Jim Macnamara’s ‘Measuring Up’
Three revolutionary characteristics of social media.
I come to this issue of The Measurement Standard excited and with nervous anticipation. After 18 months of research, I have an 400-page book being launched worldwide this month by Peter Lang, New York, titled The 21st Century Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices.
(The 21st Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices is published by Peter Lang, New York. For details, reviews and orders go direct to the Peter Lang sales site, or order through www.amazon.com.)
The title says three important things about Web 2.0/3.0-based social media, based on extensive research in the US, UK, Europe, Australia, China, Korea, Malaysia, and the Middle East.
First, what is happening online is arguably the fourth media revolution.
The book title uses the term "(r)evolution" not to be academically clever or ambiguous, but to illustrate that the research asked the question of whether what is happening is simply evolution in media and communication, or whether it is something bigger. Scholars describe the development of writing around 3,000-4,000 BC as the first revolution in media. Invention of the printing press in China around 1000 AD and in Europe in 1450 was the second, followed by the development of broadcasting (radio and TV) in the early to mid-20th century.
My research indicates that what is happening is not simply an evolution in media and public communication – rather, radical change is afoot and will reverberate through media, advertising, journalism, public relations and politics for some time to come.
However, Web 2.0 and even the emerging Web 3.0, and the social media that they enable, are not a technological revolution as often claimed. Blogs, microblogging, wikis, and social networks are not new or cutting edge technologically. They all sit on the Web which is 20 years old. The first blogs and social networks started 10-15 years ago. And most applications leading the revolution were created by university students for free – e.g. Facebook and even Google.
My second key finding is that what distinguishes the early 21st century media revolution is a major change in the practices of public communication.
In simple terms, the revolution is about how we use media and public communication – who speaks, how they speak, and what they are able to speak about.
The late 19th and 20th centuries were dominated by mass media and mass communication that predominantly involved top-down, one-way distribution of information to ‘audiences’ which, in the main, had to passively accept what was given to them. Also, in the mass media model, organisations controlled the messages distributed.
This has completely changed with development of Web 2.0-based social media. As well as experiencing convergence, which refers to the technological coming together of media platforms and content on the Internet as discussed by Henry Jenkins, we are seeing emergence in media and public communication practices.
Emergence is the third key point of my book and a highly significant change.
"Emergent," in scientific terms, refers to change that is bottom-up rather than top-down, self-organising rather than centrally organised, and which unexpectedly leads to new sustainable systems despite a lack of central or hierarchal control. This is what is happening in media and public communication. Social media including blogs, microblogging such as Twitter, social networks, and photo and video sharing sites such as Flickr, YouTube and Tudou in China are a user-led revolution in media and public communication centred on bottom-up and peer-to-peer communication.
As a result, it is impossible to control messages and communication in social media – something that many CEOs, marketing directors, advertising agencies and PR practitioners have yet to get their heads around.
My research identified eight C words that are characteristics of the 21st century mediascape:
- connectivity (rapidly approaching ubiquity),
- collective intelligence,
- communication (two-way not one-way),
- conducted as...
- conversation – that is, open discussion that is authentic, not speeches, lectures, political propaganda, ‘spin’, or corporate-speak.
New challenges for public relations...
As a major discipline within public communication, public relations needs to look beyond the so-called ‘new media’ and new technologies and understand the conventions and protocols of the new practices of public communication. PR practitioners need to develop new skills, such as how to enter conversations online to represent their organisations, correct inaccurate information, and defend criticisms. This requires new ways of talking and new ways of listening.
They need to learn to write all over again in a new style that is very different to news releases, brochures, annual reports, speeches and journalism. They need to re-learn media relations. Their traditional media databases will no longer give them the contacts they need to get their message out. They need to convince their management to give up the illusion of control and engage in open dialogue. They need to ease off on the slick imagery and focus on authenticity.
...and for advertising and elsewhere.
If it is any consolation, public relations is not the only area of public communication that is facing major change. Advertising is facing growing resistance to intrusive mass-targeted formats and the ‘rivers of gold’ of classifieds have been lost to Craiglist and eBay. Journalism is being redefined; and media business models need to be substantially restructured. The 21st Century Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices includes chapters looking at the future of journalism, the future of advertising, future media business models, and the future of politics, as well as the future of public relations and the impact on societies generally.
Importantly, all revolutions bring opportunities as well as some pain. Research confirms that social media provide ways for companies and organisations to engage with key publics, build relationships, become part of communities, reach new audiences, gain low-cost and no-cost market research; and it is much more targeted and measurable than mass communication.
The 21st Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices is published by Peter Lang, New York. For details, reviews and orders go direct to the Peter Lang sales site, or order through www.amazon.com.
Jim Macnamara PhD, FPRIA, FAMI, CPM, FAMEC became Professor of Public Communication at the University of Technology Sydney in 2007 after a 30-year career working in journalism, public relations and media research which culminated in selling the CARMA Asia Pacific franchise which he founded to Media Monitors in 2006. He worked as Group Research Director with Media Monitors - CARMA Asia Pacific following the sale and continues as a Consultant with the Group.