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Digital Communities And The Power Of Trust: A Look At The Future

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.

This is further supported by numerous reports and surveys (Yankelovich, Chartered Institute of Marketing, Deutsche Bank). Glen Urban, Professor at the Sloan School of Management, MIT said,

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
  • blogging
  • cell phones
  • MP3 players
  • satellite radio
  • text messaging
  • TiVo/Replay
  • 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.

BT’s announcement in July 2005 that it is to launch an IPTV channel in conjunction with Microsoft demonstrates exactly what Lord Currie means as technology goes up though the gears.

IPTV aggregates and amplifies this fundamental change in how we,
collect, edit and consume information or content and share it with our
friends.

Howard Rheinegold author of the book Smart Mobs believes that the mobile phone amplifies peoples talents for co-operation.

The internet amplifies human interaction.

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.

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:

  • Flexibility
  • Fluidity
  • Portability
  • Permeability
  • Transparency
  • Interactivity
  • Immediacy
  • 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?

Jeff Jarvis writing on his blog Buzzmachine, posted in late 2005 “ Who owns the wisdom of the crowd?” in which he said,

…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
  • Navigational.

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.

See also:
Marketing Communications Future: The Twilight Of Interruption, The Dawn Of Engagement Marketing

03/03/2006 / Author: stedrayton">stedrayton / Comments: 0 / Blog Categories:

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