A colleague of mine forwarded an article by Mike Bloxham from the MEDIA Post blog, entitled “At a TV Screen Near you: Facebook and Twitter”. In this article, Bloxham refers to social media as having a “benignly parasitical relationship with TV” and that this relationship was somehow benefiting social networking sites.
This irks me a little bit.
There is no doubt that more and more people on television are talking about social media. TV and radio broadcasters, as well as the rapidly decaying newspaper industry are all experimenting with Twitter, social networks, blogs and other forms of technology, and reporters are talking about the growth of online media and social networks. But they are not doing this because social media is the parasite (benign, aggressive or otherwise). That would not make much sense.
Is TV responsible for social media’s growth?
The truth of the matter is that social media has grown in popularity, because the number of people who use the Internet is on the rise. Broadband expansion into households all across the country and the world (see eMarketer) has made online interactivity, including photo and video sharing, easier. The more people online, communicating and sharing information, the faster social media gains in popularity.
I mean, let’s face it, you do not see commercials for Twitter sandwiched in between advertisements for diet soda and cars on your television screen, do you? Social media knows what it is about, and mass media is not its shtick.
Now, that is not to say that some people watching CNN, and seeing Wolf Blitzer read comments posted on Twitter to his cable tv audience, would not get curious about microblogging, fire up their computer and check it out. Could a bunch of people in the 40 and older crowd be responding to this trend through their television? I suppose anything is possible. However, when you think about the typical television viewer in higher age brackets, you realize that these people are the exception – they are not the norm.
TV = The real parasite
It is my belief that TV, not social media, is the parasite here. Wolf may be mentioning Twitter during the broadcast, but he is doing that to try and get people who use Twitter to watch his program. Wolf and CNN are trying to stay relevant by doing what television broadcasters always try to do – appeal to the masses. Only, they are doing it in a way that is uncharacteristic of television – engagement.
How we are changing is what drives changes to media
Plain and simple, TV is a passive medium, whereas the Net is active. When you think about engagement – television is not what springs to mind. There is a reason why we invented terms around tv viewing such as “couch-potatoes” and the “boob-tube”. But television is changing, in large part, because its audience is changing. This is where people who analyze the future of the television industry need to look if they want a clear picture.
Look at how society exists today and where it is going. In doing so, I am speaking in terms of how our generations are impacted by technology. What we’re seeing is a transitional period for television, for sure. But to pose the questions that Bloxham offers, “How will Facebook and Twitter manifest themselves on TV” and “Will CNN still use Facebook or will it develop its own means of going it alone” really misses the point of what the post-digital age is going to be like.
Think about it this way… On the one hand you have a generation that grew up in an industrial age – mass production, large institutions, standardization, etc (see Toffler). Now you have a new generation that does not respond to that structure. It’s built on demassification, individualism and customization. Television, at its core, is designed to push content to the masses, and it is not designed for telling stories and disseminating information… at least, not like the Net…
TV is more geared towards one-size-fits-all model that is perfect for mass advertising. TV is a classic product of industrial age technology.
The Net, meanwhile, is faster, easier to develop programming for and more customizable. The Internet is what has brought about the digital age, including the values, culture and mindset of the people living in its wake.
And as the Gen Xers get older and the Net Generation gets older, fewer and fewer people will turn to TV.
More channels = more niche programming = the demise of television
The systematic expansion of niche programming in television is part of the transition we are seeing, but it is in the early stages. CNN might exist in 20 years, but I would not count on it. Would you watch the kind of programming that appears on CNN now, if instead you could access reports on your own from citizen journalists you trust and have relationships with?
Social media connects people and builds relationships in a truly global sense. Within the next 10 years, people will start tapping into their global connections to access news from all over the world and use their computer systems to tailor news feeds, special interest stories, sports and entertainment. Your mobile device will be a key driver in all of this and your home entertainment system will be computer driven.
My bold prediction
So, what does this mean for the future? Well, for starters, we are not going to be watching TV in 20 years. What purpose will television have if my friend, Meena, who lives in India and used to work for the BBC sends me a message about a car bombing? She is live and on the scene and ready to file her report. And since I know Meena, I am not worried that she is conveying some network or hidden bias. I know her bias, because I know her and… most importantly… I have a relationship with her and trust her. TV no longer has that.
The bottom line is this… to think that TV will play an important role in maximizing Web 2.0 brands is just ridiculous. When you look at how technology is shaping the emerging generations, it is pretty clear… Web 3.0 and 4.0 will eat TV up and drive it to extinction.
What New Technology Has Done
We all marvel at how the post-industrial, new technology age continues to bring us all closer together, both virtually and in reality. New technology enhances our productivity, improves different aspects of our daily communication, and bridges the information divide. The ripple effect spreads out and across all elements of society and touches everything we do.
As these waves, which emanate from technological advancement, spread outwards, we can see the new models rising from the old. Our traditional methods of thinking, though not abandoned instantaneously, are gradually beginning to wither away. New methods and new ideologies are surfacing. And as a result, our behaviors and responses to things are starting to change.
The Internet is a component of this change – as it itself has migrated from a large, centrally governed and limited entity (by limited I mean that the Internet was initially limited in its number of participants as well as the amount of information and types/format of information available) into a demassified network – decentralized and unlimited.
Increasingly, we are all demanding more personalization of information, services and products, while at the same time, realizing that our concept of what is “personal” or “private” is also changing.
I remember in the retail world, not more than 7 or 8 years ago, a debate raged among many of the discounters or mass merchants over how to best handle online promotions, emails and distributing offers and content to customers – “opt in” vs “opt out”. The retail industry preferred “opt-out” for obvious reasons, including customer convenience and reduced burden on the retailer.
However, what was an initial convenience to the customer soon became a hassle due to two simple words: information overload. To be more precise, it was not just information overload, but an overload of irrelevant information. What was once a valuable service soon became a flood of impersonal content that was uninspiring and created a backlash within the customer. The customer was starting to step away.
In a simple explanation, this change forced retailers to adapt to the “opt-in” methodology. But that was not enough. The customer’s desire for the information, while important, was not as critical as identifying the needs of the customer and then meeting those needs.
On the surface, this appears to be marketing at its most basic. However, it was not all that long ago where salesmen went door-to-door selling vacuum cleaners whether or not you needed one or not. Cars were mass-produced with limited options or customer feedback. To be politically risky for a moment I’ll suggest that we still mass-produce things through our educational system – namely our kids. Students are sent to schools that resemble factories, each with uniform and mandated curriculums, and little flexibility for personalization.
Personalization Is Key
So, how does this all connect to what your company or organization is doing today?
It is easy to say that personalization is the key, but what does it really mean and what is it the key to?
The first step to understanding this dynamic rests in the model outlined above at the start of this column: that waves of change emanate from advancements in technology.
Let’s take the growth of social networking. The growth of social networks has been enabled through new technology platforms (the most successful of which were developed and later opened for developers) and applications that connect your virtual world with your real world. People are now building bridges between themselves and other people that are truly global.
My wife has over 500 friends on Facebook. Three years ago – her life revolved around her Palm Pilot. Now her life revolves around Facebook (sorry honey, but it’s true).
Because she updates Facebook through her mobile device, online from her laptop, and elsewhere (this may or may not be interpreted to include the office). Technology has advanced in such a way to allow for this level of connection.
The second step to understanding personalization rests in a subset or result of technology – namely, Facebook is easy to use, integrated, and encourages people like my wife to stay involved because the Facebook applications she selects enhance her connection with her friends, family and business colleagues in a way that a phone call cannot or in a way that buying a $700 roundtrip ticket to Colombia cannot.
So, offering a personalized environment is a key provided that it offers: ease of use, integration to other devices / environments, and encourages use through relevant tools or applications.
But what does this personalization deliver?
Well, in my wife’s case, it means she is on Facebook and not MySpace, hi5, Bebo and other networks.
This leads us into the next phases of our discussion – competition and later… technology and information filters.
MORE THOUGHTS TO FOLLOW ON THIS SUBJECT… Stay tuned…