Try referring to your blog as a "publication," your efforts as "writing," and your posts as "articles." Then watch what happens.
Try referring to your blog as a "publication," your efforts as "writing," and your posts as "articles." Then watch what happens.
Second generation corporate websites are looking pretty stale these days. The broadcast model, in which the website was roughly a hyperlinked brochure, lasted about a decade. Its days are numbered, and good riddance.
Social media has permanently changed the way we communicate with our customers, and likewise changed our customers' expectations of us. Customers expect dialogue. As I've written before, communications can no longer be one-way or even two-way; they must be multi-way.
We're also finally waking to the notion that companies are cultures, ecosystems of people. More enlightened companies acknowledge the interconnectedness among its people and between its people and their customers. They also acknowledge that it's no longer possible, in a multi-way connected landscape, to speak to one constituency with one message and to another constituency with another, or to hide conversations behind thick velvet curtains. They know their communications must be both transparent and consistent.
The company should seem humane, conversational, capable of speaking to the world in vernacular language. Their corporate website should let each group—customers, shareholders, executives, managers, staff—have a presence and a voice, and be able to talk to, and with, each other.
Some might suspect that such multi-way conversations will generate chaos. But they'll be only as chaotic as any real community is, and anyway, healthy communities have policies, rules of engagement, and norms to cope with chaos. Policies can guide these conversations and guarantee a useful structure to work out differences, just like in real life.
In other words, the corporate website of today should stop being a fancy brochure, and convert itself into something more like a social network, one that supports varying roles and myriad conversations. Sure, a customer could still download a Features and Benefits sheet, or access a pricing table. But the real meat of the matter, the real communication, would happen between constituencies in a constantly evolving conversation. Meaning is made in the interstices, and the outcome could be a more organic, more genuine, and more gratifying experience for everyone.
Post updated 7 September 2012
A senior executive I know recently returned from a conference on social media. It was his first exposure to social tools and social toys, their range and impact. He's never used Facebook, never Tweeted.
"The conference was great," he told me. Then, leaning forward conspiratorially, he added, "I get it."
But knowing about social media isn't the same as getting social media. If you've never experienced it, you've never been exposed to its joys and pitfalls, never been offended when a friend or follower dumps you, never wondered whether your 140-character status haiku struck gold or a nerve with an important other, never struggled to reveal (or hide) your true character under the avatar, never delicately negotiated the intricate textual landscape of meaning, intent, and tone to reach across the electronic ether and win a new friend for life.
The normative is different in social media. If you use it, you will make mistakes. It will exhilarate you, and it will disappoint you. It will hurt you, and it will also heal you. Social media, in other words, is like sex: if you don't do it, you don't get it.
For years I've thought of a brand as the image of a company in its customer's mind. I still like that definition, but today, thinking about the new corporate communications landscape, it struck me that a brand is more like the ongoing contact between company and customer.
The shift in emphasis from the lasting impression to the act of making the impression has everything to do with social media. Now, these customer-company contacts are made daily in multiple active channels, sometimes simultaneously. Each contact fosters a new impression that's part of the customer's evolving understanding of the company.
The new definition also shifts the focus from permanent identity to a kind of perpetual re-creation of identity. This fits the way we all now communicate about ourselves and our institutions: our image, and its expression, is continually re-created in the public communications landscape, often in short bursts. Each burst contributes to the bigger picture of who we are and how we relate to others.
In other words, the brand isn't an outcome of the chatter; the brand is the chatter, more verb than noun. And it's important that corporations get that chatter right.
It must happen a thousand times a day, all across North America. Someone picks up a copy of The New Yorker, maybe in the hair salon, maybe while waiting to tell their psychotherapist about the latest development in their extramarital affair. She, or he, gets through three quarters of an article before her dye job's ready to be rinsed out, or his analyst's previous client exits discreetly through the side door.
So later, maybe much later, she, or he, goes online to the New Yorker website to try to find the article and finish it. Now, who was that author? Was it Atwan or Menand? And what issue was it in? Maybe the Fiction Issue—which was, maybe, a two-week issue. But which two weeks was it? I think it was in... June?
This happened to me, recently (I was the one at the hair salon). The article was in fact by Menand, and it appeared in the June 8th and 15th Fiction Issue. But I didn't remember all that when I began.
There is an "Archive" section of the New Yorker site, and I started there. But the archive doesn't present a list of issue dates, with articles contained therein. Instead, users are invited to search for contents. But search, of course, requires you to know something of what you're searching. My hair appointment was a week ago. I didn't remember all the particulars, so I had to poke away at it to coax the final answer.
Search is nice, but for my use case, a simple taxonomy of the last hundred or so issues, in reverse chronological order, would have gotten me there sooner.
Recently I posted my working definitions of social media and social media marketing and got good reader feedback both on- and offline. I modified the definitions and used them to kick off a social marketing strategy document for review with my VP. This document was one part disquisition, one part tactical plan, and eleven pages overall, so I decided the definitions could be fairly terse.
Here's where I landed. What do you think?
A category of communications that let people create, share, and discuss materials online. Social media includes internet-only services like social networks, video sharing sites, and blogging services, but also simpler tools like commenting and polls that can be embedded on regular sites. Social media users share their photos, videos, stories, comments, and perspectives with each other, leading to multi-way online conversations. This engagement builds shared meaning and relationships among participants.
Social media marketing
A category of Internet marketing that leverages the power of social media to connect companies to customers and customers to each other. Social media marketing seeks to build awareness and shared understanding of a company’s brand through multi-way conversation. It relies on word-of-mouth tactics that let constituents create, distribute, and discuss content about a company’s offerings—stories that become available in real-time and remain findable via search engines later. Social media marketing is an indirect method of acquiring leads and customers. It’s not a direct-response approach, but rather one that helps build brand awareness, affinity, and traffic. As a reward for its engagement with social media, a company can enjoy increased exposure; inexpensive, ad-hoc customer feedback; real-time targeted market research; and enhanced customer affinity and trust.
I'm currently drafting a social media strategy for my company, laying out the business case and identifying how these tools support our objectives. Since my report audience is executives with limited exposure to social media, I've drafted working definitions to guide discussion. As usual, writing encourages mental discipline, so I've had to think hard about what "social media" and its kin, "social media marketing," really mean: It's not a technology, it's a strategy. It's not two-way conversation, it's multi-way. And it's not purely customer-centric, because the company's in the conversation, too.
Here are my current working definitions. Please tell me what you think:
A category of communications that let people create, share, and discuss materials online. Social media integrates technology with social interaction to let people construct meaning through shared stories and perspectives. Social media offerings range from internet pure-plays—social networks, photo and video sharing sites, or social bookmarking sites—to simple tools embedded on a traditional site allowing users to engage more deeply with its content. Fundamentally, social media is about multi-way conversation, not one-way broadcast.
Social media marketing
A category of internet marketing that leverages the power of social media to connect companies and customers. Social media marketing seeks to build awareness and shared understanding of a company’s brand and products through multi-way conversation between a company and its core audience. Social media marketing relies on viral, word-of-mouth strategies that let constituents create, distribute, and discuss content about a company’s offerings. In exchange, the company enjoys the benefits of increased exposure, real-time targeted market research, and enhanced customer affinity.
Update, June 24, 2009: See my revised definitions based on your feedback.
As director of fundraising web strategy for a large institution, I create monthly web analytics reports for my internal clients. The process requires me to wade through extensive data on site usage, e-commerce transactions, marketing campaign results, and any other activity that produces measurable output.
Although my clients have full access to this information at all times, they can't digest raw data. They need a condensed version that lets them see how their properties are working and what improvements could be made. It's my job, as their internal consultant, to explore the data for peaks and troughs, trends and correlations, and to turn the data into meaningful, actionable recommendations.
I like to think of this process as "finding the story" in the data, discovering what really happened last month, and why. Stories are easy to tell, easy to remember, and easy to make use of in future planning. I give each client a summary memo with that month's key story. This is far more useful to them than a grid of numbers could ever be.
Here's an example. Last month a client sent an email driving visitors to an online holiday slideshow. The show was a non-commercial, nostalgic, feel-good piece offering warm holiday greetings and, by extension, inviting a sense of connection to the institution. The site enjoyed a huge traffic spike to the slideshow page for a day or two, and this drove up overall traffic numbers for the month. So the slideshow seemed like a terrific success.
But looking further at the numbers, I noticed the site also experienced a much higher than average bounce rate that month. That meant that most visitors arrived at the site, saw only a single page, and left. Looking back at the slideshow—the largest contributor of visits by far—I noticed it provided no call to action at the end. In fact, nothing on its page was clickable—there was no navigation, no footer, not even an email address. There was nothing for a visitor to do next. The slideshow ended in a dark alley.
So what's the client's "story of the month?" That while the email/slideshow combination was wildly successful in driving visitors to the site, the client missed an opportunity to leverage its success by asking the audience to explore related content.
And the recommendation? Keep the seasonal slideshow, because it clearly works to drive traffic. But next time, embed it on a page with site-wide navigation elements. Add a call to action at the end, and on the footer of the page, suggesting links to related content—seasonal events, other multimedia shows, or news articles that seem topical. This will keep some portion of the audience engaged, and continue to foster the sense of connection. Which is, after all, what the slideshow campaign is all about.
From the Wisdom of Crowds department: Google Flu Trends shows that search queries for flu-related terms are predictive of flu activity in the United States. Although not everyone who searches for flu information is sick, patterns emerging from regional queries are indicative of infection rates and distribution.
These predictors can estimate how much flu is circulating up to two weeks faster than the models provided by the Centers for Disease Control.
Google's results have been published in Nature.
I get the Twitter "over capacity" error screen at least once a day:
I would be embarrassed to run a web service that was so under-resourced, even if it were free to users, and I would be scrambling to enable additional capacity. Maybe the tweeting peeps at Twitter are scrambling; I don't know. This error screen sure doesn't tell me so. Maybe it should.
In the early days of the web, the landscape was a vast frontier. Open, expansive, fair game. You could homestead on this frontier. You put up a website, www.whatever.com. (It's no accident they call it a Home page.)
So you were online, on the Internet, on the Web. You had staked your claim, and it probably cost you less than fifty bucks. Your site was one in a million, then one in a hundred million. Then one in—what—a billion? Ten billion? And there wasn't much by way of organizational structure. Thank goodness for search (which is not, in itself, an organizing principle, although Google made it one).
Then, something shifted, maybe two years ago. Where before there were only homesteads, websites, or the quaintly anachronistic sounding "home page," now there were communities, networks, towns,if you will, online: LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Second Life, Wikipedia.
Now, "being online," means more than just running your own household, your own website. Being online means presenting your persona, your presence within these smaller fiefdoms, these smaller towns. So the web is expanding, but not outward, or not just outward. The web is expanding inward. Anyone who stakes their claim online has got to be in more places, now. They've got to be in town.
Conference Notes by Meg Houston Maker
Allucquere Rosanne "Sandy" Stone (University of Texas at Austin)
She takes a poll of the audience: What mode of speaker would we prefer? The "wise kind elder," or the "fire breathing barn burner?" The audience votes for the barn burner [MHM: I voted for wise kind elder, one of only two of us to vote this way. I'm always in the minority.]
She shows examples of her work, some of which concerns affordances and anti-affordance behavior, such as a sugar bowl that flinches away from the hand as it reaches for it, and a send-up of the film "Winged Migration" in which cleaning product bottles stand in for the migratory birds. [MHM: it's amusing, but it seems like it's supposed to be subversive, yet doesn't have that impact.]
New Media: a term first used in the 1920s, and referred to lantern slides combined with gramophone records, which was novel at the time. There is a separation between mentation and making. What is the conception of human existence that permeates our work and gives it meaning?
The arc of death-by-naming: something emerges as an oppositional (culturally oppositional), and you write about it, then other people start writing about it, and there's an efflorescence on the topic. People who study it meet at conferences, so it's a nomadic discipline. Then someone invents a jargon for it, so they can get a job, and suddenly, there are books in the bookstore with the jargon or name on the cover. So if you owant to keep your discipline alive, you have to focus on the framework, the metaphysics of the pedagogy.
The codeswitching umbrella -- at UTexas, the ActLab she runs is a messy, creative, unintelligible space, and she's responsible for codeswitching it into products, language, and structures that are digestible to the institution. The prime directive of the Actlab is to "Make Stuff." It should feel like a space of possibility. When students enter the space, they should feel like they've crossed the "limin," the threshold, into another realm, a realm of exploratory behavior.
Her program is interested in "knowledge in the body." She says, "Knowledge is in the senses meeting the world and feeding the imagination so... Engage the senses with purposeful physical activity." They do all the "fun tech stuff" but at the bottom of what they do in New Media work is about the metaphysics of healing.
Conference Notes by Meg Houston Maker
Jay David Bolter (Georgia Institute of Technology)
What constitutes a media in our culture is linked to our notions of what is old and what is new, and are constituted in their relationship to earlier forms. They depend on earlier forms for their cultural significance.
Everywhere on the web we find instances of sites that follow earlier forms: brochures, books, TV shows, etc. Borrowing from earlier forms. This borrowing happens in the early forms of any new medium. E.g. early films were like stage plays until it developed its own language. Or word processors, which borrow the assumptions and goals of typesetting.
But it's not only in the early phase that new media borrows from old media; that borrowing and refashioning happens continually. What defines a medium is its ability to be refashioned.
Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media):
"The 'content' of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph." But his supposed a linear progression. But what we see is a complex media economy, with forms borrowing from each other. This is, in his term "remediation."
A culture has to recognize a technology as a medium in order for it to become a medium. Computing technology, when it was invented in the 1930s, were not conceived as medium. Our culture had to come to see them that way. Not until the 1960s did the medial nature of computers take hold. Transmission over networks facilitated that process. And adding the textual, visual, and audio forms within the computing environment. So as a medium, the computer inserted itself into our "media economy."
Those who contend that media should not borrow from each other are asserting Modernism, which claims that we must transcend the old to discover new ways of expression. That it's imperative to discard the old in order to develop the new. This is often combined with an essentialism that states that we must find the essence of the medium in order to express it.
"Repurposing is a transitional step that allows us to get a secure footing on unfamiliar terrain. Tub it isn't where we'll find the entirely new dimensions of digital worlds. We need to transcend the old to discover completely new worlds of expression." (Steven Holtzman, Digital Mosaics) Bolter completely disagrees with this stance.
Media designers and producers claim to present reality and an authentic experience. Are we in the era of the end of film? With the advent of games and other interactive media, we do see an economic threat to the film industry. But film still plays a defining role in spectacle in our culture. Film still reaches a broader audience, and the relationship of film and games is remedial, to use Bolton's term -- they are influencing each other.
Games appropriate, borrow, or transform elements within film, but layer on interactivity, giving the user control over point of view, temporal flow, and the narrative structure. The player or user can intervene to change the narrative. So the player becomes both actor and director.
So, how does film respond to this challenge, and incorporate games? Film has asserted the promise of realism and linear narrative. Filmmakers have adopted computer graphics techniques, redefining the look of the film and making for a new form of spectacle. They foreground and elide at the same time, e.g. in Jurassic Park -- we know that dinosaurs are not around to film, so this is not live action photography. We know there are computer graphics and animatronics behind these, but we're being asked, as viewers, to suspend our disbelief. [MHM: not uncommon with any media, esp. entertainment media]. This underscores the importance of transparency. The goal is to achieve a transparent reflection of reality. Meanwhile, interactive films have been largely rejected by Hollywood, which has made a commitment to narrative.
An aesthetic of multiplicity and hybridity is the counter to this. This has been expressed in the Avant Garde, from the 20s through the current digital Avant Garde. This hybridity is manifesting itself in pop culture now to an extent that hasn't been true in the past. E.g. MTV videos violate continuity editing and traditional narrative structure. Our current culture pursues hybridity and multiple images, in multiple forms -- think of the mall, the sports bar, in social computing spaces like MySpace and YouTube.
So, any dichotomy is really there to be collapsed: the transparent and the hybrid. The DVD (a movie DVD, to be specific), allows the viewer to be an engaged actor with the material, the making of the material.
The goal is to achieve authenticity of experience for the viewer.
Conference Notes by Meg Houston Maker
Matt Kirschenbaum (University of Maryland)
Forensic materiality: Relies on the fact that in the material world, no two entities are exactly alike. The potential for individuation or individualization. The trace within material of the recorded information on the material (silicone, etc.)
Formal materiality: A formal environment of symbol manipulation without the imperfection of messy concrete materiality.
[What he's really talking about here is simply the expression through UI of encoded information.]
Allographic vs. autographic representation. Autographics are concerned with the exact instance of a representation, as whether a text is original, or whether it is a copy; these are distinct. Allographic representation is concerned with whether the two are ontologically identical.
So, digital computation is fundamentally allographic -- in fact ideally defined (through characters, numbers, and, at lower symbolic levels, 0s and 1s). [MHM: we're talking about levels of grain, here.] Computers are medial in presenting a premeditated material environment that is inherently immaterial.
Information is encodable, but not always decodable. Formal materiality is a normal condition of working in a computational environment [MHM: as long as its a symbolic computing environment].
Conference Notes by Meg Houston Maker
Sandy Baldwin (West Virginia University)
Protocols, ASCII, and Unicode constitute communication media between entities; Unicode is a grphic medium for information that can be transmitted over the web, so Unicode provides a framework for transmitting knowledge.
New media is a discourse of symbols and symbolism. The movement of information through protocols constitutes more than simply action within boxes of machinery, plastic boxes, wires, and the like. See Terry Winograd.
See, e.g., leet or leetspeak -- encoding information through use of numbers in place of letters, so leet becomes l33t or 1337. Reformulations of words in leet allow leetspeak to slip under algorithmic detectors as, e.g., pron or v1@gr@. Interestingly, the use within leet of the common typo "teh" for "the" serves to emphasize the following word, because it rejects the corruption of the correcting mechanism.
Spam text excerpted from Austin, other writers. These are written to avoid Markoff and Bayesian (probabilistic) filters, but the result is almost poetical. It is smeared text. Therefore all text is always partially spam, or partially described within the language of spam. Spamming is a poetics of transient writing, and is written toward the singular and imagined other.
Conference notes by Meg Houston Maker
Margaret Morse (UC Santa Cruz)
Addressing the question, "what do cyborgs eat?" Or maybe, rather, "what do wealthy cyborgs eat?" There are few people who are researching questions about the biophysicality or biophysical issues posed by these cyber beings.
Her concerns: digital arts and new media addressing questions outside the bounds of existing conventions and lines of discourse, study, and inquiry. E.g. "smell art" -- incorporating fragrance and food into fine art new media -- this raised a lot of reactions when Morse recently discussed it at a conference. Smells are cultural. There are smell artists who are at work within the food and perfume industry, but their work is about evoking memory.
Visionaire World invites chefs and other fragrance designers to answer questions such as "what does guilt taste like?" "What does youth taste like?"
Fresh vs. Techno: Alice Waters (embodying "fresh") vs. other food artists, chefs, etc. (e.g. Homaro Cantu), who are redefining the set point to somewhere between the natural and artificial.
How to make food into an art form? A medium of expression? See El Bulli Cuisine, and chef Ferran Adria's philosophy of food and cooking re. techniques, treatment of ingredients, the incorporation of sense and reflection in the enjoyment of food. Chef Homaro Cantu also is rethinking food and edibility, and patenting processes both on the macro (how kitchen staff systems run, special utensils, etc.) to the micro (the "Fizzy Fruit," a process that carbonizes the water within a fruit, or the edible paper menu in his restaurant).
Conference notes by Meg Houston Maker
Tom Lamarre (McGill University)
Lamarre will address multiple origins and multiple modulations between media -- video games, animations, new media art -- and how it poses biopolitical questions within the culture. Lamarre's research area is Japan and Japanese animation (e.g. Manga).
The effects of television and media are physiological: it's constantly switching on and off, through scanning and interlaced, at about 30 frames per second on television screens. But these are being displayed on computer screens, primarily, now, which is another interesting development.
In Japan, a Pokemon cartoon induced in children some epileptic seizures, which caused the government to put a warning label on cartoons. The strobe effect of the cartoon reinforced the effects of the CRT and its architecture. One particular episode was banned.
The visual saccade -- the eye is constantly flickering and filling in the scene. When watching TV, the eye stops its saccadic movement because the television is doing the flickering for the eye, inducing what's known as the quiescent eye. The TV screen and the human eye are forming a circuit relay in which the two function together. A kind of screen-eye circuit. So, is this a form of AI?
In cinema, motion blur is an artifact of the process, but in animation, blur and motion lines are not emergent from the process of creating the image. So motion blur lines must be included, added in. If they are not added in, and fluidity is not accounted for, it's possible to get a strobe effect in which parts of the figure on the screen appear and disappear without, evidently, fluid movement from one state to another. Think of, e.g., a figure moving his arm from one position to another -- the limb simply appears in two states. In a sense, then, figures are rhythms, not integrated, fluid, modulated entities. Motion is full of holes that has to be filled in -- the human eye may not fill in the picture.
This strobe effect raises concerns and irrational reaction to the animation as control; that thought is not possible when figures are being modulated before ones eyes on the screen.
Oshii Mamoru is a Japanese artist who started with television animation, then introduced the flicker, strobing, and modulation of the figure to his live action films. The alternation of light and dark itself produces the motion in the sequence. So, what is it that's really moving? What constitutes the body, and what part of that body carries meaning and asserts life? What part of this system creates intelligence?
Biopolitics: Foucaultian biopolitics concern how the treatment of the body enters public and political life, and the regulation of life and the body. But for Oshii, he situates his AI forms outside law and religion. His figures are always in a state of exception; a place that is included somehow, but also excluded via being outside the regular body politic. E.g. army bases, or within a special police force, or in the form of a vampire or werewolf. He's compelling us to think in relationship to these modulated figures and think of ourselves as individual beings that have to act and make decisions, and compels us to think about what kind of thought and being are they, and are WE, in relationship to these beings.
I'm attending a Dartmouth Syposium "The Mediacy of New Media" hosted by the Leslie Humanities Center.
10:30 - noon
Panel 1: Image
Tom Lamarre (McGill): Biopolitics and Modulation
Margaret Morse (UC Santa Cruz): What is a Medium? The Technofood Challenge to Media Art
2:00 - 3:30
Panel 2: Text
Sandy Baldwin (WV University): Fuzzy Mediacy, Ruptured Domains, Spammed Texts
Matt Kirschenbaum (U of MD): Hybrid Textuality: The Challenge of the Born Digital in the Late Age of Print
Jay David Bolter (Georgia Inst of Tech): The New and the Old in New Media
4:00 - 5:00
Allucquere Rosanne Stone (U of Texas Austin): Forget New Media, The Ship is on Fire!
Since the beginning of the year, National Public Radio has been running an experimental blog, Mixed Signals. It features a different NPR blogger each week, and the voice is always authentic, quirky, almost irreverent. Not quite what you'd expect from most major media outlets.
Today, NPR announced it is taking MS down. No, it's not that the experiment failed. JJ Sutherland, a frequent blog host, writes, "After eight months, thousands of posts and more bloggers than we can count, NPR has decided that yes, this blogging thing might have some legs. So we're going to do more blogs." And they're still figuring out what, exactly, "more blogs" might look like, so they're inviting their audience to tell them what they should do.
I applaud NPR's efforts to move beyond the R in their name. NPR is more than its medium, more than just radio—it's content, content that can be delivered in many channels. NPR won Webby and People's Voice Awards in multiple categories last year, so they clearly view themselves as more than airwaves. Which is definitely a good long-term strategy. Because after all, where do you think radio will be in 5 years?