Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sez Who? Will WTMI Cure Gullibility?

Being bombarded with way too much information (WTMI) may help us learn to be more skeptical and ask more frequently, “Sez who?” The constant barrage of WTMI could push business and consumer information users to rely more on personal connections, develop critical judgment of sources of information, and revive relationships with trusted brands.

Gullibility is dangerous. Especially today, information and misinformation can spread like a California wildfire across the dry landscape of the public mind. Business people are no less prone to fact-free fads and fancies than general consumers. We don’t have clear criteria for judging the reliability of the information that comes to us.

A frequent lament about the changes in the media industry is that factual coverage is suffering. I read this most recently in an Ellen Goodman column in the Boston Globe. Personally, I’ve never been over-awed by the accuracy of old-line media but few would question that information and misinformation now spreads faster and farther than ever before.

Wikipedia passed and major media failed according to an Irish grad student who planted a false quote last spring on Wikipedia that got rapidly picked up and spread by major media. More recently the Paris Match got fooled by two students attending Strasbourg’s university, who won a prize (later withdrawn) for “photo journalism” artfully designed to appeal to the gullibility of the judges. Our whole nation was hoodwinked at least for a little while by the implausible story of a boy in a runaway balloon (great video – we crowded around an office computer here at the Conference Department even though the story seemed dubious).

Accurate information has always been hard to come by. That’s what makes it valuable. Today you can “Google” any subject and gain instant access to all kinds of foolishness (14,900,000 citations for “cure for cancer” in 0.17 seconds). But could the information explosion precipitate a revival of time-tested disciplines for sifting through information?

“Sez who?” is the key question. Information creditability can be judged by the source, or the source of the source. Personal experience plays a vital role. Events, for instance, are powerful because they allow people to interact face-to-face and judge their sources first hand.. With time, one comes to associate certain sources with better information. Sources that earn a reputation for high quality information can be trusted without rigorous tests of every new offering.

Trust is fundamental to effective communication. Those of us who make a living in this highly competitive field of communications need to adapt to the environment of WTMI to build trust. If you are looking for more effective ways to convey high value information, you are not alone. We’d like to hear from you.

Happy Holidays from the Conference Department!

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sorry but in Media, Size Does Matter

Some mavens of new media see a nirvana of social networks and small media entrepreneurs replacing big bad old media. The visions get romantic, with the media equivalent of microbrewers toppling the giants.

In reality, we could soon see massive consolidation of new media into new giants. It’s impossible to predict the timing of such a consolidation, but the implications for B2B are huge.

New media has remarkable numbers and new heros. Noam Cohen reported in the New York Times recently that Bill Simmons, a once an obscure local online commentator, is getting 1.4 million page views a month, as the Sports Guy on ESPN.com. His podcasts have been downloaded 21 million times this year and his new 700 –page book The Book of Basketball, reached No. 1 on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.

The pace and possibilities are intoxicating. Just as in craft brewing, there’s plenty of excitement, growth, and potential for fat margins in the new media. But it’s it is sobering to see that according to the Brewers Association, craft brews amount to only 4% of the US market today.

The essential power of media is the power of one-to-many. The bigger the audience that reads the article, hears the song, or sees the image, the more powerful—and profitable that media creation can become.

It’s true that old media are getting maimed by competition. Ease of entry, facilitated by new technology, has spawned hyper-competition for eyeballs, time, attention, and in the case of events, warm bodies. In both B2C and B2B, old media are scrambling to get back in front of their audiences on the Web and make money in the process.

But big still wins. Google is getting huge on the frenzy. Comcast has agreed to pony-up 30 BILLION for NBC. In the information industry, unlike in many other sectors, there is almost infinite positive return to scale. The bigger a story gets, the more profitable it becomes. Big media can make people into stars and transform products, including other media products, into blockbuster hits and best sellers.

The good news: events win in all scenarios. Big is about total audience size not media format. Niche new media companies are recognizing that event platforms are a solid way to “monetize” the trust of their high value audiences. Not every big event will survive but big events will still make big money. With new technologies for promotion and production we can produce value and profit in lots of small events, in lots of places, for big brands. New technologies also enhance the experience and value of big events. Virtual participation expands the audience of any event.

Fear is your friend in this environment but you have fantastic opportunities. If you are interested in how events fit into the unfolding drama of the media business, introduce yourself digitally with a comment or a private message. Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to meet face-to-face at a conference soon, over a cup of coffee, or a good craft ale!

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