Archive for March, 2009

Recession 2.0


Giles Powdrill writes:

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter-and getting smarter faster than most companies.” So said the Cluetrain Manifesto almost exactly a decade ago. The prescience of the work lay in the authors’ clear understanding of the connective potential of the web and the shift in power from companies to individuals which would accompany its growth.

However, despite witnessing this shift in power, the majority of organisations still haven’t adapted their business practices to embrace the internet. They are not making use of the networks, the empowerment or the easy conversation and collaboration made possible through the social media technologies broadly described as ‘Web 2.0’ to help create new types of relationships with their customers. For many, the internet is still just another channel.

But maybe this is beginning to change: perhaps the current recession, the first of the truly digital age, will be looked back upon as being the spur to growth of new types of online commerce. We are already witnessing the growing success of online shopping, price comparison websites and digital advertising in the downturn, but these are only first steps – doing old things in a new way. The real challenge is about greater engagement; working with and for consumers in an open way. It is about companies demonstrating that they know enough about customers and their behaviours to deliver a benefit. Combining transparency with networked data and new technological infrastructure can create situations where all gain, customers and companies alike, but if companies don’t work out how to use these new networks, they may find themselves bypassed as people decide to do it for themselves instead.

A good example of a company getting it right is Zopa, the social lending site set up by banking professionals on which people lend directly to borrowers online. Borrowers bid for funds, and lenders choose whether to respond. Lenders get good returns, and borrowers get lower cost loans. Zopa makes its margin by charging both parties a fee. Default rates are low and lenders can see their borrowers and follow the progress of the their loan. Zopa has disintermediated the banking business by adding social networking and a human touch. In terms of Recession 2.0 it’s a sign of the times. As the Cluetrain Manifesto said: markets are conversations.

The picture, ‘the garden of Zopa’, is from a digital campaign by the social lending site to demonstrate the benefits of personal involvement and mutual help.

26 March 2009 at 9:44 am 1 comment

The long and the short


Tom Ding writes:

I was fortunate enough to attend two thought-provoking, yet decidedly different events recenty: a four-day WPP training course and a conference on the Labour Party and Web2.0. Strikingly, the two were connected in quoting of Roy Amara:

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

When Rob Norman, the CEO of WPP-owned GroupM Interaction, used the quote, he was talking about the difficulty media and advertising companies have in integrating the internet into the core of their business. Since this sentiment could equally be applied to British political parties, and that a vast amount has been written about the use of new media in the recent US election, it was not surprising that ‘Obama’ was one of the most frequently used words at Labour2.0. But even Obama couldn’t out-perform ‘Twitter‘, perhaps a perfect example of overemphasising the short-term.

For much of the event, people were making the right noises: there was talk of ‘relationship management’; of technology as a means not an end; and of the importance of openness, transparency and authenticity. However, when Stella Creasy, an impressive parliamentary party candidate in Walthamstow, reached the podium, the contrast between talk and action was profound. She likened spending time online mudslinging to the old political tactic of ‘talking to your opponents just so they cannot talk to anybody else’ and pointed instead to her weekly email to 2,000 local constituents. Her most potent insight, and one many brands could learn from, was that in these emails she showed people what she was like, rather than telling them.

At the WPP event, Chris Hirst, the Managing Director of Grey London, talked about leadership. Two lessons stood out: that conveying urgency is key to actually getting things done; and that in business ‘culture is the behaviour of the management’. Of the dozens of people who spoke at Labour2.0, it seemed that only three really understood this: Stella Creasy, Derek Draper from Labourlist and Oliver Rickman from Google.

Rickman argued that we now live in a world of ‘fast vs slow’, where we are ‘always in beta’, where doing something is almost always better than doing nothing. But most organisations lag far behind in this fast-slow world, reduced to mimicry, Google and Obama just dots on the horizon. On this video evidence though, the Labour party should be hopeful: it seems that John Prescott has at least broken into a technological jog. Better still, and rarer, is the impression that he really does understand why he is running.

9 March 2009 at 8:45 am Leave a comment

Trusting Twitter


Oliver Wright writes:

The noise of Twitter has reached a crescendo over the past couple of months, partly because of its role in sharing and even breaking news. The fact that it’s been used for this says something about the gaps in conventional forms of media.

One of the first news events that caught the attention of ‘tweeters’ was the earthquake in Sichuan in May last year, where people across China started using various blogging services – including Twitter – to tell friends and family that they were safe. A technology blogger, Robert Scoble, reported news about the earthquake ahead of the US Geological Survey (which tracks earthquakes in real time) simply from tweets he received from his followers in China.

Similarly (but with greater media coverage) with the Mumbai terrorist attacks, where tweeters effectively covered the event live, mashing up news from sources on the ground via tweeters and other agencies as new stories emerged. Doubts about the accuracy of these versions of events eventually led the Mumbai authorities to call for tweeters to stop spreading the news – a call that was, predictably, ignored. The viral nature of the information being spread by Twitter was captured, perhaps chillingly, by one user, “naomieve”, who wrote:

Mumbai is not a city under attack as much as it is a social media experiment in action.

The ‘social media experiment’ has continued with the Obama inauguration, the Hudson plane crash, and cyclist Lance Armstrong’s stolen bike (found) all receiving much publicity.

It was in the 1960s that the cultural analyst Marshall McLuhan argued that electronic media was a series of extensions to the human body which would create an ‘electronic interdependence’. As James Harkin observed recently in The Times,

The impact of this electronic information loop coursing through all our veins, McLuhan thought, could only enhance our ability to understand one another. It would, he felt sure, precipitate the rise of a “global village” and a new era of greater responsibility and understanding.

Instead, the cost of this electronic interdependence is a media landscape which is more fragmented than ever. Shared social experiences such as these are reduced to cultural nostalgia. But in an age where so much media, and politics, is carefully packaged, what Twitter – and media cousins such as the text message – can do is to reclaim a sense of immediacy, and to increase our sense of shared engagement in the events which are happening around us. Maybe McLuhan will have the last laugh after all.

The graphic is courtesy of Carrot Blog – on the addictive nature of Twitter.

4 March 2009 at 1:05 pm Leave a comment

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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