DEMO Debrief

I spoke with Chip Griffin today, giving him a recap of my DEMO experience, including some of the highlights from the event. You can listen to my recap on Chip’s Pardon the Disruption blog.

While we were there, Chuck had a chance to catch up with Steve Wildstrom. We’ll post that podcast interview later today.

Social Media DNA: Does Your Company Have It?

LaunchCamp divided pretty easily into two camps, companies and executives who:

  1. Understand social networking technologies inherently; and
  2. Know they need to do something, but are not sure what.

This divide isn’t new and frankly, it’s not going to end any time soon. In the past I’ve been asked to design training programs only to find that some people within an organization understand social technologies and concepts very well and wanted to move on beyond the basics. Then there are those who are still figuring out how to sign up for a Twitter account or maybe have just dipped their toe into Facebook.

With this type of audience one size never fits all.

But for LaunchCamp it wasn’t just a division among individuals as Isis Maternity Community Manager Cindy Meltzer noted during our recent conversation. It could also be felt in corporate culture.

During the startup panel it became apparent that most tech-based companies being founded today are steeped in social networking tools. Not just because the founders are young, in fact their ages run the spectrum, but because the genesis for their ideas come from first understanding social networking. In other words: the aspect of marketing that takes conversation into account is built in. It’s part of their DNA.

Jules Pieri, CEO of the Daily Grommet

Take the example of the Daily Grommet. When moderator David Beisel asked about how much each company spent on launch marketing, the answer came back as nothing. Though, as Jules will tell you, it was nothing EXTRA. Frankly, marketing is baked into the idea of “Citizen Commerce,” which is the idea that the customers drive the direction of the products featured each day. This isn’t a one-way system of “we produce, you buy” but community conversation of “we find what you want.”

Since the community members are, by nature, excited by the products they’re more likely to take action and talk about them.

The same goes for Runkeeper, which factored sharing right into the product. From the start the idea wasn’t only to use a mobile device to track your routes and save information about you, but to share that information with your friends. By doing that you are, in fact, sharing the product you’re using. If friends want to share back they need to get that product too. The viral nature is built in, not tacked on later.

By contrast I hear from companies that have traditional business models and are looking for a way to build social networking into their marketing programs. This isn’t a bad thing (in fact, it’s great) but it’s also just the start.

To truly engage in this world each company must look beyond their marketing departments and find their communities, then use the tools to engage them. After all, that’s how new companies are finding their way.

Why iPad Won't Save the World (and why it might)

Fifteen years ago I sat in the World Room at the Columbia Journalism School and watched as a digital expert from Knight Ridder showed off a piece of cardboard.

Really, it was a mockup of a type of digital content delivery device (video below). The hope, he said, was that the device would have a touch screen and use a form of electronic ink. People would receive their “newspaper” overnight via telephone line and have it in the morning. The pictures would come to life as videos at a touch and it would save the newspaper industry.

Though, he admitted, the technology just wasn’t there to make the vision possible.

I don’t need to tell you that iPad achieves that vision. Only, there’s one problem: it isn’t cheap enough. Well, that’s not really a problem, but let me get to that.

Back in the World Room my classmates went nuts. They were terrified of the digital divide, that the device would be expensive and that because of it newspapers would be available only to those with means and not to the majority of Americans.

No, the Knight Ridder people assured us, the only way this would work is if the device was cheap enough to be almost a giveaway item, like one of those cheap calculators you get at the local bank.

Obviously the iPad isn’t going to be that cheap. And on one level that’s a problem. But on another, not really.

The history of communications is littered with haves and have nots. In fact, it relies on it. The 1950s is often called the “Golden Age of Television” because the shows tended to be written for a more literate audience. Well, that makes sense when you consider that TVs were expensive, so only people who were wealthier (and more educated) tended to purchase them.

Flash forward to the 1970s and 80s and you see the same thing happen with cable television. Move into the early 90s and it’s the Internet. All along the way advertisers tout the next media as having a “more educated demographic” and the fact that they have a higher disposable income.

As a particular medium becomes more saturated and reaches a broader audience, it’s more difficult to find the desired demographic. Not to fear, another communications for (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) comes along to save the day.

So yes, iPad will have its adopters, and copies. People will design content for this class of devices, just as they design content for smart phones, in order to reach the desired demographic. Over time, the price will come down and the audience will expand.

Though, I doubt my bank will give me one any time soon.

Boston's Serfdom: Beyond Tech

In his Innovation Economy column this week, Scott Kirsner tells the stories of several tech companies that were sold to out-of-state acquirers over the years and openly asks the question: is it better to build and sustain or build to be acquired? In fact, he goes as far as wondering if Boston is forever destined to “serfdom to out-of-state companies.”

It’s a good question, but Scott limits his discussions to the local tech sector. The “problem” of selling off Boston’s business assets goes well beyond that one area.

Take his employer, The Boston Globe, which is actually owned by the New York Times. How about Filene’s Department Store, which, along with its Downtown Crossing sibling, was long ago sold to Macy’s (the current result is a large hole in what was once Boston’s bustling retail shopping district). Gillette is now owned by Proctor and Gamble, HP owns the computer company formerly known as Digital Equipment Corp and does anyone remember Shawmut, Bay Bank and Bank of Boston? No? How about Fleet Bank? No? Because all of them are now part of Bank of America.

Even the most iconic building in the Boston skyline, the John Hancock Tower, is owned by a real estate company based in New Jersey.

It makes me wonder if Boston’s entire business culture is about being purchased by other companies.

Todd's 2010 Predictions

As promised, however late, here are my predictions for 2010:

  • Twitter still won’t show that it can make money. Twitter doesn’t want to show that it can make money: all the better for valuation, according to many. Sure, there will be more deals, including some form of Twitter Pro account I would guess, but I predict you’ll find Twitter (and Facebook for that matter, although they’ve monetized quite nicely) with its ear to the ground for technology and competitive developments in 2010, waiting for sunnier pastures before exiting. What will that exit look like, and when? Ain’t nobody saying.
  • It’s all about the RT. No, I’m not talking about Twitter’s “re-tweets” here: I’m talking about the real-time web. The money that Twitter did get in 2009 came because it has its finger on the Zeitgeist of the web: the day-to-day, minute-by-minute trends and interests that content producers and attention whores alike want to get their hands on. Any technology that can help companies (or governments) put their fingers on the pulse of the public will be a prime target for money in 2010, both from private as well as semi-private and public coffers.

  • The PDA will be reborn alongside the intention web. The “personal digital assistant” was a really cool idea, but nobody wants to carry around even two devices, let alone three, four or five (e.g., phone, PDA, camera, iPod, ebook reader, etc.). The next generation of the PDA is being incubated inside your smart phone, with umbilical ties to all of your online services, from calendaring to movie preferences to shopping lists. Jeremiah Owyang calls this “beyond real-time” wave of innovation the “intention web” (see graphic below), and your smart phone will be the nexus for it:
"When Real Time is NOT Fast Enough"

"When Real Time is NOT Fast Enough"

  • The newspaper industry deathwatch will lose steam. Speaking of death, the newspaper industry will also stay afloat, thanks to technological and business innovation. Dan Kennedy put it best:

    At a moment when the newspaper business is hanging by a thread, it seems strange to suggest that maybe things aren’t that bad. After all, as the Newsosaur, Alan Mutter, points out, 142 American newspapers shut their doors in 2009, and nearly 15,000 jobs at US newspapers have disappeared during the past year.

    Yet if you had believed the headlines, you would have expected the mediascape to look a lot worse for print.

    Paul Gillin puts it similarly:

    Most daily newspapers, in fact, operate in the black but massive debt accumulated during multiple rounds of consolidation earlier this decade were threatening their existence. The threat is still there, but it looks like there was more fat in newspaper operating budgets than many observers had believed. Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth has pointed out that her paper employs twice as many journalists as it did during the Watergate years, even after multiple rounds of cutbacks.

  • Augmented reality will be a reality, sans the cool shades or half-blind pedestrians. Yes, we’ll get a few pedestrian accidents as people try out phone-based augmented reality apps like Layar (below). But the real usefulness of AR aren’t quite AR apps yet, but transitional steps toward AR. These include apps like Google Goggles, which does photo-based mobile searches (although it’s far from ready for prime time); and the many barcode scanning apps that are starting to tie into price check databases and shopping apps.

  • The PR lines will continue to blur. Speaking of PR, it’s clear that the lines between paid and unpaid media are rapidly blurring, and the consequences are disturbing. While some pros are optimistic about this trend, I share Mark Story’s and Shel Holtz’s concerns about the trend, as exemplified most recently by the Huffington Post’s decision to offer sponsored posts and tweets. As Shel points out, will this prevent companies from participating in conversations about their company online, simply because they don’t want to pay to play?

  • [LATE ADD] We’ll find something more interesting to measure. With all the talk about measurement and ROI this year, I couldn’t resist adding one more prediction: we’ll finally find something both interesting and useful to measure when it comes to PR and social media success. It certainly won’t be ad equivalency or followers, and it probably won’t even be ROI. Will it be engagement? No, that’s just a fancy way of describing followers. I’d like to hear your thoughts…

  • [LATE ADD (29 DEC 2009)]: Amazon will have much more to worry about than the Nook. Rumors abound that Apple will take a stab at a portable tablet device taking aim at eReaders and netbooks both. Will Apple try to get into the book business like it’s done with the music business? They’ll have a much tougher go at it, but it seems like a logical step.

Okay, that’s all I have for you. Let’s see how I do. Have a very happy new year, everyone!