Tivo did not kill TV. Anyone surprised?

I am a big sports fan, but the one thing I have never been able to watch are pre-game shows. They always struck me as such a monumental waste of time in crystal ball gazing and trenchant insights such as,  “If this happens, then this will happen…but, we still need to watch out for THAT, because it will change the course of THIS, meaning everything I just said might go the other way.” Really? Well, good thing we have a panel of “experts.”

The pre-game show is the high water mark in hedging. Why? Because what makes the future the future is that no one can predict it. (I know, I know. You needed me to tell you that.) Sure, you can make  educated guesses based on experience- the Detroit Lions will probably lose this Sunday. Miami will be hot in July. The coupon for the free quart of ice cream will expire before I remember to use it.

But in most other things, predictions are way off. Here’s another great example.

When the DVR, or Tivo, hit the market, there was all sorts of hand wringing among network executives and advertisers that it was going to kill television. If you give people the chance to skip past the commercials, the thinking went, of course they will.

Well, folks, a July blizzard just hit Miami. According to Nielsen, 46% of viewers 18-49 for all four major broadcast networks are watching the commercials during playback. And that number is up a bit from 2008. Why? Because watching TV is the epitome of a passive activity. The habit ingrained in all of us since youth of plopping down on the couch and letting it wash over us is, apparently, a tough one to break.

“It’s completely counter-intuitive,” observed Alan Wurtzel, the president of research for NBC. Now THERE’S a good observation.

All I can say is, research like this puts the kibosh on all the rosy predictions of interactive TV. Viewers choosing the direction of a show from among several different endings? Nah. Clicking on the screen to buy the shirt that Oprah has on? Mmmm…not so much. We all just sit down, watch, and leave it to the programmers to tell us what we want. The other way is just too much work.

The Lions just won the Super Bowl.

Is “good enough” good enough?

Long before I made the move into social media, most of my career has been spent in the entertainment business. I started in radio, moved to the music business (as both a performer and executive) and then onto TV (never as a performer, thank God).

I have always been fascinated by trends and how sometimes you can have two diametrically opposed trends developing simultaneously. I still produce, direct and write lots of video content (here’s a picture taken two days ago from a client shoot to prove it), and this has kept me thinking about one of these two-way trends a lot.

Quality. How important is it, as it pertains to audio or video content?

First let me identify the trends, as I see them. On the one hand, there is this breakneck race to the top in terms of HD televisions, HD video cameras, even HD radio. Everything needs to be as life like as possible, and we all want high quality HD monitors at home to watch the, arguably, low quality content on TV. (Hey, it’s my blog. I can editorialize all I want.) But, seriously, video production and delivery quality is going up up up while the prices of TVs and cameras keep coming down down down.

On the internet, however, high quality video delivery is still hampered by bandwidth issues, among other things. Flip cameras, iPhone 3GS and other low cost video cameras are gaining in popularity, and with good reason. You Tube, uStream, facebook and other outlets allow you to then share that content quickly. But that, in my view, is the disconnect. Online video and user generated content tends to be of very low quality. The video needs to be compressed in order to be uploaded, and good audio is almost always an afterthought, if it’s thought of at all. I have long maintained that the democratization of content creation and distribution is both the best thing and the worst thing about the internet. The great thing is, ANYONE can make a video. The bad thing is, ANYONE can make a video.

So, to restate it: We demand high quality audio and video at home, but we give online content a pass. I wonder how long will that trend last? And, more importantly, if your business chooses to use video, does the TECHNICAL quality of the content you put out there send a subconscious message to your audience? You might not realize it, but when people try and watch a video that has terrible sound, they make a LOT of judgments. You do, too. There is an old saying that “Video is easy. Sound is hard.” I understand that there are situations where a company might CHOOSE to go the UGC route, and there are tons of valid reasons for doing just that. But my question is a deeper one. Has expertise been devalued? Are all decisions coming down to dollars and cents? If so, is it penny wise and pound foolish? Something you post on the internet, as I say every day of my life, is there forever. There is no delete button on the internet. So is putting out content for content’s sake a sound decision?

Obviously, quality has always carried the day in all walks of life and in all endeavors. When both audio and video podcasting were new, there were zillions of podcasts being produced and thrown up onto iTunes or onto people’s blogs and websites. There is less of that now because people have realized that creating regularly scheduled, quality content is hard, and expensive work. Expensive in terms of the time investment and, yes, the dollar investment.

But here’s the question I have rolling around in my head that I don’t have an answer to: have we reached a point where “good enough” is good enough? Our attention spans are being vied for every minute we’re awake. So is “yeah,yeah, I get the gist of it” where we find ourselves today? And if the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” then where does that leave professional content creators?

My sense is that the quality of internet audio and video is improving because people are tired of wading through stuff shot with shaky cameras, bad sound, no edits, no titles, no opens or closes- no expertise. In other words, maybe the new way is trending and becoming more like the old way. For every uStream video, there is a Hulu video. I realize it is an unfair comparison to compare UGC with NBC, but I hope I make my point.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Has good enough become good enough? If so, do you think it will always be this way? Am I totally off base with this post? I’m really interested in your comments, so fire away in the comments section.

Using social media to find a job- HR, Social Media and you

One of my favorite things to do is speak in public about the real world applications of new media and social media, so I am very excited about sharing the stage at tonight’s meeting of the Social Media Club of Southwest Florida.


Tonight’s focus is on how both employers and prospective employees can use all the social media tools at their disposal for a mutually beneficial job search. Lori Burke, the Director of HR at Neighborhood America, will speak from the perspective of the employer and how they use social media in hiring.

I will be offering some tips to job seekers about burnishing their reputations online, and some of the pitfalls to avoid in our “always on” world. The meeting is at Florida Gulf Coast University and I am told that there will be lots of undergrads and recent grads in the audience, so I am doubly excited.

Here is more information about Social Media Club of Southwest Florida and a link to the event. Admission is free, but you do need to register beforehand. Hope to see you there.

What if somone says something bad?

Regular readers of this blog know that training young people to use social networking/social media effectively is something I am very passionate about. I also think that, used properly, it is an invaluable tool for admissions departments, alumni offices as well as a way for current students to chronicle student life.

There was an article in this morning’s NY Times (link)  focusing on the MIT Admissions Department’s embrace of social media by selecting student bloggers to write about what life is really like at the Cambridge geek factory. (And I say “geek” with love.) The powers-that-be at MIT have been able to get past the fear of “What if someone says something bad?” and given students, AND commenters it should be noted, an unedited forum to sell the school. Let’s face it- high school kids today know when they’re being BS’ed. Hell, my seven year old sees a commercial on TV and said to me, “Dad, it doesn’t really do that. This is just a commercial.” I honestly don’t think I was that savvy at 7, so imagine what kind of filters 17 and 18-year olds have.

But back to MIT bloggers: they are chosen by means of a contest that grades their writing samples. According to the Times article, once incoming students arrive on campus, “[T]he bloggers are sought out as celebrities during the annual ‘Meet the Bloggers’ session at Campus Preview Weekend.” One of the bloggers, for example,  wrote about her love of anime, something that would have little chance of making it into a slick brochure or marketing video. Yet a prospective student who was also loved anime saw the post and reacted, “I never would have guessed that people at MIT are interested in anime. Oh, well…+1 on my Why I should go to MIT list.”

STILL think current students are poor ambassadors for your school? My response to that is the same thing I say to companies who are unsure if they should let their employees blog, tweet or otherwise speak on behalf of the company. If you can’t trust your employees, you have a bigger problem than just deciding on your social media strategy. Further, if you have a sub-par product, maybe the key tenets of social media- transparency, openness, conversation and engagement- make you a poor candidate for a social media strategy. You can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig.

And in regard to the “what if someone says something bad?” fear, here’s an anecdote: One blogger complained about how the resident advising system was making it impossible for her to move out of her housing. The housing office requested that the admissions office remove the post, but they did not. Rather, they suggested that the housing office leave a comment or rebuttal on the blog. “Eventually, the system was changed.”

That, party people, is the essence of blogging, in particular, and social media, in general.

Current trends in social media use

This past week I came across two interesting items while getting ready to deliver a presentation on social networking to a marketing group. According to a report from Nielsen, time spent on social media sites has tripled when you compare user numbers from August 2008 to August 2009. 17% of all time spent on the internet is being spent on social networking sites.

 

This echoes another trend that I find fascinating: Six years ago, the primary use of the internet was communication. Today, people spend over 40% of their time online consuming content. The internet facilitates our innate desire to connect with others and share.

So, having said that, where does your company or brand fit in? Are you listening to your customers? Are you giving them what they want? Are you engaging with them where they are congregating?

Have you seen yourself online through someone else’s eyes?

As regular readers of this blog know, I devote a lot of time to talking about how social networks are shaping our kids and that we, as parents, need to keep ourselves apprised of what’s going on out there in facebook-twitter-flickrland. The assumption tends to be that we need to keep an eye on our kids because they might do (or post) something dumb that might haunt them forever.

Even President Obama, in his back-to-school speech, explicitly warned kids about posting the wrong kind of stuff on facebook.Young people, the thinking goes, don’t have the benefit of life experience nor do they show sufficient discretion in terms of the things they choose to share online.

Perhaps. But I would argue that the real enemy of discretion is complacency. After you’ve spent a little time and you get comfortable on social networks, there is sometimes a tendency to let your guard down. As the economy continues its jobless recovery, did you know that 45% of HR professionals used social networks to research candidates occasionally? (Google, facebook and LinkedIn being the top three resources they checked, surprising no one.)

So if you were sitting in a job interview right now and the HR person asked, “Hey, mind if we pull up your facebook page real quick?” What would you say?

Now, because I’m a “glass half full” kind of guy, I should mention that the converse is also true: HR pros admitted to hiring because of what they saw on a candidate’s profile, citing “a positive look into the individual’s personality” or because the profile was professional, creative or “showed off the candidate’s skills.”

If you’re looking for a job, make sure you’re in that second group. It’s not just kids who post dumb stuff.

A (perhaps not so) obvious word about social networking

I noticed something in today’s paper that cell phone coverage in the US was now approaching 100%. (It’s already at something like 96.7%). The number of active social network users as a percentage of all Internet users is equally dumbfounding. Pretty soon it will not be hyperbolic to say “EVERYONE” is on fill-in-the-blank social network.

But what is that doing for us?

I think it’s important to remember that social networks are not new. Instant messaging and e-mail can probably vie for the title of “First Social Network.” facebook, twitter and all of today’s updated versions enhance and enrich our online experiences. For me, the intrinsic value of being networked online is to enhance my life offline. (Otherwise known as “real life.”)  My presence on the different social networks has brought immeasurable value, for reasons grand and trivial, business and personal.

It’s been said that facebook is for connecting with people you know and twitter is for connecting with those you’d like to know. I think there is a kernel of truth to that, but they’re certainly not the only two networks out there. (Although when I watch my local Fox sports channel and they tag their promos with “follow us on facebook and twitter,” I know we have crossed some invisible mass acceptance barrier.)

To those who complain of social network overload or to those who have been reluctant to jump in, I would ask if you have considered what your goals might be in joining or not joining. Social networks merely facilitate the primal need we all have to connect, share and interact.

Think of it that way.

Social Media for Your Business- a free seminar

I have to apologize for falling down on the job a bit as far as the podcast is concerned. I had pledged at the beginning of the year to release them more regularly since I noticed, to my delight, that the previous episodes from 2008 had been downloaded in surprising numbers. No excuses- I just have not gotten it done.

SO– to try and make up for some lost ground, I am releasing a slightly longer podcast, but one that I hope will bring some real value for those business owners, PR people and marketers who are looking to figure out the best way to incorporate social media into their overall communications plan. I have been speaking at a lot of conferences around the country delivering this message in one form or another, so I have decided to post it as a podcast for those of you who might be looking for a quick primer. The slides that go along with it can be found at at Slidshare.net and are available as a free download.

Here is the link to the podcast in iTunes. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Who uses social networks anyway?

Anderson Analytics has recently confirmed what many of us already knew about the most popular social networks out there, namely facebook, MySpace, twitter and LinkedIn. For marketers looking for good demographic and psychographic information about buying habits and areas of interest broken down by which social network they use, there is some good stuff here.

110 million Americans, which represents about 60% of the total online population, use social networks. That number might be low as the study only counted people who used a social network in the past month. The average social networker spends a LOT of time on them: 5 days a week, 4 times a day for at least an hour each day. 9% stay logged in all day keeping tabs on what’s new.

For brands considering a facebook page or twitter presence, 52% of users had friended or become a fan of a brand, illustrating that people are receptive to this type of engagement. Not surprisingly, 45% say they link only to family and friends, and another 18% saying they will only link to people they had met in person.

A quick breakdown by service:

facebook:

  • 77 million users
  • 40% married
  • 80% white
  • Average income $61,000
  • Average number of connections: 121

facebook showed a tremendous level of loyalty with 75% of users saying it was their favorite site and another 59% saying that had increased their use of the site in the past 6 months.

twitter:

  • Interests skew more towards news, restaurants, sports, politics, personal finance and religion.
  • More likely to use twitter to promote their blogs or their businesses
  • Average income $58,000
  • Average number of followers: 28; average number they follow: 32
  • 43% said they could live without twitter

MySpace:

  • Young, fun, but disappearing. Most said they had used the site much less in the last 6 months.
  • 67 million active uses (nothing to sneeze at)
  • Most joined for fun and are into humor, comedy and video games
  • Not big on exercising but, unexpectedly, they seek out parenting advice more than any other group.
  • Average income: $44,000
  • More likely to be black or hispanic, and 60% are single
  • 23% are students

LinkedIn:

Surprising no one, LinkedIn is all about business. Hey, that’s what it’s there for, right? It’s also the only service that skews more male than female (57%-43%).

  • Average income: $89,000
  • Interests skew towards news, employment info, sports and politics
  • More likely to to be into going to the gym, spas, yoga, golf and tennis
  • They are also into gadgets, although not too much gaming. Digital cameras, High-def TVs, DVRs and Blu-ray players. (So THEY’RE the 16 people who have bought a Blu-ray!)
  • They unwind by gambling online and, wait for it…., going online for soap opera content. (OK, I have NO idea what the significance of that is.)

The full report is supposed to be out now, so check their site for more details.

Moms, kids and social networking

Summertime seems to be ushering in a drop off in facebook traffic amongst the 18-25 set, although they still remain the dominant demographic. The last 30 days has seen a 3% drop in traffic among the college crowd, but it has also produced a bump of 1.5 million users among those over 35.According to some usage figures, active facebook users in the US now total 70 million, with 60% of them over 26.

When I speak in schools and to education trade groups, one of the biggest things I hear from parents is that they are afraid of what their kids are doing online. But a lot of this fear comes from a lack of knowledge. In other words, the parents themselves have not taken the time to jump on facebook or one of the other social networking services to see what all the fuss is about. Well, that might be changing. The popular parenting site Babycenter recently completed a pretty extensive study about the uptake among moms and they say that moms who use social media is up 462% since 2006. As always, these numbers should be kept in perspective since in 2006, the overall usage numbers of social media was nowhere near where it is today.

The more parents, teachers and administrators educate THEMSELVES about social networking, the better chance we will all have to help our kids become digitally savvy adults. Kids might get bummed out being “friended” by their parents or another adult relative. But it’s worth it if the end result is that we, as adults, learn the facts about living our lives online instead of responding to misinformation and negative hype.