Friday, April 25, 2008

Two-way flow networks make humans the medium

Print, Recordings, Radio, Cinema, TV: Mass media has been, and remains, about one-way flows of communication. Broadcast.

The mistake we often make when talking about the internet (and mobile for that matter) is to describe them as mediums. They are networks. There is a difference.

The internet and mobile are tools to enable communication and reduce the cost of groups forming (helping to realise the potential of group forming network theory). These are the communities of purpose I described in Communities of Purpose are the Business Units of the 21st Century.

What difference does this make? A significant one for marketing.

Because we treat the internet as a medium, we place our advertising on it and in it. But the ‘media properties’ of the internet are to the medium as paper is to print. It’s the enabler. Paper is what makes magazines, books and newspapers possible. No one advertises on wood pulp.

Anyone who ever read the Cluetrain will have understood that marketing is about conversations (markets are conversations).

Conversation involves two or more humans connecting and communicating.

So where are you going to 'place' your marketing message? Where all the humans are, where all the conversations are going on?

Sounds sensible doesn't it?

Social networks (the media property hits of the internet) are where conversation appears to be happening (online at least). So the response has been; let's cover them in banner ads?

That’s not placing the ads in the relevant medium.

It’s a little like putting notices on trees and wondering why no one is acting on them when they read the newspaper that's made from those trees when pulped.

We're advertising in what we perceive to be the medium (ie the social network) when the medium is actually the conversation occuring between humans.

Justin Kirby at Digital Media Communications would say humans are the medium. The ads have to be in what's made from the trees, not the trees themselves! Your ads have to be in what’s made from the connecting tools of the internet – in the conversation.

So banner ads on the ‘media properties’ of the internet are effectively placing ads around ads. Delightful. Would you enjoy a site made entirely from adsense code?

Of course some people do notice the ads, some do click on them (0.1% isn't it?) and more still have a seed planted by an idea that they act on later. The activation likely comes after a conversation.

The human beings (the nodes in these networks) are your access points to other human beings. They are where the connections are made, they are the conversations, they are the marketing.

Figuring out ways to engage them in your product or service, to make them natural advocates is not about constructing a social network around it and hoping they'll thank you for it. It is more about reaching out to them as human beings in the hope that they will have good things to say about you when they do what humans do: connect.

They do this in social networks of course, but they also do this on telephones, in person, by fax, by email, by im, by text etc etc...

The one consistent element is real humans talking to one another.

If the human is your message, then that message gets carried with them – marketed - no matter what the medium.

Food for thought.

And good news for content. The content that convinces – no matter what the source, remains crucial.

Good experiences are content, too. Content, as Cory Doctorow said, is what sparks conversations. And I think we’ve illustrated how important that is.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?