Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In preperation for Euroblog 2008

Tomorrow, I will be joining a panel at Euroblog 2008.

I will be in the august company of
  • Toni Muzi Falconi,
  • Ansgar Zerfass (University of Leipzig, Germany),
  • David Weinberger (Fellow at Harvard Berkam Center),
  • Frank Ovaitt (President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations)
  • Gilles Klein (Le Monde),
  • Tim Macmahon (NY University)
  • Wolfgang Luenenbuerger, (Head of Social Media, Edelman Europe)

We are tasked with examining:
The changing media environment and how it is affecting business, academia and its implications for the future:

  • What are the potential opportunities and risks for businesses in investing in new media?
  • How can we measure it?
  • What is the role of higher education in navigating these opportunities.

I thought that I would get my thoughts ready before the event.

In the first instance we need to be sure that there is a changing media environment and whether the extent of any such change is significant.

A year ago, I presented evidence of the changing media environment. Based on work at Bournemouth University I showed that at a time when more people were online; when people were spending more time online and when access was increasing because of the uptake of broadband there was a paradox. In 2006, I showed that traffic to search engine sites and retail web sites was not reflecting the extra eyeball or eyeball hours. Worse still, traffic to these sites was in slow decline. Where was all the extra 'traffic' going?

It was going to social media. Blogs, wiki's, social networks, YouTube.

These finding legitimise the the first assumption in our discourse and are a vindication of my repost to the views expressed by Betteke van Ruler, Professor of Communication and Organization at the Amsterdam School of Communications Research, in April 2006. Social media is significant and has a huge role to play in communication.

Of course, it would be wrong to blithely make the assumption that there is significant evidence of the generality of business being affected by the changing media environment.

What, then is the evidence that online interactions are affecting business?

Over the last two months, I have undertaken in-depth studies of the digital footprint of five companies. One of the resources used has been Microsoft adCenter Labs . In presenting to a B2C client with over 600 UK retail outlets, I showed this graph of search driven numbers of visitors to their websites.

For the marketing director this was a surprise. This graph was a match for their volume sales! In subsequent analysis for a range of other clients we were able to demonstrate similar correlations.

It would seem that people go online before buying and search extrapolation from these data suggests that they do so in significant numbers, mirroring other research of this nature in areas like B2B purchasing.

In answer to the second premise for our discussion, I contend that companies and the internet are now joined at the hip. Even for company websites that are not e-commerce enabled, the internet is having a significant impact on business performance.

The next issue we need to face before we go further is the extent to which the internet is affecting business.

Once again, we now have evidence of what companies believe they are achieving online.

With some confidence we have evidence of the demographic nature of the website by sex and age profiles:

But when we go and look at who is actually visiting the site we get a different picture:

The age and sex profile is not the same:

What we are seeing is that it is the consumer who is deciding what they want and need from the internet. This is full blown evidence of the phenomenon of 'user' segments. The marketing people (you remember - those folk who held sway in the 20th century) have got it wrong.

There is other evidence that is interesting. If you examine the SEO keywords used by webmasters, they are more often than not at variance with keywords people use to search for products and services (which also demonstrates the poor SEO of most websites). In this case, we are seeing evidence of people online deciding what they believe are brand and corporate values. In the majority of cases (in the five surveys I have done so far) there is significant dissonance between what the company thinks are its brand values and what their website visitors believe.

Progressively, companies are changing their keywords as the attune to the power of SEO. The companies are being changed by the online community.

But is this enough? What about the effects of ubiquitous interactive communication.

In the UK there was a very significant change in the behaviours of the interactive community.

As a generality, and for years, the numbers of blog posts about companies has shown a progressive increase.

But last year (round about November time) there was a sea change.

The rate of growth in the number of posts moved from progressive to exponential. It is not the numbers of posts that is important. It is the rate of change that is so significant.

Once again, in each of our surveys the results showed the same dynamic.

From the foregoing, It is reasonable to accept the premise of the session at Euroblog. There is a :

changing media environment and how it is affecting business and academia and it does have implications for the future.
These finding also help us with our examination of:
  • What are the potential opportunities and risks for businesses in investing in new media?
  • How can we measure it?
  • What is the role of higher education in navigating these opportunities.
The opportunities are, of course, no longer potential. If companies are being changed because of SEO, the opportunity is being seized. But probably inadvertently and probably at considerable risk to the organisation.

Not that risk cannot be managed it can and so I hope that the discussion on risk is based on good research, practice with good assessment and in a structured way.

This is going to be fun.