I have always liked to see my facebook profile in spatial terms. Sort of like a living room cause that’s the room in ones’ house where his guests spend most of their time. It’s a controlled semi-public space. Ok so it’s sort of like your living room with a door to the street. That door may be transparent for by passers that want to take a peek or fully closed to them and open (to varying degrees) to your acquaintances. Now advertisers want to enter this space and hang next to the personal photos you have up your wall, a painting you love or the video you want your friends to see a big-ass advertising banner.

Now let’s think under what circumstances people may actually want to have this done to their living room. Personally I want no big-ass advertising banner in my living room because I can’t think of a single brand, person or message that has such that much significance in my life. In some cases however we do feel this way about some brands be it Obama prior to election, Madonna, a photo of their car or whatever other item they feel plays such a big role in their life.

There should be some sort of space on the profile page that allows the profile owner to personally choose what sort of advertising they want on it. For example I like Madonna. Give me a selection of 100 cool images of her and let me choose which one I want to be displayed in my profile (plz allow me to download and keep some afterwards). Now give me the option to display underneath that picture a personal message e.g. ‘Theo+Madonna=L.F.E’, when her next concert near me will be, and whether I will be attending or not. Similar thing with my new Ford Kuga. A picture of myself with the car that is hyperlinked to my album of pictures/ videos I have shot with my car. Etc. For the aforementioned reason it would also be important to let the user choose the size.

I imagine that this might also be possible in terms of branded tagging by the user him\herself. For example I put up a picture of me holding my baby, I could tag the clothes it is wearing with the brand ‘e.g. Diesel kids’ which in turn could be hyperlinked to the page of the Diesel online catalogue where that product might be found or I could also state its price, rating, review, place of purchase and why someone should visit that particular store. If I a have a photo taking a stroll with my child in a pram I could tag the pram’s brand.  Of course tagging is work and work often requires payment. It is a big question how much such work should be paid or in what way but one thing is certain: that it must be paid according to how influential that person is. For example a highschool’s gang of cool kids is very influential as they act as role models for a lot of their schoolmates. The cool gang always has the coolest accessory, device, clothes first. Indeed they also make it the coolest.

It doesn’t always need to be paid however. I might love the brand, its products or parallel causes they try to advance (e.g. environmentalism) so much that I might actually want to show my sympathy by promoting them myself. How it is possible to love a marketed thing so much is another story however.

It might be interesting to think how it is possible to expand the information about oneself in Facebook with content such as: who is your dentist, what car do you drive, favourite brand of clothes, favourite restaurant etc

So what do you think? Do practices such as the above stand a chance?

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Having looked at the revolutionary characteristics all digital media share in ‘The social role of the internet Part I: the origins of web 2.0 and social media‘, the next couple of posts will focus on each digital medium’s unique characteristics. But first let’s make a couple of distinctions.

Two types of digital media

Before I begin talking about specific internet media, I would like to make a distinction between …

  • Mass media whose message is accessible by a pre-selected target audience only. The content on these media can only be accessed by the people the broadcaster has pre-selected. Email and Instant Messaging (IM) are the prime examples here.
  • Mass media whose message is publicly available/accessible. This category includes blogs, social network profiles, video or photo sharing accounts, and posts on a forum belong to this category. The message of digital media in this category can reach people in unexpected ways.

Who are you? Publisher, author, content, or all of the above?

Aside being the publisher, you might be the author or even the content of your publication.

  • Publisher: you publish someone else’s content.
  • Publisher and author: you publish your own content.
  • Publisher, author and content: you publish, content you have authored, content whose subject matter is yourself.

Of course any combination of the above roles is possible.

Blog: the layman’s personal mass medium

A blog is a one-to-many mass medium with multimedia capabilities.

barriers.jpgFor the first time in the history of mass media, that is, at least since Gutenberg’s press, everyday people can become owners of a powerful mass medium. This is due to the very low-barriers of owning and operating a blog.

Unlike traditional mass media and despite being a one-to-many medium, the blog is interactive. Allowing comments and trackbacks it encourages the interaction between publisher\author and audience.

idea-box.jpgThe fact that the comments of previous readers are visible to every other reader of a blog post however means that a blog’s audience unlike the isolated members of traditional media audiences (and unlike most one-way media) is a self-conscious community whose members (and their activity) is visible to one another. Although by activity, it is common to think of comments, there is an increasingly popular type of widget for blogs which renders visible every visitor/reader of the blog. This can lead to a proper and sometimes extensive dialogue between the readers. As a result a blog sometimes becomes a many-to-many mass medium, sort of like a forum.

Communication as a universal human need

The unexpected speed with which the internet was adopted in the West is an excellent example of how unaware we often are of the future impact and potential of our inventions, in this case, due to a limited understanding of the human need for communication.

The ability to communicate any form of content (audio, video, writing etc) to any number of people one wishes is a universal human need. One example is that of Samuel Morse, who was also a famous portrait artist in the U.S.

“While Morse was working on a portrait of General Lafayette in Washington, his wife, who lived about 500 kilometers away, grew ill and died. But it took seven days for the news to reach him. In his grief and remorse, he began to wonder if it were possible to erase barriers of time and space, so that no one would be unable to reach a loved one in time of need. Pursuing this thought, he came to discover how to use electricity to convey messages, and so he invented the telegraph and, indirectly, the ITU.” [1]

Mobile phones would for the same reasons have been indispensable for buffalo-hunting Indians or for ancient Greeks in the Battle of Marathon.

Comparing the internet with traditional media

“We know telephones are for talking with people, televisions are for watching programs, and highways are for driving. So what’s the web for?” [2]

What can the internet do? Better: What can people do with the internet? To answer this question and examine the social adoption and cultural impact of the internet it is helpful to compare it with its pre-existing competitors.

The media that precede the internet can be classified for our purposes as one-way (cinema, TV, radio, print) and two-way (speech, post, telephone).Mass media have up to the end of the 20th century always been one-way[3] given that there was no interactive mass medium available.

It is incorrect to talk about the internet as a single medium as it can function as both  any of the old media (phone, post, TV etc) and a number of ever-evolving new media platforms (Blogs, email, social networks, wiki, forums etc). Though they are different kind of media, each with its own unique characteristics, there are certain characteristics they share.

1.    Media access

       Broadcasters

  • Old media: Handful of broadcasters. Everyday people have no ownership\access to the mass media as the cost\skill barriers involved are unsurpassable [3].
  • Internet media: Audience as broadcasters. Be they one-to-many or many-to-many, new media due to their minimal access requirements (cost\skills\time) allow ordinary people to easily participate as owners\publishers of their own media outlets. Millions of once-off, part- or full time broadcasters.

      Content

  • Old media: Uniform content and centralised filtering of content. Same message sent to everybody. Due to high costs of content production and media distribution only the content that addresses the needs of the head rather than the tail of demand is broadcast. As the mass-market appeal becomes every media outlets priority, uniform messages end up homogenizing society.
  • Internet media: The long tail of content. No matter how idiosyncratic, niche, controversial or even perverse your message is there will be someone who will be interested. Given the low price tag and knowledge barrier involved in producing and distributing content it is cost-effective to do so. Given the passion of most everyday new media publishers in the topic they discuss it is worthwhile to do so.

2.    Direction of communication

     Publisher – Audience

  • Old media: One-way communication. The publisher’s monologue.
  • Internet media: Two-way, interactive communication between the publisher and the audience.

      Audience Community

  • Old media: Isolated viewers with no means to identify each others as receivers of the same message and therefore of their common point of reference, shared interests etc. No means to achieve a self-awareness\consciousness of the audience community.
  • Internet media: The option to see and interact with other viewers of the same content, creates an audience that instead of consisting of isolated and passive viewers constitutes an active, self-conscious community. This feature is present in most Web 2.0 applications.

3.       Content distribution

  • Old media: Fleeting interruption.
  • Internet: Permanent – Targeted. Even in cases of one-to-many online mass media such as blogs, video sharing etc they are unobtrusive and targeted, given that they are accessible only after one searches for them, are recommended by a friend, or responds to signpoists that alert him/her of their existence. The content posted in the internet’s media channels be it a blog, YouTube, FlickR, Social networks etc is permanent and therefore accessible at any time.

What appears in retrospect as an incredible oversight – that no one anticipated that everyday people desired to become media publishers\content creators and that as soon as they would be given low-cost, low-skill, access to mass media they would go nuts – is nothing more than proof of our unconsciousness of

  • the future impact and potential of our inventions.
  • the human needs for communication.

Signs of this desire before the internet: phone in on talk radio, game shows, pirate radio stations. 


[1] Al Gore, Buenos Aires Speech, International Telecommunications Union, 21 March 1994

[2] Locke et al The Cluetrain Manifesto p.39[3] With the exception of pirate radio stations, the only medium available to everyday people before the Web 2.0 age was the post, which was too expensive as a one-to-many mass medium and the phone, for which teleconferencing, as a many-to-many medium, was only a later development.

web revolutionCustomers have always been knowledgeable about the products they consume. It is due to the widespread social adoption of the internet however that this type of knowledge is for the first time being transcribed and shared.

The volume of customer-created, product/company-related knowledge accessible to an individual customer has increased very little in the past due to medium through which this kind of knowledge was expressed, namely, word of mouth. By its very nature word-of-mouth communication prohibits the pooling and limits the sharing of its content.

Today, for the first time, the knowledge customers possess enjoys the objectification and permanence that derive from its transcription, which in turn allow both its pooling as well as its sharing and exchange. The reason that this kind of knowledge has not been transcribed up to now is obviously not that customers only recently learned to write. Rather it is the fact that transcribing this knowledge is for the first time actually valuable because it can be easily shared and accessed online. The customer’s newfound ability to transcribe, publish, share and pool knowledge about companies and products radically empowers him as a subject that creates and consumes a new, and from now on, ever-increasing body of knowledge: ‘customer knowledge’. Let’s look at what customer knowledge consists in by means of a rough classification of one kind of customer knowledge, namely, product-related knowledge:

  1. Product review: “I know exactly what the positive and negative features of my Giant FCR 3.0 bicycle are, and why I think it offers good value.”
  2. Product troubleshooting: “I know why my laptop suddenly shuts down without a warning: overheating. I know how to repair it myself: clean the CPU heatsink. I know how to notice the problem before my laptop shuts down: the keyboard and the bottom of the laptop are very hot.”
  3. Product hack: “I bought a bunk bed for my 2 boys a few years back but we ve since moved house and now each has his own room. I turned their bunk bed into 2 single beds and a garden bench!”

(A blog post that offers a more holistic classification of customer knowledge will follow.)


This knowledge is valuable for our customers because it is…

·         free

·         credible

·         relevant to their needs

·         easy to find 

 

For marketers it is valuable because it is (in decreasing order of importance)

·         valuable our customers: by facilitating the pooling and sharing of this knowledge we increase the value we offer to our customers.

·         persuasive: the persuasiveness of this kind of knowledge is a lot higher than that of our own marketing communications.

·         available: whether in our customers minds or blogs this knowledge has already been created.

·         free: while it would not have been cost effective for organisations to create this knowledge (this is a hypothesis open to doubt – please comment) customers are happy to contribute it for free.

·         relevant – relevant to our customers most specific needs.

…in short, it is an invaluable resource. 


Here are two things we can do to take advantage of our customer’s knowledge:
 

A.      Create the facilities that allow your customers to contribute their knowledge:

1.       Give the ability to your customers to rate your products, write product reviews and recommend your products in both your own and other sites. Provide them with the information and/or allow them to trial your products in order to be able to do so to the best of their ability.

·         Gain a customers word of mouth recommendation, rating or review, especially when there is a number of them has very high persuasive potential.

2.       Create a moderated wiki-based customer service or customer FAQ section.

·         Greatly improve your customer service for free.

3.       Create a section, a social network etc where they can post these. Reward the best hacks. Incorporate the best hack into new product development/redevelopment.

·         Increase the value of your products and the degree of your customer’s engagement with them. Your customers customise your products to their needs themselves. This, believe it or not, makes them happy.

B.      Stimulate the target customer’s motives for contributing their knowledge:

·         Loves the brand: show that you recognise his love and love him back.

·         Seeks public recognition through expertise: allow him to publicly establish himself as an expert.

·         Wants to contribute to the community: allow him to do so and show him how his contributions helped make a difference. Thank and reward him further on those grounds.


In conclusion, customer knowledge far from being detrimental to companies can be utilised for their as well as their target customers’ benefit.