How many of you now regard Facebook as a hobby – and alternative to reading and watching TV?  I see students in AUT University's media laboratories logged in to Facebook when I used to think they would be working on assignments.  In the same manner, some of my family members gravitate to our home computer for a quick ‘fix’ of Facebook when they come to visit.  (We have placed the laptop in a corner of the living room to socialise the addicts.)

Some organisations block access to Facebook, Twitter, and even Trade Me at all times or all day except during the lunch hour.  For employers, it is a tough decision.  One hears of staff being fired for spending too much time on social media sites.  It can simply get out of hand.  Other research tells us that the internet has increased productivity, so organisations leave all sites open to staff.

I was interested to read the strategies adopted by more experienced users of social media in an article by Cindy Krischer Goodman in the Miami Some of their ideas sounded quite familiar.  For instance, like me, one user would reply promptly to some messages and comments that needed a response, and wait until the end of the day to respond to the others.  In my case ‘the end of the day’ can be 48 hours later.

In the Miami Herald article: Amy Webb, CEO of Webbmedia Group, recommends that we set our own goals for social media so it becomes a tool, not a distraction; Niala Boodhoo of Poked blog suggests a Mozilla Firefox plug-in called Leechblock.  This allows you to set a time limit for a site, or block access for a set period; Alex de Carvalho uses two screens, one for work and one for personal contact and uses his iPhone when he is on the move or waiting for an appointment.  He doesn’t separate his time between business and leisure.

Furthermore, ideas are being promoted every day for using social media as part of a business’s marketing mix.  But they are more than that: They are alternative media to mainstream news and vital tools for building relationships which mingle friendship with custom and service.  Social media also provide forums for reputations to be built and destroyed.
That is why they have been claimed so strongly by public relations practitioners and why they have attracted the attention of researchers including the Public Relations Society of America.  In a recent, highly readable ‘2009 Digital Readiness Report’  the authors warn that some organizational communi­cators seem somewhat bedazzled by social media.  They appear to see social networking, micro-blogging and blogging as more important than actively managing the content at their own corporate website. 

This may indicate a fundamental gap in judgement with respect to online communication planning – partic­ularly when other research shows that people find company websites more credible than social media channels: For instance,
he ‘2009 Edelman Trust Barometer’ notes that, as a source of company information, a company’s own website is seen as more credible than business blogs, personal blogs, social networking sites and advertising. 

And trust is the gold standard of successful public relations.


Harmonic Date


Blog 09 09 09           
I had to write something today: Not because the date is auspicious for marriage, but because the dreaded, unreal technological 'millennium bug' was associated with an unusual date.

That thought brings to mind our still uneasy relationship with the technology which carries this comment to you so instantly.

A short while ago, I read in the Economist about the ‘cloud’.  This term describes the great mass of stored information and open-source software that is being added daily to the internet. 

Storage capacity will be the new bottle-neck.  Providers are building huge ‘server farms’ near hydro-electricity sources and in colder climates.  We will be able to buy capacity (or rent it) as we need it and do away with having our own larger and larger servers.  (The reason for the locations of choice for these facilities is that apparently one of their greatest costs will be keeping them cool.) 

The articles on the ‘cloud’ of computer capacity and information storage made the point that it is not the hardware, but the applications that will determine the role of software and hardware suppliers.  Soon software as a service will be challenged by the growing host of free applications that we can download (or use without downloading).   

I heard it again from an Apple marketing director who was offering free software and I-phones on loan to AUT students who were willing to think up new applications that would make the product more attractive to users.  This I recognised as an effort to activate marketplace ‘pull’, rather than product sales ‘push’. 

I remembered that I had heard all this much earlier.  Was it ‘the knowledge wave’?  No, it was the ‘imagination economy’:  And it was not Helen Clark, but Geoff Colvin in Fortune magazine, who wrote that ‘the very basis of value creation is shifting from the disciplines of logic and linear thinking to the intuitive processes of creativity and imagination.  Tech advances will cease to confer much competitive advantage…’(Fortune, July 10, 2006 p.33) 

I kept the clipping from Fortune to support my own bromide that ideas, not words, are the ultimate software.  Technology may provide the chisel for carving our creativity and the stone on which it can be writ, but the imagination is what guides the hand.

Posted by Joseph Peart
A reader has pointed out the irony of online popularity which can generate a 'flash-mob' of customers one minute and a vicious back-lash from the 'flash-mob' which doesn't get instant satisfaction.  We refer to the online riot over 2degrees, which was inundated by a flood of subscribers, who were then frustrated by the inability of the company to cope with the demand.

An article published in the Herald Online quotes a customer talking about 'day 8' of the outage.  Others are suggesting that 2degrees fires its website managers or builders.

Among the views expressed in the Herald feedback from readers is one which suggests that we all re-do our maths.  It is not sent by a Vodafone spokesperson, but Vodafone has placed an Ad. right in the middle of readers' views.  Some of those views are supportive of 2degrees and some are extremely critical, so the Ad. seems a well-positioned and transparent way of weighing into the controversy.

Problems with 2degrees are almost, but not yet like, Jetstar's experience of unexpected enthusiasm for what seemed to be the best deal around at the time.  Interestingly, both companies used a Web-based intermix of e-marketing and social media to attract customers and communicate with them about their service.  But it wasn't the internet that failed them, it was their unpreparedness for the demand and their inability to live up to customers expectations.

Mind you, unprecedented demand has happened in marketing long before social media.  Experienced marketers always warn against over-hyping a new product before the early-adopters have entered the marketplace.  They advise contingency planning for the dreamed of, but unexpected, massive demand that a good deal can attract.

A client of mine had to charter a Jumbo aircraft and fill it with supplies, after we launched a new product with simply public relations and no advertising in the introductory stage.  (The client was delighted, and the campaign won an international award, but thank heavens for an available Jumbo Jet.)

It has not been so easy for 2degrees and Jetstar.   The lesson they provide is social media can accelerate demand and provide a forum for widespread criticism that outpaces in a few minutes solutions which take a few hours or, worse still, days or weeks.

Posted by Joseph Peart