AFG Venture Group Dispatches

Corporate advisory and consultancy in Australia, South East Asia and India.

New Media – An Older Journalist’s Enthusiastic Guide

by Bob Hughes, Professional Communications Coach

When Gerry Harvey was forced to back down from the GST campaign because of the reaction on social media all CEO’s should have taken note.

If a veteran marketer who has made billions by understanding the public’s taste miscalculated so badly what’s going on?

And when the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Queensland police relied on Twitter to get flood information out, what’s Fairfax saying about how it’s core business has changed?

When I admit, that as a journalist in my 50’s, Facebook is a more important source of useful information than the Sydney Morning Herald, I’m conscious that many don’t believe me.

Last week a very successful radio programmer told me he wasn’t interested in Twitter because ‘it’s full of self indulgent people talking about what they had for breakfast’. But Twitter is now a more important source of fresh news and comment than his stations are, thanks to the many excellent journalists who tweet.

Many people understand social networking very well, and as a subscriber to this newsletter you’re probably one of them. But a surprising number of people don’t get it yet. Perhaps it’s because they don’t know where to start, feel they don’t have time, or don’t yet fully understand its significance. Let’s look at what’s happening, and share some thoughts about where social networking is now, and what’s worth knowing.

When a Facebook friend on the Gold Coast said that fruit and vegetable supplies dropped dramatically at his growers market it gave a real commercial insight into the effect of the floods.

When the Nathan Rees spill, or the Kevin Rudd spill was on, Twitter was the first place to look for the unfolding story.

In a sidelight to the last federal election some journalists played with the idea of how Shakespeare would have twittered. Malcolm Turnbull was an entertaining and well accepted contributor to the banter. Is it a coincidence that he came out of the campaign with an enhanced reputation? He certainly built up media goodwill with his tweets.

Tony Burke is another politician who’s used the medium enthusiastically to his advantage.

On the downside NSW Premier Kristina Kenneally has stopped tweeting after being stalked.

Putative Premier Barry O’Farrell blundered when he publicly tweeted his ‘ranga’ comment about Julia Gillard to Latika Bourke.

You should follow Latika to get a sense of how the good journalists are using Twitter. Mark Colvin, ABC Radio’s PM anchor is another top source. Software developer and futurist Mark Pesce is a very well informed tech commentator, as is Paul Wallbank. Link in to any of these people and you’ll quickly network to other good commentators.

The 17 year old woman behind the release of the photos of the St Kilda players has kept her 12,000 Twitter followers enthralled with her adventures and misadventures and the odd savage response to her.

Social networking allows us to hear the voice of the individual, and quickly judge their authenticity.

Crucially for business, social networking has its effect from the bottom up. Like guerilla forces in Afghanistan a broad base can seriously challenge a command and control mind set.

The Wikileaks saga (and who can doubt there was more going on behind the scenes than we’ll ever know) reminds us that privacy has been one of the victims of modern times.

Just as we can be tracked by mobile phone, credit card use and e-tag, and have effectively lost our privacy, so governments now have to live in a world where their decision-making is open to scrutiny. And as the US State Department discovered it took very few people to cause the most powerful country on the planet massive embarrassment.

One of the key concepts in understanding the changes has been ‘folksonomy’ – a taxonomy created by people listing what’s relevant to them about material on the net rather than using preordained categories.

The idea that online tags should be created by users, then the concept of sorting by popularity, led to product recommendations based on what others like us, had bought. And the landscape of retail choice changed.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) in December 2010 reported on how social networking has affected marketing. Where once people funneled down from many brands to fewer to a final choice, it says, the new ‘consumer decision journey’ means people evaluate a group of products, adding and subtracting from them partly through others’ advocacy.

Word of mouth has always been important in buying decisions – and social media means that we can be influenced by many more people than our direct contacts. Searching online forums allows us to find others facing the same buying decisions as us, and learn from them.

Social networking allows us to see much bigger pictures too. It can give us insight into how trends spread or innovation diffuses. Social networks now provide sophisticated ways to predict epidemics through understanding how people are connected.

A site which tracks the movement of dollar bills through the U.S., wheresgeorge.com, helped model how swine flu could spread, and also showed the borders of mobility across North America. The video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn32vavZqvg shows how America divides.

Does getting involved in social networks mean loss of privacy? Yes and get used to it.
What’s more interesting than information about individuals is how we work as large groups.

One of the most fascinating uses of social media, with the most enduring effect, is ‘massive passive’ data collection. You can gather and analyse a lot of data from a lot of people when you have access to social media sites.

For example online games are a huge laboratory about human reactions to motivation, reward and disincentive.

As Tom Chatfield points out on Ted.com more than one billion data points are collected every day from online game players. His summary of the technology from mid last year is at:

http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_chatfield_7_ways_games_reward_the_brain.html

Eventually the technology of persuasion that comes from this research will be used for education, but it’ll also be used to nudge people the way influencers want them to go.

Incidentally, online games are the fastest growing of modern media and one of the most profitable areas of social networking.

One challenge for organisations is how they deal with their staff’s use of social media. The ABC’s very simple policy is a good starting place.

  • Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.
  • Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.
  • Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.
  • Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

The practical challenge of social media for most organisations is maintaining the energy needed to keep up constant monitoring and output.

One consultant who does it well is Ken Burgin, a Sydney hospitality consultant who understands Twitter and new media, and always provides value.

The HBR from December 2010 suggests using corporate New Media Ringmasters – people who can link organisations branding with changing media. One major Sydney hotel has just hired four people to monitor their social media reputation. If someone’s tweeting good or bad things about them they want to know.

Of course criticism on the net may not make that much difference to you. Australia’s most popular YouTube star Natalie Tran says prominently on her pages “If you lived in Sydney, you’d hate CityRail too.” But I doubt that CityRail’s reputation is any worse for her criticism. Natalie’s remarkable success would be the envy of many network TV execs – she has 857,000 subscribers to her channel and there have been more than 333 million downloads of her short wry videos. She’s now doing a series of travel videos for Lonely Planet. They may not have the same reach as her other work, but they’ll still have a huge positive impact for the publisher.

Bob Hughes is a journalist and trainer who runs www.newsucanuse.org – the latest news for you to live a longer, happier, healthier life.

Contact hughes@newsucanuse.org or rjlhughes on Facebook or Twitter

About the Author

Bob Hughes a former journalist and broadcaster, who is now a professional communications coach, is a classic early adopter. He spent ten years as an announcer in commercial radio (2WS,Triple M, and 2DAY); ten years writing for the Sunday Telegraph; and ten years as an ABC broadcaster, at 702 ABC Sydney. Bob is the fifth generation on the family farm in the state’s Central West, spending half his time there. “It anchors me in the reality of the earth, its cycles and seasons.”

From the first days of commercial FM radio, through to the explosion of internet in media, his professional career has tracked changes in communication technology. “I was using email in the early 80’s, through Austpac, communicating with bands and their managers through a dedicated network.” As early as 1991 he addressed a dinner meeting of the Young President’s Organisation in the new ABC Ultimo Centre about where the internet was going. Today, he teaches people how to make best use of netcasting and social networking.

For Bob Hughes the miracle of our age is the way science and technology enrich our lives.