Research by Intel revealed earlier this year what happens in one minute on the internet.  The semiconductor chip maker confirmed that the number of networked devices was equal to the population of the world.  And that by 2015 the number of devices, smartphones, tablets, netbooks and notebooks, would be double the global population.  In business and leisure, we have become ever more reliant on technology in order to communicate and do business.

Have a look at this infographic to find out more about what happens during and digital minute and how many Facebook Pages are viewed.

We all know how the downturn in advertising spend has affected the press and publishing industries.  Newsrooms appear to have been decimated as publishers across all sectors laid journalists out to pasture.  In far too much haste commentators wasted no time in penning the obligatory obituary for their own industry.  But how wrong they appeared to have been.

If there was one thing that came from last week’s news:rewired conference at London’s City University it was that journalism is rediscovering itself and using technology and it’s audience to do an even better job.  The fact is that while the decline in advertising has decimated newspapers and magazine, publishers have been fighting back, restructuring and getting their journalists to use social media and networking platforms not just for promoting content but for reaching out, developing contacts and finding great stories.

Professor George Brock opened the day with a series of seminal questions, is there such a thing as news, is authority in the crowd or the expert, does news stay in bundles and how do we [journalists] tell what is true?

Brock challenged the news model and gave examples of how outlets in the US are re-establishing themselves.  In his keynote speech he encouraged those present to not look at technology as the saviour of journalism, but to look backward and remember traditional journalism.

Using the 2009 Iranian election protests as an example Brock cited that while Twitter and video were important during the uprising, “it’s a less well known that one of the most effective ways of opposition ideas was slogans stamped on banknotes.”  He added that opposition messages were, “now stamped on so many banknotes that the governor or the Iranian Central Bank – not very sympathetic to the authorities – is in an argument with the authorities who want them removed from circulation.  Of course, in an economy you can’t just withdraw large numbers of banknotes [as] you will trigger an economic crisis.  So the message remains in circulation!”

Technology and social media platforms are tools that support communications.  They support journalism and public relations. BBC College of Journalism Editor Kevin Marsh highlighted how the BBC Newsroom had adopted web-centric journalism skills that allow engagement with its audience.  Something that I’ve written about before.

Kevin Marsh at news:rewired 2010 from BBC College of Journalism on Vimeo.

Marsh confirmed that new skills and platforms are just that, new.  They are there to back up traditional newsgathering skills such as organising an outside broadcast, gathering information from a court case or persuading people to talk and go on the record.

Seminars that took place confirmed that journalists have to learn and adapt to how people are moving online.  Journalists needed to pick up new skills on how multimedia newsrooms work, the power of social media for journalists, crowd-sourcing and data-mashing.

Content and stories are online and it’s a journalist’s job is to find and report them depending on their beat.  To use content to back up what contacts can provide.

But why is this so important to public relations professionals?  Why should this shift matter to those who build and shape brands and reputations?

In my opinion it matters a lot.  It matters because journalists are using citizens as an extension of their profession.  And citizens that are happy to contribute.  They are happy to be the eyes and ears on the ground.

During the crowd sourcing session tempers nearly got the better of some who objected to the term ‘citizen-journalists.’  Some attendees coined the term ‘eye-witness-journalists’ as professionals found it objectionable that people with no training described themselves as ‘journalists’.  While it was a very well argued point, the fact is that while many people can contribute to a story it is a trained journalist that can filter out the coal from the diamonds.

All this matters to PRs because people that unhappy customers can be found very easily.  Technology has herded people into online pens and it is the job of a good journalist to find them and work them into a story.

The same people want to receive their content through their social media platforms, online and on their mobiles.  The same devices that can now capture any bit of breaking news.

Of course journalists are learning on the go as the news and publishing industry moved online.  A channel where readers and viewers are less faithful.  Loyalty will depend on the speed at which content is updated.

Award-winning videojournalist and Southbank artist-in-residence David Dunkley Gyimah shows us what can be done and possibly what journalists should be.  Watching David confirmed that journalists might have to be multi-disciplined.

A brief visual history of videojournalism from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Journalism is evolving and the new technology that for so long had been blamed for its potential demise might in fact be its saviour.  And that is important for everybody, not just journalists, and not just PRs.

“Be human, all this is still experimental” is how Media140 founder Ande Gregson summarised everybody’s expectations of Twitter and social media at the end of the Media140 Brands conference in London this week. And he is right.

A lot has been said about social media and how it is the saviour of all things marketing and communications. Yet, it is the saviour of nothing, or at least the saviour of nothing yet. What social media is though is a great concept that helps brands come alive. It gives brands the humanity that so many have lacked.

Robin Grant, managing Director of London agency We Are Social, captured this feeling perfectly when he said, “social media is making peoples experiences with brands transparent”. It gives consumers power, the power to choose. It is making brands work for their money and loyalty. In fact, as Grant pointed out, “social media is helping define a brand”. If a consumer has a bad experience with a brand at the drop of a tweet they can share this with their own community, who in sympathy might re-tweet it to their own followers.

This shift in power is starting to have an effect on business. Nuria Garrido, British Airways Digital Marketing Innovations Manager, commented “social media is good for companies that are born on the web. For us [at BA] it is complex to work to the same objectives. A lot of people do not understand internally the power of social media. The PR department, they are coming around. We do have them onside”. And that’s the issue. Internally, within many companies, social media is seen as something you do, you add on, just because it is still seen as the latest cool thing.

Getting social media understood and integrated into a business is a slow process. You have to have your facts, your case studies and your metrics to hand to get senior executives on board. And all this is available.

Some people might only accept social media if it can be used as an income generating tool. Others will see social media as a tool that allows their companies and brands to develop and enhance relationships. It is seen as a tool with which you can have a dialogue with consumers and thanks to this enhance the brand. Think about is, if you use it for the latter and a customer’s expectations haven’t been met then you are better positioned to react and by doing so, in the future, to promote other offerings.

Mel Exon from BBH Labs summed it up by saying that, “there is a move from short term campaigns to longer term conversational initiatives”. Relationships take time to be built and social media is a platform that will help brands with this. But there has to be buy-in from the top, from traditional marketers.

Twitter is human, it is a snap-shot of conversations that we are all having about brands that we have or want. To give you an example, we turned up at RIBA to blog and tweet from the event only to discover that while the wifi was working the net wasn’t. So we had to do as much as we could through our iPhone, not ideal but we managed. Anyway, we decided to share our complaint with @btcare – BT’s twitter account. It took them some time but just after lunch they subscribed to our feed and started posting updates on the problem. One of the best updates came at 14.29, and said, “We’re investigating this issue and will update you in two hours #media140”. Then at 17.09 another update, “I can confirm that all is up and running. If there is anything else let me know”. Of course by the time I got this the conference had finished. But, credit where it is due, they contacted me and gave me an update. All this after letting them know that their service in London W1 amounted to a ‘FAIL’. So, if you have a complaint they will listen. Shame it came too late, but at least it showed that they are real-time.

There are a lot of dos and don’ts in social media. The main point for me being, as Daljit Dhurji from Diffusion PR said, “rules go out of the window. Most marketing directors are clever, when agencies are going in and be prescriptive you are not doing it right”.

What we need is common sense. We need to remember what we as people and consumers want. What we react to. And that is attention. We want to feel unique, special. George Nimeh from Iris summed it perfectly, “You listen first. And then you engage with them [the consumer]”.

Social media is a tool that goes across the company. It isn’t just for advertising, marketing, PR or customer care, it is for the company, the brand. It is a door for consumers into the brand, and that is the fear that directors have to deal with. How do you engage with customers who can now go public and share their opinions with their own network?

Social media is making consumers critics that brands must influence for their favour. That is the best way to put it, and business better wake up to this new world.

And to all those who say that it is a tool for the intelligentsia, think again. The number of people on Twitter, YouTube and other sites is rising. People who’ve in the past complained privately are learning to do so publicly. Not just that, but they are sharing their positive and negative experiences with their own networks.

Social media is about the now, it is real-time and as PRs that is what we should be ready for. Promoting and protecting brands now, today.

Media140 is doing a great job of championing social media, of making sense of social media for companies, of demystifying it so that companies can better communicate with people.  If you haven’t been to an event yet then look them up.

Remember when iTunes was released way back in January 2001? Really, do you remember? At it’s launch Steve Jobs was confident. He knew what he was giving us and how it might transform our music listening and buying habits.  At the unveiling at Macworld Expo Jobs said: “iTunes is miles ahead of every other jukebox application, and we hope its dramatically simpler user interface will bring even more people into the digital music revolution.” With that straight to the point statement the landscape for the music industry and other associated creative industries changed.

These industries didn’t know what lay ahead. Ten months after iTunes was introduced, on October 23rd, Apple released the iPod. Eighteen-months later in April 2003 – while the music industry was doing battle with file-shares, Apple opened it’s iTunes store. And within six years Apple had 70% of worldwide online digital music sales, making iTunes the largest digital music retailer.

Steve Jobs was hailed as a saviour of the music industry. He had a vision and made it work. Today, the news, media and publishing industries are crying out for a saviour that can help rescue them from the catastrophic situation that they find themselves in.  Sales down and advertising at an all time low.

Some have tried, amongst them Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who in November 2007 launched the Kindle, a popular eReader that gave Amazon customers in the US access to an initial catalogue of over 88,000 digital titles. Today, there are more than 300,000 titles, including subscriptions to newspapers.

The Kindle has hype. It sold out quickly and had the support of Rupert Murdoch. Yet, the Kindle and it’s successors didn’t have the magic that Apple had, nor the practicality that is designed into every Apple product.

In the background though, Apple and Amazon are facing the monopolistic might of Google – a true online mammoth, which is looking to digitise the world’s books and create a vast online library. With a court hearing in New York next month, Google is hoping to legally confirm a deal signed last year with US authors and publishers. In the deal, Google would set up a Book Rights Registry and position itself as a PRS-style (ASCAP to our US readers) entity for writers and publishers. Some believe that this should not be allowed.

Yet this deal has forced many in the news, media and publishing industries to really have a look at how they operate and how they must make the most of the internet.

Yes, the Google Books deal would allow people to search books through it’s search engine, but it would also set up a model for making money from publishing, possibly through eReaders and the like. It might also create new income streams for the news and media industries, which have been suffering since customers started to switch online, where news has available free for years because publishers wanted a slice of the online advertising pie. Sadly, as I said in my previous post, they set themselves up for a tough time, dependent on advertising income, which plummeted when the current recession hit.

And why is this Google Books deal relevant to news outlets?  Well, Google has reached a settlement with book publishers in the US and news and media companies might be hoping that the online giant will hear their talk of paywalls. What they need is for Google to play ball and start paying for listing their headlines and first paragraphs through its very popular Google News aggregator.

And it appears that Google is willing to play. In an eight-page response to the Newspaper Association of America request for paid-content proposals, Google revealed that it was developing a micro-payment system for paid-for-online content.

In the document Google outlines its vision for a “premium content ecosystem” that includes subscriptions across multiple news sites, syndication on third-party sites, accessibility to search and various payment options, including small fees for access to individual pieces of content (known as micropayments).

Google says that: “While we believe that advertising will likely remain the main source of revenue for most news content, a paid model can serve as an important source of additional revenue. In addition, a successful paid content model can enhance advertising opportunities, rather than replace them.”

It confirms a Google’s vision for “a premium content ecosystem includes the following features:

· Single sign-on capability for users to access content and manage subscriptions

· Ability for publishers to combine subscriptions from different titles together for one price

· Ability for publishers to create multiple payment options and easily include/exclude content behind a paywall

· Multiple tiers of access to search including 1) snippets only with “subscription” label, 2) access to preview pages and 3) “first click free” access

· Advertising systems that offer highly relevant ads for users, such as interest-based advertising

The payment system, which is described as being in production, would help and confirm News International’s plans to charge for access to it’s content online within the next 12 months. Or at least it gives us a clue of how paywalls might work.

Currently most news outlets only make money online from advertising, while print makes it from both from sales and advertising. The exceptions here being titles such as The FT, The Wall Street Journal, as well as other online subscription based outlets. The industry is starting to see how valuable it could be to have committed subscribers accessing their content.

Publishers meanwhile are starting to stand firm against Google’s News aggregator.  In Italy, the Italian association of daily newspaper and periodical publishers, claim “members news sites receive no compensation for the news picked up by Google News Italia and if they do not appear on a Google search they are denied access to thousands of potential ‘visitors’ who generate advertising income.  “Google argues that it helps newspaper websites make money through online advertising and does not misappropriate content.”

With its Google Books operation and details of it’s plans for a micro payment system using Checkout, one has to assume that Google is looking to safeguard its position and transform the news, media and publishing industries just like Jobs changed the landscape for music.  After all, “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.  This applies to all information – paid and free.”

And Google is planning to replicate the model that Apple develop with it’s possible initiative with news, and possibly Book. Hidden in the document Google confirms that a revenue split would be comparable to “Apple’s models on iTunes and AppStore and consonant with experiments being currently conducted on YouTube.”

The question is, with rumours of an Apple Tablet, could Jobs undermine what Google might be planning?

Apple has done it before and it has the infrastructure to do it again and be the knight in shining armour for a beleaguered set of industries.

The media landscape is changing, and it’s changing fast.

Social Media - bringing people together
Social Media - bringing people together

Social media appears to be growing up.  The Financial Times ran a special report on Digital Business this week with a lead headline that said it all, “Business starts to take Web 2.0 tools seriously”.  Jessica Twentyman’s article highlighted how, “far from being frivolous distractions, social networking tools can help streamline processes”.

Certainly social media has had an image problem since it was born.  Days didn’t go by without reports of people being caught out and embarrassed by what people posted on YouTube, Facebook, Bebo and MySpace.  Naturally this only tarnished and held back the potential of social media amongst business decision makers who had the power to harness this new form of communication.  Some employers went as far as banning staff from using social media tools in and out of office time.  Their concern was that what their employees got up to out of office hours could damage the reputation and image of their business. I know of one top law firm that has banned employees from using social sites.

But while some businesses were paranoid in the early days about the damage to their reputation by the out-of-office activities of their employees others were busy finding ways to use social media to further develop their brands.  These businesses were keen to enter into a dialogue with the public, working to make them customers.  And this is not an easy exercise as the general public is more cynical than ever before.

Rightly so, business wants to see how “Enterprise 2.0 could deliver real business benefits”.  Translating this corporate-speak into plain English, this means finding how social media can help increase sales.

But there is another cultural problem, currently too many companies in Britain and around the world still see the internet as an add-on to their business models.  Stubborn scepticism amongst businesses leaders, who do not understand the purpose or reason for entering into a dialogue with the public, prevents them for investing into this not so new communication tool and channel.

The equally sad truth is that too many large communications consultancies also see social media as an add-on to the communications plans that they develop for clients.  I have on too many occasions the “we’ll develop a Facebook page for you” only to see nothing new or engaging.  Equally, the blogs that have developed for clients lack real dialogue between the business and the consumer, let it be b2b or b2c.

At a recent P2PR meet in London a number of us agreed that there is a lack of upward education from communications consultancies to clients about the potential of social media.  Having Facebook, YouTube or MySpace pages just isn’t enough.  Even setting up a Twitter account doesn’t make the difference while these are add-ons to clients communication strategies and campaigns.

Social media is about listening to the public and entering into a dialogue with them.  And these dialogues have to be regular, refreshing and rewarding.  It is about making the client a friend of the consumer and working to helping them become a close friend, who celebrates with you the relationship that you have with them.  And how many of us hate it when we don’t hear from friends for some time.  The same applies to social media in business, dialogues have to be constant and creative, bringing in your customers into the business and making them feel part of the experience.  This is how you develop loyalty, or, saying it in corporate-speak ‘brand-loyalty’, which is what all businesses strive for.

Social media is changing.  It is growing up and it needs to be at the centre of communications planning, to develop the brand and protect the company.  This obviously has a cost, but the rewards are for the long-term. Businesses decision makers might think that they can only invest in social media if the metrics tell them that their interaction with clients leads to increase sales, the thinking that has driven adverting for decades.  Well, social media can be measured and communications consultancies can no longer get away with not offering this service to clients.

Wired's front cover

And as social media grows up, we should be aware that the technology is moving our communication thinking forward, ahead of the game.  While in Hong Kong in January this year I picked up a copy of Wired magazine, which lead with “Inside the GPS Revolution” an insight into how mobile smart phone technology is transforming how users “make connections and interact with the world.”  And these interactions are not just with friends but with businesses as well.  One of their reviews was for Shop-Savvy, a tool that will help you scan a barcode with a phonecam ad tells you how much the product not just costs online but in shops nearby.  It can also pull up reviews to make sure you are not skimping a little too much.

The technology is here.  It is driving business decision-making and driving pricing.  Shouldn’t we be bringing in social media into the centre of communications planning?  Is having a branded Facebook page enough?

Adidas's Facebook page

I’ll tell you something, I’m on Facebook and I am a fan of Adidas.  I signed up to their Facebook page some time ago, hoping to get updates from the company.  I didn’t get anything.  There was little dialogue from them, until I got a message telling me how they’d had a ‘secret party and I could see the ‘cool’ pictures of what looked like a celebrity bash somewhere.  Erm, I signed up online so that I could be one of the first.  That message they sent didn’t bring me in to the brand and it did not make me feel closer.  It was not the social media experience that consumers should be subjected to.  Adidas, in my mind, doesn’t get it right.  Will the rest of business understand it?

It is up to us PR and communications consultants to champion social media.  Communication helps and in these challenging times we have to be creative and use new tools for us and the benefit of our clients.