2010: Battle begins for “real-time” relationships

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Read the paper? Nah – that’s old news. Watched the broadcast? No need, we were there when it happened. Tracked Twitter trends to spot what’s unfolding? Didn’t bother, we saw it coming because we know and work directly with the community. How did you tell people? We operated a Living Story.

If 2010 sees the battle for power and influence rage between old media – with the charge led by Rupert Murdoch – and the web (defence by Google?) then the other battle we, as practitioners, are likely to be deeply involved in, is the battle for ‘real-time’ relationships on the real-time web.

Five or six years ago, as social media gained momentum, the first phase of ‘reply and engage’ was in full flow as people realised they too had a voice. Phase two, participation, saw us flock to microblogs like Twitter, discovering that in participating, we could enact change. Why bother with customer services when you can get to the CEO at the squeak of a mouse? But now, the third phase, the real-time web, is just about upon us, bringing new demands as users expect to become the centre of both the activity and experience.

If you haven’t played around with Google Wave yet, take a look. The back end of 2009 saw a number of old-school media outlets using Google Wave as a real-time channel, with readers feeding the news at the same time as journalists. Another embryonic Google Lab experiment, Living Story, has the potential to change things yet again and in the process make complete nonsense of Murdoch’s attempts, (along with many others) to lock down content. The biggest influence in a free-access environment is not locked-down content. It is the fast, real-time information I can get as I go, possibly during and at the centre of whatever is passing for action at that moment in time. The connecting sinew of commonality between old media and live media is that nobody wants old news – and that, quite bluntly, is all that locked-down content will become.

The challenge for practitioners in the months ahead will be understanding and learning to operate the plethora of channels that will help them maintain living connections between organisations and stakeholders and by a living connection I mean one that responds instantly to activity, rather than one that waits for the seemingly opportune moment. Two songs spring to mind to describe the operational environment we are facing. One is Queen’s ‘I Want It All (and I Want It Now), and Meatloaf’s ‘Everything Louder than Everything Else’, simply because our stakeholders will – and do – want it all and want it now but we will have to deliver in a workspace where everything is increasingly louder than everything else!

Some of the difficulties that will inevitably emerge as real-time web gathers momentum include accuracy, conflicting voices, louder – but ill-informed – voices belonging to self-created influencers and a tendency towards information snacking rather than considered thinking. And that’s just for starters.

As journalists become independent voices, unreliant on any particular publisher, so too, many practitioners will evolve to become individual ‘trusted’ voices and, hey presto, suddenly you are looking at personal influence models in sharp relief.

In the field of media relations, this is going to lead to some very interesting times. Locked-down content will be of little or no influence at a general level; publications will have significantly diminished influence – so why engage at all in those spheres? Personally, I have no doubt that the mainstream media battle for content is not about protecting revenues, jobs, copyright or anything particularly altruistic. It is about fighting to retain the enormous amount of power and influence wielded by publishers for decades. Many a media tycoon has enjoyed the position of ‘kingmaker’, relishing the ability to change governments or make or break careers and companies. Intriguingly, in seeking to control access, it is highly likely that those who insist on lock-down content will simply hasten their own descent into irrelevancy.  The gates to the web cannot be slammed shut in quite the same way as the gates to Wapping were sealed some decades ago.

For those practitioners who have been operating in the field of media relations for many years, media literacy is about to mean something very different indeed. Practitioners will busily engage where they are sure the strategic influencers are operational, accessible and likely to help build understanding – and a live relationship – with the relevant communities or individuals.

Overall, real-time web will finally force those who have enjoyed the tactical life to be strategic in their approach. Those who don’t make the shift this time will sink, not swim, drowned out by the waves of many voices.

If all of this seems a bit on the ‘Mystic Maud, Kiwi Clairvoyant’ side, it isn’t – really. As we were talking here a few years ago about the shift to mobile, now firmly embedded in most countries around the world, the real-time web is our next reality. In the same way that mobile changed the way we approach our work, so too does real-time relationship building on a real-time web. As the battle shifts from old-school to new ground, there will be casualties. Being prepared might just minimise the numbers of practitioners that hit the floor.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Catherine — A very thought-provoking piece. I am not sure, though, that I share your optimism about real-time web driving more people to strategy. I tend to think that just the opposite will happen: compelled by the urgent need to do SOMETHING in real time, I fear that more and more people will become tactical.

    I have been musing about real-time web recently, and I am beginning to wonder if real-time versus more structured relationships is a bit like the difference between information and knowledge. Unless you take the time to step back and sift through the information, analyze it and put it in context, you risk reacting inappropriately to an isolated piece of data. You need to allow the information to become knowledge and (in an ideal case) wisdom before being able to devise the best response.

    Same thing for the real-time web: sometimes it is best to take a step back, try to see the forest despite the trees and formulate a considered response to the chatter.

    So I think that we SHOULD be more strategic, but I fear that most people and organizations will not have the patience, time or wherewithal to resist the dsire to do something right away.

  2. Hi Kristen – and Happy 2010. I think you are right about the difference between information and knowledge, real-time and relationships, but the convergence challenge we now face is marrying them together and dealing with them simultaneously – which is not something practitioners have had to do much of until now. There has been the luxury of time to step back and reflect – now the luxury of time has been withdrawn but the reflection is still required.

    A strategic approach is vital in order to survive this environment and will be the only way that people and organisations will cope with what’s about to be thrown at them. If not, they will end up in the soup – simple as that. I think your fear that people will react with tactical panic is justified and it might be that only after several organisations have been observed landing in the soup will others realise their approach has to change. Today’s 36-hour cycle sets a tough pace for anyone to maintain and trying to cope with that pace using existing approaches is a bit like taking on a marathon having jogged to the park a few times.

    The real-time web presents us with the ultimate deadline of ‘now’ and practitioners need to equip themselves with the skills they are going to need in order to deliver information, knowledge and understanding as well as a primary ‘licence to operate’ relationship. All of which will make for interesting – if exhausting – times ahead.

  3. Catherine, whether it be information gathering or relationship building, don’t you think this kind of all-compassing outlook would pertain to “generalists?”

    I would hope that one could choose a few specialties/areas and focus on pertinent resources and tools, best suited to the organization (or individual’s) area(s) of expertise or interest.

    Otherwise, we’re all gonna get burned out, mighty fast.

  4. Judy,

    I think it would be good to hope for, just in terms of personal sanity, but as the ‘walls come tumbling down’, described in Kristen and Mike’s post, real-time web will deftly kick over the remaining rubble, flattening out the specialist, who is just as likely to be ‘always on’ as the generalist. I suspect we will all need a lot of Vitamin C to keep us going with a drop of Vitamin B for rising stress levels – unless of course we all relax, adapt, accept it as the new norm and remain unruffled, calm and discerning! Happy 2010.

  5. We have launched a real time search engine (Sency.com) and we believe that real time conversations are already taking place and these conversations can be scene by everyone

  6. A growing number of authors have begun talking about how the ability to absorb abd synthesise large quantities of diverse information will be the hallmark of tomorrow’s leaders and our 21st century definition of intelligence. If that’s true, Judy, specialists wouldn’t disappear, but their hierarchical importance would decline.

  7. Catherine and Kristen, by “specialist” I meant within a team of people (either locally or geographically dispersed as the interwebs make this possible), each possessing nodes of deep knowledge, which add to the organic, integral whole. (Sometimes those teams are forever broken up, once the specific project is completed.)

    It’s been the case for awhile that certain companies/organizations assemble teams to work on specific projects or to commune around a pertinent issue.

    Kristen, I can see that being the hallmark of tomorrow’s leaders (and our 21st century definition of intelligence), but I suspect that the majority of those “intelligent leaders” will still be calling upon the knowledge-gathering and specific skill set of his or her “leadership team.”

  8. Speaking of current battles for relationships and information overload/options challenges, I’m pointing readers to this very scary Gary Hayes’ Social Media Count chart.

    Not surprisingly, I found out about it on Twitter. However, I researched Gary Hayes’ actual blog post/chart, rather than relying on the secondary source to which I was pointed.

  9. Kristen, I think you are right about the decline in hierarchical importance and Judy, the gadget from Gary Hayes is an interesting one – particularly the mobile and games section. Sency’s real-time search: I had a look at this following your comment and I love the way you can snatch your real-time search to embed somewhere else – very neat indeed and I think just a taste of what is to come.

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