The site is multilingual and worldwide.
- CEO blogs: We've already told you we love Bill Marriott's CEO blog, which sets a high bar--and enjoys thousands of comments from customers. CEO blogs, while still unusual, offer one of the most effective customer relations tools.
- Targeted social networks: Following the audiences that prefer customized content that's more specialized than Facebook and MySpace, companies are creating networks like Disaboom, focused on people with disabilities for chat, jobs, networking, shopping and more; and Shop Like Anna, a site for 8-to-15-year-olds to meet up with friends and yes, shop. The latter offers an unusual parent signoff for safety. Also check out our post on youth audiences and New America Media, which offers young folks--the most diverse generation in U.S. history--news segmented by ethnicity.
- Beyond links to mentors: Sites like BakeSpace, a targeted social networking site for bakers, have upgraded to match users with baking mentors. GottaMentor, a site now in beta, runs all the way with the idea and offers mentoring and shared "pearls of wisdom" for early, mid- and late-career professionals.
- Twitter for nonprofits: What does your nonprofit do that could warrant frequent updates to your audience? Try building interest in upcoming events, the strategy behind Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Twitter feed with updates from the theatre's stage manager. The theatre also offers video, podcasts and a blog.
- Photo collection help: The Library of Congress photostream on Flickr asks viewers to help identify people in thousands of photos from before World War II--and lets curators answer the questions these shots prompt in photography and history buffs.