Author Archives: Ken Dowell

The New Digital Wars: The Conflicts That Are Shaping the Future of Communications

“EPIC 2015″ is a look into the not-very-distant (anymore) future of media and information.

We are now in the aftermath of Web 2.0.  The promise of interoperability and information sharing has been realized.  It has raised enormous opportunities and some equally enormous concerns.  Here are some of the conflicts that will shape where we go from here.

  1. Big Data vs. Big Government

Big data is big news right now.  If you missed this discussion you might think it is about big databases, big servers, big analytics.  It’s not.  It’s about you and me.

The importance of big data is that it is perceived as a way to identify how people behave and thus predict what they are going to do.  What’s pertinent in the business world is what they are likely to be interested in buying.  This is the promised land for marketers.  It also has more than passing interest for all those online properties that built a big audience and now are trying to figure out how to make it pay.

The premise here is that carefully targeted messaging is better than traditional approaches that were by comparison mass scattershot communication.  Can’t argue with that.

But there is one flaw in the plan.  Nobody asked you and me what we think about this.  A lot of us aren’t so interested in having our behavior analyzed and predicted.  In fact we might not be any more interested in this than we were in having hawkers call us at dinnertime to sell us aluminum siding.

So that’s where big government steps in (think of the “Do Not Call” registry).  Government has a lot of things going against it.  It’s slow.  It’s generally behind the times from a technologist’s standpoint.  And it has enormous baggage, an archive of rules and regulations, some so old they were originally drafted on parchment and intended to protect the guy who needed a musket to score his next meal.

But government has got the big hammer.  And when it comes down in the form of “do not track,”  “do not sell,”  “do not even store” data that has not been permissioned by every individual covered, a lot of the industry that has been built up around converting big data into targeting marketing gets crushed.

  1. Google vs. SEO.

Search is a primary means of distributing information.  It is distribution that is owned by the audience.  We like that.  Google dominates.  So we want to make Google happy.  Or,  at least, we want to curry favor with its algorithms.

So what should we do, Google?  We only get a few scraps from Google about what they think but we know they don’t like too many keywords, they don’t like too many links or too many links above the fold, they don’t like to see your stuff in more than one place, etc.  Basically they don’t like SEO at all.  “Create good stuff, put it on good sites and we’ll take care of it,” is what they seem to be saying.  That is when they choose to say anything at all.  Fair enough.

Only trouble is SEO tactics often work.  In fact sometimes they work so well they become a life and death matter for an online based business.

SEO is really about gaming Google.  No wonder Google hates it.  One suspects the tech monolith is dreaming of squashing the whole SEO industry with its enormous boot.  But the thing is that the harder and more puzzling SEO becomes due to Google efforts to eliminate it, the more businesses need it because of the fact that it’s now harder and more puzzling.

I don’t see the end to this one.  This is the digital equivalent of the Hundred Years War, meaning the conflict is likely to be around for at least another 18 months.

  1. The Media vs. the media

Okay that is a little confusing.  Think of Media with a capital M as media organizations, newspapers and their digital descendents, wire services, broadcast outlets, etc.  And think of media with a lower case m as all the different vehicles for storing, delivering and providing information.

If you’re a big M guy you’ve got to be a little ticked off.  You pay all the bills to create the best content you can, but your P+L is hemorrhaging and all the buzz, not to mention eyeballs, is going to the aggregators, the curators, the sharers, the linkers, the little m guys.

NewsRight (http://www.newsright.com/) is the latest venture by the Media to try to get the upper hand here.  It’s hard not to sympathize with them.  If you think of a good book, you want to think the rewards from the sale of that book go to the author.  Most of us think that the primary beneficiary of a great song should be the person who wrote and recorded it.

The cost of big Media became disassociated with a good portion of the revenue it generates when the Media lost control of the distribution of its content.  I don’t think that’s going to prove easily reversible.  Search and social are now fundamental to the distribution of information.  Both work within the context of the free flow of information.

So the Media find themselves in a position of inadvertently limiting and potentially reducing their audience by seeking the just reward from their product.  I’m not sure that moving in the direction of having fewer people seeing your content is the best thing for the future of the business.

  1. Big Technology vs. Big Technology

Does big technology eat itself?  What I’m thinking about here is Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and others.  We all think we know what these companies do and probably have a short but sweet description of how we use them.  I buy presents on Amazon, search on Google, talk to friends on Facebook, network professionally on LinkedIn and so on.

Well it seems like the Earth has started to turn the wrong way.  Amazon is making devices to browse the Web, Google built a social network, Facebook created a feature than looks like Twitter and my LinkedIn home page is starting to look like iGoogle or My Yahoo.

It’s as if Tony, the guy who runs the best pizza shop in town, stepped out in front of his store and saw people going into the nail salon on the corner and the dry cleaners in the next storefront.  So he decided to focus his future business development on cleaning shirts and providing manicures.  Just make the best pizza Tony, please.

Can all of these companies go after everything they see each other doing without losing their focus on what they do best – and why their customers come to them in the first place? A few years down the road will we be able to describe in a few words what each of these companies do or will we need a couple pages of PowerPoint with bullet points to figure it out?  And if we do, what happens to these tech giants?

Author Ken Dowell is PR Newswire’s executive vice president of social media & audience development.

The Content Wars: Is It Quality vs. Technology?

A couple of widely circulated online postings caught my eye recently.  One is the leak of AOL’s content strategy http://www.businessinsider.com/the-aol-way.  The other is Google’s latest attempt to add a qualitative filter to search http://mashable.com/2011/02/14/google-personal-blocklist-chrome/.

Seems the battle for eyeballs can go in one of two directions.  The traditional approach is to produce the best content you can.  But some would argue the most effective approach is to game the search engines, that is, use a technology suite that includes state-of-the-art SEO (black hat or white) combined with algorithms that tell you what news consumers are looking for.

Can you do both?  Logic would dictate that if the same content marketing tactics were applied to high-quality and low-quality content, the former would win out.  But do the business models of the various players dictate that you have to make your investment in one or the other?

News, or content as it is now more popularly called, is not so different from other consumer products.  Should you invest in creating the best possible product, or will you profit more handsomely by dominating shelf space, advertising real estate and search results?  Or if you try to do both, do you price yourself out of the market?

Interesting to read the AOL strategy knowing what has happened since.  Was the Huffington Post acquisition an acknowledgement of the failure of that strategy or a shortcut for achieving it?  Is the Huffington Post an example of taking both approaches, using state of the art content marketing techniques while still keeping an eye on quality?

There are two other players who will have a big role in what will deliver success to content producers.  The search engines and the social networks.

The Google initiative clearly shows that the search engines are in a cat-and-mouse game with the content providers.  (See also The Dirty Little Secrets of Search http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=jc%20penney&st=cse)  Will they drive content farms out of business?  Or will their value be decimated by the legions of technologists who have figured out how to play their algorithms?

The social networks add another variable.  While I might enter a question in a search engine and have my top results be shallow answers produced by someone with little knowledge of the subject, I can assure you that those links aren’t what’s being passed around by my Facebook friends and Twitter follows.

So I look forward to seeing some solid examples of providers that have conquered both, whether it’s the content farm that evolves into a high-quality content producer, or a media property that maintains high standards while achieving the content marketing expertise to really compete.  I can think a few blogs that might fit that description but no major players as of yet.

Authored by Ken Dowell, executive vice president, PR Newswire

Update: Google just announced a major change to their algorithm that is designed to reduce the rankings for low quality sites – those Google describes as offering low quality or duplicated content with little user value.

PR Newswire China Survey of Social Media Use by Chinese Journalists

Social media is having the same impact on journalists in China that it is having in the rest of the world, changing the way they source stories, expanding and fragmenting the information available to them and raising questions about the future of traditional media.

A recent survey conducted by PR Newswire China, the first of its kind in that country, included 2,503 Chinese journalists who work for print and broadcast media as well as online publications.

Sixty percent of the journalists said they have used social media to obtain news leads or to arrange an interview.  Forty-eight percent indicated that they regularly use microblogs.

According to Ji Yongqing, a well-know Chinese columnist and former chief reporter for CEO&CIO Magazine, “Social media channels have revolutionized the work of journalists.  In the past, journalists were often the first to discover and publish new information, and now, social media has taken over this role.”

“What I use most frequently these days, and what seems to me to be the most game-changing and uniquely valuable of all, are microblogs,” said Liu Jia, senior reporter for China Internet Weekly.

The most frequently cited microblog platform was Sina, which 78% of the surveyed journalists said they use most frequently.  This was well ahead of the nearest competitor, Tencent microblogs which was identified as the most frequently used by 24%.

Over 90% of the journalists surveyed said they believe news leads originating from social media have some value.

While use of social media has grown substantially it still trails some of the traditional methods used by journalists to search for news leads.  Face-to-face or peer communication is used more than any other information gathering method, cited by more than 75% of the respondents.  The other most commonly used tactics for identifying leads were the use of portal or industry Web sites and the use of search engines.

Almost half of the respondents agreed that new media poses a fairly large threat to traditional media.  But a similar number indicated that while new media has a definite influence on traditional media, the two complement each other.

Authored by Ken Dowell, executive vice president, PR Newswire.

Updated:

Two reports that offer further insight into global social media use were published yesterday, and they offer interesting insight.

Facebook — 2010 Memology: Top Status Trends of the Year: A round-up of top status trends over the year reveals numerous “world moments.”

The Pew Research Center –Global Publics Embrace Social Networking: Reveals that worldwide, people who are using the internet are using it for social networking.

The Death – and Rebirth – of the Press Release

Have you followed the “press release is dead” argument?  If you are in PR it is hard to avoid.  It has been blogged and tweeted about for years now.

The more narrow your conception of the press release the more likely this argument is to resonate.  Certainly the printed words on paper variety is destined for display on a typewriter or telex machine in the communications museum.  The name press release itself is obsolete.  Press is only part of the goal now and it is more like publishing than releasing.

PR Newswire multimedia press release

A fully-loaded multimedia press release incorporating video, images, links and more

I like to compare the evolution of press release to a plant that withers with the first frost but not before spreading its seeds through the landscape.  With the change of seasons the offspring are bigger, richer and greener.

So what has happend to the press release?  Is it dead, or has it been reborn as a rich package of digital content that is more like a landing page or microsite?

The publication of a release now has a very visual impact.  Not just in terms of fonts and  format but more significantly with the inclusion of multimedia elements ranging from logos to photos, video and slide shows.  Through links it has become a resource to far more information than can be written on its front page.  And through optimization and social media sharing it has become a distribution capsule.

The growth in the potential audience is even more dramatic.  Where we used to add slugs like “to assignment editor” we now are thinking of reaching customers, investors, consumers, business partners and news junkies, not to mention friends, followers and connections.

So I won’t be participating in the memorialization of this age-old communications tool.   I’m much more interested in celebrating what it has become and anxiously planning how to cultivate its future growth.

Authored by Ken Dowell, EVP, PR Newswire

For more thinking on the opportunities digital content and social media offer today’s PR pros, download our new white paper, “PR Rising,” which details how leading public relations practitioners are using multiple content formats and channels to build visibility of and engagement with their messages.

The Searchable Social Graph: Content is the New Destination

Of all the announcements that have come from the major social media properties about new services in recent weeks, the one that really piqued my interest was the announcement from Bing and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Bing) about how Facebook “friending” and “likes” would be incorporated in Bing search results.

 

PR Newswire press release social media search

Search results from Bing, displaying an array of content from news sources and social networks

 

It has become pretty common to see graphs displayed showing the relative share of Web views between Google and Facebook as a way of demonstrating Facebook’s growth.  My reaction to those stats is “so what?”  I don’t think the future is going to be about the competitive share between a search engine and a social media property but rather about how the two can work together to provide even more effective experiences for users.

Search and social have become the two primary means of accessing content in general and, more specifically, the key vehicles for targeting news.

The search engines eliminated the destination-centric approach to Web browsing.  Go directly to the content you want irrespective of whose site it might be sitting on.  For marketers it offers the promise of targeting ads in a more intelligent way than the traditional parameters of age, sex and location.  (A promise which in my view is only in its infancy and is largely unfulfilled.)

The social properties, particularly Facebook, removed a lot of the anonymity of the interactive Web.  Suddenly we were dealing with real people with real names instead of goofy monikers or email addresses.  It also introduced the process of passing information, whether news or marketing driven, with implied endorsement from friends, followers or connections.  That’s potentially a far more compelling targeting device than a keyword or an algorithm

So it is no surprise that a key focus of social media sites has been to improve their search while the search engines have been working on bringing social media content into their search results.

I’m not entirely sure how the potential combination of search and social will be tapped in the future and we will no doubt see applications of this that few of us have thought of.  But I am pretty certain that what is going to matter is search and social not search or social.

Authored by Ken Dowell, Executive Vice President, PR Newswire