Is social media the answer?

September 6th, 2011 by Jon Clements

Despite its invasion of mainstream society – and contribution to the fall of a few despotic Arab regimes in as many weeks – is the jury still out on the long-term value of social media?

PR Media Blog would be the first to admit its quasi-evangelical standpoint on social media, having been both involved in and observing the successful outcomes of its use. Our team has trained companies to understand the potential of social media and seen them develop it in ways we, and they, probably never imagined.  And we’ve been hands-on for other organisations who preferred to outsource the job.

But, maybe, as I reach the milestone of 200 blog posts for this site, it’s a good point to get another – perhaps more reflective – view on where, and how, new media now fits into communications and business.

Recently a number of academics at The University of Warwick tackled the topic in something the university’s online Knowledge Centre summed up as “New Media, New problems”.

Economics professor Gregory Crawford, director of the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies, Dr Chris Bilton and sociology lecturer/researcher Dr Eric Jensen noted that new media had given the public an “amplified voice” which can “to a certain extent, influence the market”.

However, they dispute the “clichés” about new media having wrought the “Death of the author” and “publisher”; simply, older power structures have been replaced with new, exemplified by the movement from major record labels to iTunes, from big broadcasters to Google and from people reading newspapers to self-publishing.

But where one of the mantras of the new media revolution has been “content is king”, Bilton’s view is rather that “context is king”. By this, the inference is that content is not the endgame, but selling the “experiences around the content”. With a generation of consumers who assume that online content should be free, the sensible option for companies seems to be creating and distributing content gratis, while using it as a hook into other commercial transactions.

What does this mean? Well, in markets where some organisations are already creating free content and using it to enhance their relationship with customers and build bridges with prospects, those firms who are still scratching their heads about digital media are placing themselves months, or even years, behind the competition. In other words, if you are still debating “why create content?”, you’re making it harder for yourself to create a compelling “context” in which the customer can consume, or at least consider.

Warwick’s researchers, while acknowledging the “democratic potential” of new media, as a “Fifth Estate” holding powerful media interests to account, are cautious about how brave the new world offered by new media is: Jensen pointed out that offline media and its employees – such as CNN and BBC – dominated also the online sphere, going as far to say that new media was “essentially old media online”, citing Twitter as bursting with “conventional media personalities”.

Among those of you active in social media, do you think the conclusions of these academics is on the money, or are they out of touch with a world understood best by its practitioners?

Let me know – either way, the jury still has some thinking to do.

A summary of the Warwick University discussion and associated podcast is available here.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

One Response to “Is social media the answer?”

  1. bigsands Says:

    All the C words; Content, Context, Compelling and Consumer. Their conclusion is on the money, but this is just a trend which will evolve into the next social chapter. One of the big problems with social media is still that there are too many people trying to shout at the same time. Take Twitter for an example, very few tweets actually get retweeted or links investigated. Blogs are much more effective; we have a growing audience that read our blog, compared to the Tweets and the Facebook traffic. Chris is right about the “experience,” this is always the most import, just like using any service or product. I think that the next 3 or 4 years will be critical for social media, especially as more people try smartphones, instead of a basic handset. Twitter will not survive in its current form, Facebook will probably start a TV station; TV will copy Facebook’s feature where you can block adverts that annoy you; Adverts will be given a mandatory shelf life so that the content is regularly refreshed; users will enjoy a much better experience with Moore’s law kicking in and more voice features on tap to relieve the RSI in the fingers (especially for private use).

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