Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Social Media is dead

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Let me count the ways.

First of all, social media these days is whatever most people do online. To someone like me, it was about blogging and social bookmarking, with upstarts like Facebook and Twitter playing a secondary role. To most people these are social media with an assortment of web apps that involve interactions and scale to high heaven. Where is the line between the web and social media for most people? Once they are on Facebook and/or Twitter, it blurs beyond definition.

Secondly, social media, whatever it means to different people, at its most fundamental level is the combination of the internet architecture (i.e. a distributed network) with technology that enables individuals to publish and distribute online without the need to code and without a prior permission from an institutional authority. This, in the long run, will be as impactful as the printing press. (That said, with the rise of the super-platforms, individuals online are herded into silos, their autonomy and privacy taking a beating. But that is a different rant.)

All this has little to do with media, advertising, marketing and PR. Other than undermining them. Watching people from these industries discuss and pontificate on how to ‘do’ – read use, abuse, benefit from, exploit etc – social media is like listening to producers of leather harness for horses, carriage drivers and stable owners talk about cars and how they are going to use them blasted machines. After all, it’s all about transport. Right?!

So once more, with feeling. Social Media is dead as a driver for change. It was killed by the very people it meant to change. Ironically, just like the barbarians at the gates of Rome, they didn’t mean to kill it, they just wanted to have a part of it. But without changing themselves.

The good news is that those people (and their business models) will, eventually, be extinct. It just won’t be Social Media that does it.

Nothing to see here, move along…

Note: This rant was ‘inspired’ by one too many social media event, namely Social Media Reality Check at LSE, organised by POLIS and PRNewswire. Yep, dear reader, PRNewswire. Should have been a sufficient warning!

The menace of targetted advertising

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My friend Brian has a marvellous rant about advertising, with a respectful nod towards my anti-advertising rants that he has had to listen to for years now. :)

And if it [an advert] is targetted at me, then to hell with it. If someone is only saying this to me, then I’m almost certainly not interested. What I want to know about is what someone rich thinks it worth his while to say to everybody. It is exactly the untargetted nature of old-fashioned adverts, Real Adverts in Real Advert Space, that makes them so useful and amusing to me. Untargetted adverts are Real Adverts. Targetted adverts are visual spam.

An interesting perspected on tragetted or behavioural advertising based on the assumption that Real Adverts, as Brian calls offline advertising, worked because it implied that a) many people may think this is worthwhile to buy and b) someone had enough money to pay for the ads.

He also makes a very important distinction that I haven’t seen elsewhere about the offline advertising happening in a public space whereas the internet and especially one’s web surfing is de facto (if not de jure, as it were) a private space.

Advertising still works, in Real Advert Space, in such places as the Underground or Trafalgar Square or an airport or beside the motorway – in the sense, as I say, that it does not induce active hostility. But the internet is not a “public space”. It is my personal space, or something, or I don’t quite know what. Whatever it is exactly, the internet is certainly not a giant collection of Undergrounds and Trafalgar Squares. What works on the internet is someone talking to me, or writing talkatively for me, in a manner that I can easily switch off and can choose to go on listening to.

There is no doubt what Brian thinks about ‘targetted’ advertising. :)

What absolutely does not work is some hired twat dripping with insincerity, whom I know nothing about except this, standing right next to me and the person who is now talking with me so amusingly, and shouting into my ear – because the hired twat has “targetted” me.

That’s what Adblock Plus is for…

Bonus link: Political Blogs’ Double Whammy: Post-Election, Deep Recession

Brands are not good for your health

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Two paragraphs explaining why (brand) websites are dead:

Look at this. It’s a Bovril website. With a breath-taking circularity of irony (or perhaps secret plea for help from a web designer), the site’s strapline (and perhaps the brand’s slogan) is ‘give me strength’. And, indeed, what on God’s earth is the point of all this? And who thought it was a good idea (apart from the agency that created it)?

Don’t get me wrong, once you’re there, it’s quite nicely done, graphically interesting etc. But why would anyone ever go there? Even if it wasn’t difficult to use, I still wouldn’t treat it as my number 1 source of information about Bovril itself (that would be Wikipedia), Bovril recipes (is that a thing?) (I’d start in Google and since the site isn’t search engine-friendly, it doesn’t show up), outdoorsiness (ditto, you’d never get there and if you did you wouldn’t stay long because of the thiny veiled comtempt for this audience), or even gurning cows. It’s just bizarre.

Come to think of it, brands are bizarre too. This is what Tom Hopkins has further to say about brands:

But they are a method of communication not an issuer of communication. They are talking points, they are social tokens, they are items of self expression.

I disagree. There is a lot of earnest talking – mostly by marketing and advertising people – about how people want to engage with brands. I certainly don’t want to engage with brands.

I want to talk to – not ‘engage’ with – the person I may be buying things from, or someone who can help me learn more or get me more information about product or service I am interested in. And that is invariably not the brand, with its useless websites, ad and marketing campaigns that interrupt and annoy the hell out of me.

I want to talk to an expert who’ll educate me about food, wine, travel, fashion, cameras, plumbing, perhaps even washing powder, if that’s what I am interested in. And agencies just get in the way of such interactions. Just look what they have done with websites – a pandemic of branded flash-ridden monstrosities, eating load time and bandwidth, with a graphic designer’s wet dream splashing across your screen. Grrrr.

I want to talk to and possibly relate on an ongoing basis with people – individuals, not departments! – within organisations that I might choose to supply me with products and services. My advice to them is know who you are and what you are trying to do, then understand what people – individuals, not consumers! – do and want, and then treat them with respect and understanding. You will get the same in return. That is far more valuable for the long term health of your business (and customers!) than any brand campaign.

Nightmare on Madison Avenue

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Andrew Grill tells us that the final paragraphs of the biography on David Ogilvy The King of Madison Avenue by Kenneth Roman, sum things up:

Like all businesses, advertising is changing. This could be the most exciting time to be in advertising. Technology is creating new opportunities to reach consumers – and measure the benefits of spending.

What advertising delivers is ideas. … Ogilvy would not recognise much of the new landscape, but he would applaud the growth of disciplines that can be measured such as direct marketing.

Direct marketing?! That sounds more like a nightmare from Madison Avenue…

As I’ve been saying for a long time, mobile is a unique new channel, and it will take a while for all parts of the ecosystem to step up and use its full potential. I hope I am helping to drive this change in some small way.

….Mobile will probably become the most measurable type of direct marketing we will come across – if executed properly.

I think if David Ogilvy was alive today, he would have grasped the mobile advertising opportunity with both hands, given his direct marketing roots, and directed his staff to focus on the utility of the channel, rather than trying to squeeze 50 years of advertising norms onto a small screen.

It is odd to hear statements like this at the time when most people are learning to use technology to control their environment, gearing up to give a permanent finger to interruption and advertising. ‘Executed properly’ to me suggests beheaded, hung and quartered but from context I don’t think that’s what the author intended.

Advertising types look upon people like me with either splattering outrage: How dare I be against advertising! Or they try to talk me off the ledge, oily with condescention: How silly of me to think that advertising will not live through this inconvenient, unprofessional, messy individual empowerment…! Look at our vast budgets, offices, expense accounts. Oh wait, that seems to be drying up! Quick, what’s the next big idea?! Digital New Social Media here we come!!!

But I digress. Deep breath. Let’s try again.

There is advertising and there is Advertising. Advertising with small a is information about products and services by people who provide or use them. A tablet on an ancient road saying: get your stone wheel fixed here!, or by now a dying breed of a classfied ad in a paper, or on craiglist, or a twitter message ‘advertising’ my need for a restaurant in the neighbourhood, etc. This kind of ‘advertising’ is not produced by an agency, or even the company, it isn’t promoted through a campaign. It’s authentic and direct but neither of that is the point. It is not a message, it’s communication. And will ALWAYS be around in some format or another.


It differs from Advertising with capital A, which stands for the entire industry producing ‘content’ and shoving it down our throats, the supply chain of agencies, clients, brands. That is not set in stone. There is nothing inherent in the business models of Advertising industry. There have been several since the dawn of time, I am sure. One of them is statues. Yes, dear reader, statues…


Statues are symbols, imagery that is supposed to make us react, think and feel in a certain way about the subject of the statue or the owner. Similar to advertising or branding in fact. And indeed it used to be the way nations, powerful leaders and institutions advertised themselves and projected an image.

This form of advertising is extinct. It is art now. This would definitely have come as a shock to the whole generations of artists, sculptors, quarry owners, workshop apprentices, patrons and potentates. Surely a whole industry can’t disappear? Just watch the chisel of history chip entire supply chains away. A nice reminder that there is nothing intrinsically necessary in our business models, in the way we understand advertising today and that some of the ways that define Advertising may cease to exist in the same way statues, monuments and paintings are no longer used to ‘advertise’ the rich and mighty.

Quote to remember

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Cloud computing becomes fog when it goes down.
- Todd Spraggins on Twitter regarding Ma.gnolia data failure

Quote not to remember

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From ITV plots future in which there is no escape from ads, Colin Macleod, research director at the World Advertising Research Centre:

Consumers are becoming a lot more clever in avoiding advertising, and now that they’ve got the technology to do it it’s become a big issue for advertisers. They need to be smarter.

How about forgetting about ‘consumers’ and taking a hint – don’t interrupt us with ads and don’t keep looking for new ways to do so. Engage as human beings or get out of our way.

Bonus link: Don’t Watch That, Watch This.

Identity online: implications for healthcare

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Last week I visited Boston, MA where I gave a talk at the Future of Healthcare technology summit at the MIT Faculty Club. It was a tough one to prepare as the calibre of speakers and audience was rather intimidating for a mere social web guru like me. One of the keynotes, delivered by an HP Laboratories scientist was about: Maintaining Your Health from Within: Controls for Nanorobot Swarms in Fluids. The dinner was accompanied by conversations with Prof. Marvin Minsky of the AI fame and a NASA astronaut Daniel T. Barry.


The safest option was to stick to what I know and talk about online identity, with the aim of helping people see it from a different perspective and enabling them to apply that understanding in their own areas of expertise. VRM and the Mine! were mentioned in this context as practical approaches to patient-driven healthcare, which I see as one of the major implications of online developments in technology and behaviours.

Here are the slides with detailed notes in the slide transcript, which is visible on the slideshare page.

There is a lot more to cover on this topic but 30 minutes was what I had. I hope to work on the VRM healthcare proposition within VRM Labs with companies experimenting with customer/user/patient-driven models and technologies.

Quote to remember

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Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners. Like Humpty Dumpty, the copyright law we used to know can never be put back together again.
- William Patry, Google’s senior copyright counsel in End of the Blog

An anthropological introduction to YouTube

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Humanity Lobotomy

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Net Neutrality Open Source Documentary:

Save the Internet | Rock the Vote

My take on net neutrality from June 2006.

Cognitive surplus

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… of human creativity that for the last 50 years or so has been sucked out by TV and other cognitive heatsinks. Clay Shirky as always – making sense on stilts. Watch to hear how the Victorians got through industrialisation and the shock of it with the help of.. gin. More importantly, he addresses the stupid question I hear so often from those who don’t have a clue about what the online world is like and what drives people in it – “Where do people find the time?!” It is a variation on too much information and I have fought on that front for a while.

The answer Clay gives is that as options to TV and other passive engagements emerge, people switch away to participate and create. He argues that with the web we start to see cognitive surplus as an asset (creativy, innovation and participation) instead of something to be dissipated. I believe he is right, let’s hope our faith in humanity is vindicated. :)

The money quote: Here is what a four year old knows – a screen that ships without a mouse, ships broken. Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for!
. Amen, brother.

via Johnnie

Here is Clay’s post based on his talk.

Blockbuster store museum

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Historic 2018Blockbuster2019 Store Offers Glimpse Of How Movies Were Rented In The Past

This is the reason why the film and media industry is imploding, not piracy. It ignored, then fought the technology and now is fighting people who used to be their markets. Not a good way to buttress a business model. Bring on the museum tours…

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