Communication Paradigm Shift
This topic was first presented on March 5th, 2008 to the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman Sunrise. It has been updated for publication in two editions of The Chamber magazine.
When I was a little girl, I used to watch a cartoon featuring two main characters--Mr. Peabody (a dog) and Sherman (a little boy). They had this marvelous contraption called a Way Back machine that allowed them to travel back and forth through time.
Life Before the Web: 1982
So, hop inside the Way Back machine with me and travel back to 1982. What an amazing year! IBM had just introduced the personal computer and the possibilities seemed endless.
At the time, I was a young law school student and I was convinced that these new personal computers would revolutionize the way lawyers practiced law. So I started a club--the first of its kind in the world--and called it the Law School Computer Group.
One day, I was rushing across campus to a Computer Group meeting when one of my professors stopped me. “Young lady, this computer club of yours is a waste of time.”
“Oh, but you don’t understand!” I gushed, “These computers are going to change EVERYTHING!”
“No, young lady. YOU don’t understand. Professionals do NOT touch keyboards. That’s what secretaries are for.”
Well, I was stunned by what he had just said.
He wasn’t trying to be mean or disparaging. He was simply trying to explain how the legal world functioned in 1982. He was trying to prepare me for the working world as it was then.
He didn’t understand that he was on the cusp of a paradigm shift. And that one day, professionals would not only touch keyboards, but they would touch-type with their thumbs on tiny keyboards built into pocket-size mobile telephones.
Remember Dial-Up Modems? 1995
Let’s climb back into the Way Back machine and fast-forward to the year 1995.
By the mid-90’s, I had become a college professor. And I was concerned by my business school students’ poor written communication skills at the University of Texas.
They simply did not read. They only skimmed or scanned for key words and phrases. And because they didn’t read thoroughly, they didn’t have a good handle on the mechanics of grammar and spelling.
Even worse, some of them seemed to think that the lack of punctuation and capitalization made popular by Instant Messaging (IM) programs was perfectly acceptable in formal business documents. They even used those ridiculous IM abbreviations in their homework assignments. I couldn’t imagine how they were going to survive in the business world when they couldn’t properly read or write!
In 1995, I didn’t understand that I was on the cusp of a communication paradigm shift.
2008: The Rise of Social Media
Let’s take another trip in the Way Back machine, this time to the year 2008.
By then, the New Millenium was well underway and the Internet was pervasive. Online activity was at an all-time high, thanks to ubiquitous high-speed broadband communications. Social media were hot and new: videos were uploaded to YouTube and passed from person to person as quickly as a viral infection; uploadable audio files allowed anyone to create a personal radio station that others could subscribe to as “podcasts”.
Social media also included online Facebook and MySpace profiles, representing a new way of keeping in touch and making new contacts.
Although I had played with all those new media throughout 2007, I still didn’t recognize the opportunities they offered businesspeople. In fact, it wasn’t until February 2008 that I finally saw important business applications. Suddenly, social media became serious new forms of communication!
One pioneer was Jeremiah Owyang. He was still in his twenties, but had become a Senior Analyst at Forrester Research. His area of expertise was social computing and he managed a Facebook community that had more than 4,000 members.
But why did Forrester Research have a SENIOR analyst studying “social computing”? And why Facebook?
Facebook Trumped MySpace
Well, it seems that in 2008, Facebook was the fastest growing social utility on the Internet with approximately 50 million users. And despite its popularity among college students, more than 40% of the people using Facebook were older than 35, predominantly college grads, and white-collar employees.
In January 2008, MySpace had almost three times more users than Facebook. But when 2008 ended, Facebook users outnumbered MySpace users. Those two utilities also represented very different demographics, with MySpace composed mostly of non-college educated, blue-collar workers. For businesses that were trying to reach white-collar customers, Facebook’s popularity signaled an important business opportunity. Unfortunately, few businesses in 2008 knew how to tap into that opportunity.
Blogging Went Corporate
A different kind of social medium called blogging also emerged. But back then, I thought that only small companies needed blogs as something extra to stand out from their competition.
You see, a blog is really just an online diary of thoughts that other people can read and comment upon. And it seemed as though everyone and their pet hamsters had a blog by the end of 2007. But then a woman named Debbie Weil, wrote a text called The Corporate Blogging Book.
In October of 2007, she was invited to spend two weeks in China lecturing in Shanghai and Beijing about corporate blogging and CEO blogging. (Certainly, if the Chinese were interested in learning more about blogging, it was probably a good signal that everyone else should, too.)
Even more intriguing was her prediction that blogs lacking audio and video would soon be considered passé. Apparently, the bar had just been raised higher as technology continued to evolve.
And it wasn’t only Debbie Weil who believed blogging was important for businesses. On December 6th, 2007, the Blog Council was formed. The founding members included Kaiser Permanente, AccuQuote, Wells Fargo, General Motors, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts. (You’ll notice that these weren’t geeky, high-tech companies.)
However, to be a member of the Blog Council, you had to be a large corporation and you already had to be blogging. If you WEREN’T big and you WEREN’T blogging, you WEREN’T welcome!
They also made it quite clear that they would NOT be sharing their findings with anyone outside the Council. And they would NOT be issuing any press releases. Everything they figured out, they planned to keep to themselves for their own competitive advantage.
It was 2008. The battle lines were being drawn. The alliances were being formed.
To be continued in the next edition of the Chamber Magazine…..
J.D. Mosley-Matchett, Ph.D.
University College of the Cayman Islands