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.