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The New Media Experiment
Friday, March 5th, 2010

There is a great series on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) called the Age of Persuasion. It is all about the business of marketing. The show is hosted by Terry O’Reilly who happens to be both compelling AND persuasive himself.

I listen to it religiously through the power of podcasts. Coincidently, the 27-minute episodes correlate to my morning or afternoon commutes.

There was an episode that aired last year entitled, “Embracing New Media.” I had missed it, so when I saw the title I thought, “Fantastic! Terry tackles social media adoption.” Unfortunately, the title misled me. Fortunately the episode was informative and illuminating in other ways, especially when you extrapolate it to the adoption of social media.

Terry’s premise is that with adoption of every new media, you can count on several things taking place. First, people will inevitably say that this is the end of previously adopted media. For example, television would be the end of radio or the internet will be the end of television.

Second, you can pretty much guarantee that people will try use the tried and true tricks of the former media in new media. Think about a newspaper ad being transformed (e.g. read aloud) on a radio ad in the 1920s. They were pretty boring and ineffective at first.

Thirdly, he makes the conclusion that while new media needs to be experimented with, to see what works, old media needs to reinvent itself. Just ask yourself, in today’s age, why do we still have telegrams? Their role is for formal announcements and congratulations. Old media has a new or niche role.

So what does this all mean for social media? What we can count on is that with the adoption of any new media we will try old tricks that may or may not work that well. We have seen that take place with websites like brochures or Twitter feeds that clearly don’t understand the concept of 140 characters. Neither of these attempts are wrong, because what we also know, and Terry shares with us so well, is that we have to experiment.

We know that Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, wikis, and other social media need at least three things to work. First, they need to figure out the value proposition for the end-user to “subscribe” and to continue to have interest. What does our audience get out of this?

Second, they need to figure out the specific organizational context in which the social media is be utilized. What do we as an organization get out of this? How does it align with our goals?

Finally, there also has to be a willingness and expectation set that things will be tried, will work, will not work, and will need to be adjusted and refined. SO THEREFORE what our community wants and what we originally wanted, may have to be re-worked as well. (The caps are just to make sure you were still paying attention.)

I will leave you with one last thought from the Age of Persuasion. When the great inventor Alexander Graham Bell was figuring out how the telephone was going to be used at first, they needed to figure out the protocol to start and stop a conversation. There were many words that were thrown around but we eventually settled on “Hello.” The inventor of the telephone himself had proposed something completely different. His proposal was to start each conversation with, “Ahoy! Ahoy!” (like Mr. Burns on the Simpsons!)  Experimentation, trial and error, and user preferences finally determined across many languages that “Hello” was what worked best. We are at the same point with social media adoption and practices. Before this new media is worked out, we have much experimentation, trial and error, and evolving preferences to look forward to. It is something we can count on.

The unofficial podcast for the Age of Persuasion is at: http://feeds.feedburner.com/cbc_ageofpersuasion. There are too many copyright issues for CBC to host on their own site.

– Joseph Peters –

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