In June Edelman, my employer, and PRWeek held a two-day summit on the changing media landscape and its affect on business and education. More than 90 people participated. Recently we published a paper chock full of with actionable insights for businesses. Here’s the conclusion I wrote.
Trends That Will Help Define the Future
The best way to think about new media, I have learned, is to look at the recent past and at the trends that are here now and seemingly have staying power. Apple CEO Steve Jobs once famously said “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” He’s right. With that in mind, there are three trends that are likely to shape things over the next four years.
The Attention Crash
Though the current global ﬁnancial crisis grabs all the headlines, there’s another storm quietly brewing – a crisis of attention scarcity. The inputs we have into our lives – that which we allow and those that are forced upon us – are exceeding what we are capable of managing.
The Attention Crash is here and it will only get worse. There will always be more content vying for consideration. In fact, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said “By the year 2019, it’s going to be possible to have an iPod-like device that will have 85 years of video on it. So you will be dead before you watch the whole [thing].”
Generation Y seems to be able to better manage this new environment, having grown up with a mouse in hand. But marketers who are a little more gray will need to adapt by creating and earning media that can break through the clutter and “stick.” This requires they keep things short, simple and visual.
Brands, media and individuals will have a role in mitigating the Attention Crash. Every high–interest niche will be met by digital curators who can separate art from junk online and present it in a very digestible form.
Already, some are jumping in. Intel partnered with PopURLs.com to create a news tracker for IT professionals. The site also features Intel white papers and blogs. The New York Times too is transforming into a digital curator. On the newspaper’s technology site reporters cull through blog conversations that have bubbled up during the day and highlight and link to the most notable posts.
Social Networks Become “Like Air”
Social networking is here to stay – but it’s changing. As my fellow panelist Charlene Li says, it’s becoming “like air” on the Web. In essence, social networking is nothing new, really. It’s simply a digital, global and scalable manifestation of our desire to communicate with other humans. The technology makes it easy for like-minded individuals to connect and collaborate around the topics they care about. This can range from personal to professional interests. A lot of it revolves around social causes.
Today we have three big social network hubs – LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace (an Edelman client). In addition, we have an expanding constellation of smaller social networks such as Beebo, Twitter, YouTube and the hundreds of thousands of vertical communities that comprise Ning – a do-it-yourself platform. There will be room for all of them to thrive, but consumers soon won’t need to visit these destinations to connect with their network.
Social circles are becoming portable so they can follow the consumer to any site they want to visit. Facebook and Google, for example, each have competing technology platforms that Web site owners can integrate to allow consumers and their social circle to connect in new experiences without having to sign up for another network.
Brand marketers that may be tempted to build their own social networks need to consider that there may not be room in people’s lives for more than one or two. They will need to plug into the social “air” supply that the large networks are building across the Web so that consumers can stay connected to their existing networks.
Google: The Reputation Engine
The third trend that also will continue its current trajectory is the rising inﬂuence of search, particularly Google. The search engine, as of this writing, has 70 percent market share in the U.S. and is even higher in other countries – but not all.
Google is much more than a search engine. It’s media.
Every day people make purchasing and life decisions based on what they ﬁnd on the Web. Patients visit their doctor’s ofﬁce armed with reams of information they found on Google, some of it right, some wrong. Consumers are accessing Google from their cell phones to compare prices when shopping. And Wikipedia, a site that no one controls, tends to dominate many high–proﬁle search results.
Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others are increasingly tweaking their algorithms to stop spammers and other “black-hat” types. Today most search engine result pages tend to favor high–quality content produced by media, brands and individuals.
Communicators will need to know how to create and earn content that is not only ﬁndable, but worthy of discussion so that it earns and maintains visibility in Google – which often makes judgments based on quality.
What the future looks like in four years know one knows. However, if businesses follow these trends, at least directionally, they will be prepared to navigate the new environment.