We're pleased to present a guest post by Steven Woods, CTO of Eloqua and author of Digital Body Language, who shares his thoughts on where communication is headed -- and how marketers can prepare.
Over time, the way in which communication happens has gone through some very interesting transitions. Each of them resulted in profound changes in information flow, and with that, significant changes in the discipline of marketing. We’re about to see the evolution of a fifth form of communication, and it will have an equally interesting effect on our lives.
The oldest form of communication is the one-to-one model. Face-to-face interactions and conversations were the main way in which messages were communicated. While very interactive, this was not a very scalable model at all. However, because it was the only way of conveying messages, it found an audience that was not overwhelmed with communication, and was likely much more receptive to new information.
The modern marketing industry was born with the advent of mass broadcast communications. Radio, print, and television enabled messages to be mass communicated to broad audiences. This was highly scalable, but entirely non-interactive, as it was a one-way communication and allowed no way for the listener to engage with the communicator. Also, as broadcast grew, it reduced the attention span of audiences by overwhelming them with too many communications.
The next interesting evolution in communication was with the advent of email. I’m not talking about email marketing, however, as that is much more similar to a broadcast model. Interpersonal email, however, added a very interesting element with the “Reply All” function. Now, the audience members in a communication group could easily respond to a discussion, and do so in a way that created ad hoc, topical group discussions. However, these discussions were closed to outsiders. A person who was not in the discussion would not see the discussion happening and could not join the discussion without explicitly being included by an insider.
Solving this discovery problem, of course, was social media. Now, with the discussions happening in an open format, anyone can detect, read, or join existing discussions. The speed with which these communications happen has been well documented, and discussions on a particular topic can quickly grow to involve and influence hundreds of thousands of people. However, social media creates huge volumes of communications, most of which are not of interest. Filtering through this noise is a daunting challenge, and whereas most social media can be filtered by keywords or brand names, this still tends to result in an overwhelming volume of content.
As the major search engines apply their computing and analysis horsepower to understanding who is talking to whom about what, we may be on the verge of a fifth major shift in how information is communicated. Passive conversation discovery, guided by the algorithms of Google and Bing and their analysis of vast amounts of social media data, may be the way we discover what conversations are happening that may be of interest. Much like Amazon’s book recommendation systems which looks at “people like us” and sees what they are interested in, Google and Bing may soon be able to accurately detect and show specific conversations that are most likely to be of interest to each person. This finally allows the interactivity and openness of social media without the overwhelming volume of unfiltered social content.
Each of these evolutions in communication has changed how we interact with each other, how we learn, and how we market. This coming fifth transition promises to be as disruptive as any before it. Here are five things you can do to get ready:
1) Get Familiar with Buzz: Watch what the major search engines are doing to aggregate and understand social media activity. Google Buzz is one of the first, but Bing is likely not far behind. Closely watch the “recommended” buzz function to see how accurately it is capturing what you are interested in.
2) Understand the Influencers in your Market: Not just the major press and analyst influencers, but the bloggers and smaller influencers in the space who will most likely cause your message to be “discovered” if they join the conversation. Engage and encourage your entire team in building strong relationships with influencers.
3) Create an “Information Concierge” Role: Ensure that the high-quality information you have finds its way into the conversations in the first place. You can do so by identifying related conversations, and presenting your information, via an information concierge, in the context of those conversations.
4) Be Findable: Understand, and continually improve, how “discoverable” your content is with natural search queries. Not only will this ensure a discipline of search-friendly practices, but it will guide your company culture towards one that thrives on the continuous creation of great content.
5) Watch the Search Majors: As Google deepens its investment in display advertising, and Bing makes similar moves, their ability to target “discovered” conversations will continually increase. Being aware of, and on top of, these investments will ensure you are well positioned to take advantage of them.
About the author: Steven Woods is CTO of Eloqua, the leading marketing automation software platform. Steven also wrote the book Digital Body Language, which explores how to understand customer intentions based on their online behaviour.