Monday, May 10, 2010

Social media - part of everyday life?

Returning to my coffee shop this morning for one more latte before I start writing, I took a quick look around the tables and noticed that everyone was heads-down working on one PDA or another. There were several tables where Blackberries and iPhones were being put to good use, and there were even a couple of new iPads to be seen. Perhaps the most novel set-up was that of my friend Mark who has been bringing his iPad to the coffee shop for some time, but this morning, he proudly showed off his latest addition. Pictured above is his iPad with a regular Bluetooth keyboard, propped up with a very inexpensive yet innovative plastic “commemorative” plate stand, of the type I routinely see in gift shops around the world!

The iPad can be optioned with an iPad keyboard dock, but seeing Mark’s iPad resting on the plate stand, caused quite a stir and comments came thick and fast! Mark was even advised that he should post his latest creation on eBay as the iStand, promoting the inexpensive plate stand as a sophisticated “adjustable” iPad accessory! A few tweets and a couple of blog posts, and the world would hear about it by the end of the day! Surely he would make a financial killing from his innovative creation!

This morning I was also given a pointer to a story in The Guardian newspaper that came out late last year. It was about the social networking and how quickly ideas spread via online messages and “tweets”. Under the heading of “The trouble with Twitter” writer James Harkin wrote of how most “new ideas took their cue from the time we've been spending online. At a time of rapid change in the way we're communicating, that's hardly surprising.” What caught my eye was Harkin’s observation that “online is a fantastically efficient way of sending a message out, and taking a pop at established industry authorities.”

I have been active with social media and in social networking for several years, and in the short time I have been providing commentary and opinions across a range of topics, I have seen the number of sites explode. This is particularly the case among NonStop vendors where many of them have begun to get involved. Gabrielle Guerrera, Marketing Director of NuWave Technologies is among the early adopters and explained how “establishing a social media presence has proved to be more and more important to our business strategy. It is an almost free way to connect with potential customers and extend your brand. For example, our company Twitter page and our IT Project Blog have been extremely successful, together bringing multiple times our previous traffic to the NuWave website." NuWave Technologies wanted an inexpensive way to spread its name outside the NonStop world, and this has proved to be an ideal vehicle for that purpose.

In the article Harkin published in The Guardian, however, he also noted that there were the earliest rumblings of complaints about the benefits of social media participation. He observed how “there are now the first stirrings of a backlash against the cult of social media. In his forthcoming book, You Are Not a Gadget, the American computer scientist and pioneer of virtual reality Jaron Lanier will defend authorship and individual creativity against the deafening banality of the online crowd.” Perhaps a little savage, and probably not directed at myself, of course, yet to many of my business colleagues here’s the rub – sorting out the sites worth visiting and finding the time to stay current with the posts, is consuming more of their daily routine. However, by the very nature of their immediacy, this pursuit plays an important role all the same, and the better sites are places that retain a substantial readership.

Twitter came under harsh criticism recently when popular recording artist John Mayer, perhaps “Hollywood’s most prolific Twitterer,” told an interviewer how he was giving up on this form of social networking. “Within the last couple weeks, every night I think about canceling my Twitter account because I think it’s pretty much done,” Mayer said. He then added “I just think Twitter as a form of communication, I think it’s over to be honest with you.” John Mayer has now turned to blogging, and has opened an account with Tumblr. “It’s the future of social networking if your image of the future features intelligent discourse,” Mayer writes in an early post to his blog. He than remarked of how “this post is an experiment in itself … I’ll follow you back. Agree or disagree, lionize or demonize, but for God’s sake, be original. You’ll have all the room in the world to do it now.”

Mark Whitfield of Insider Technology, who is a regular blogger and frequent commentator on sites I visit, emailed me recently about the value of social networking, suggesting “for the company, possible technical insights, possibly an access point to our website and business.” Mark then told me “it is another useful back-link to increase prominence,” before commenting of how “sometimes too much activity can be hard to read and so I ignore really large groups but smaller groups of say less than 3000 members make for less pollution ... of course comments on Tandem Groups don't happen too often and so are always interesting!”

On the home page of the Insider Technology web site, there’s a link that takes you to the LinkedIn group of Insider technology, and Mark is a strong advocate for having a network of connections that bring readers to their web site. Mark also explained how he participates as “the owner and joint moderator for the EPS and EBUG groups (on LinkedIn) so he can get access to an audience he wouldn't normally have. I run LinkedIn groups which enable me to seek advice, generate discussion and occasionally announce company or product news.”

I have been providing opinions and commentary through social media channels for nearly three years, and I was reminded of why this had worked its way into my business life when I read the column of automotive journalist Peter Egan. Some readers may recall that in one of my earliest blogs, back in late September 2007 in the posting “What did you have in mind, eh?” I suggested that when it comes to “the style of writing you will find in this blog – consider … Peter Egan’s columns in Road and Track (Side Glances) and Cycle World (Leanings) …” In his latest column, Egan explained how he was to be a judge at an auto show where he wasn’t familiar with the cars on display, and of how, when advised there would be others on hand to provide technical assistance, he was greatly relieved, adding “Perfect! Uninformed but passionate opinions are a big specialty of mine.”

Twitter may not disappear as quickly as John Mayer suggests, or for the reasons he expresses. Perhaps, as others have observed, we are beginning to cringe at the “deafening banality of the online crowd” and this is what John Mayer is experiencing. If we can develop a future around blogs that feature intelligent discourse, as John Mayer predicts, then I am all for it! Yet the transition to blogs may not be the panacea John Mayer expects. From the time of my earliest posts, some readers have been concerned by the proliferation of blogs and online forums, and have told me how much easier it would be if all discussions could take place on just one site. Wouldn’t that help ensure the NonStop community would know where to turn for well thought-out opinions and commentary?

As attractive as this may sound, in reality this flies in the face of everything that is happening with social media and in social networking – the very impromptu and topical nature of their content is what generates interest. In all the time I have worked with the media, the creation of a central body no matter how good the intentions, only slows down the process and brings with it regulations and eventually fosters the rise of censorship. Almost every question I raise with HP executives today is answered in a timely and open manner – yes, I’m still passionate but today, I’ve become a lot less uninformed than when I first started. I am not all that sure I would be able to say this if I had to work through more traditional channels and the size of the readership this blog now enjoys is a testament to just how open and frank the HP organization has become!

A few days ago I exchanged emails with HP’s Steve Saltwick, Director, Vertical Solutions, BCS, who observed how social media is now “becoming a tool of communication, person to person and organization to person, and good communications is always a high value activity.” Steve continued with “it is just amazing to see who reads, and who responds, to posts! I do not think the true value has been crystallized - kind of like the iPad. We will only know in the future, when it is just part of everyday life.”

For many, it may just be as simple as getting the chance to “taking a pop at established industry authorities” while for others, it may just be a case of demonstrating how for them “uninformed but passionate opinions are a big specialty!” It may even be “the future of social networking, if your image of the future features intelligent discourse,” or more simply “another useful back-link to increase prominence.” However you view it, you shouldn’t ignore it and even when time is at a premium, none of us can afford to miss the “pulse” of the NonStop community. After all, for most of us, social media and social networking already has become “a part of everyday life!”

1 comment:

Robert said...

Richard, styles of communication are changing. Immediacy seems to have become more important than content. Saw two recent polls where in one, 25% of women said they would answer the phone during sex. In another poll of people under 25 (male and female), 10% said they would text (send and receive) during sex.

Not sure what it means but it sure means times are changing.