User-generated content and social networks are the modern media phrases du jour. As an executive with business line and brand responsibility, why should you care? Is this a fad? What is really happening here? Well, let me make a few predictions:
- We are in the midst of a Big Shift: within five years, over 50 percent of the media consumed will be created by other consumers
- This entire movement will not be driven by technology, but rather by consumer demand
- The nature of the content that people will consume will change dramatically
- Advertising and marketing as we know it will have to change dramatically as well in order to succeed in this new media world
In 2005, I described the impact of user-generated media on the nature of content as "The MashUp Effect" and warned of its powerful impact on advertising. With the advent of pervasive broadband and inexpensive tools, users are now making their own content from bits and bytes scattered across the net. Much of this content originally came from traditional media channels, and the media has done everything that they can to limit that access and control that flow. Well, the audience has turned elsewhere, and are discovering that they can make equally appealing entertainment by mixing their own content with others'.
Today, audiences are deserting traditional media channels for the new media frontier. They are not doing it for the technology, which is barely functional at best. They are doing it for the fresh appeal of this new form of content, the new arena of entertainment and a new community of relationships. The real question you may want to ask is, what should brands do to succeed in a world where they can not control their image or their voice?
As user-generated media networks continue to grow, we are seeing the emergence of a "Mash-up Economy," where creation and consumption of content is a part of a new language of the commerce that is already evident in every element of our social and media landscape. Make no mistake about it, the impact of the Big Shift is already proving to be far greater socially and economically than the introduction of the web, and potentially even more fundamental than the impact of Gutenberg's press. Are you ready for the change?
Are you prepared for a wave of user-generated media that mashes up your brands' messages into any and all variations of the theme? Are you ready for rebuttals to your brand message that are produced as eloquently as anything you can produce? Are you prepared to go further, to dig deeper to build meaningful relationships with your audience? Are you prepared to transform your company or brand into a media enterprise?
The ability to tightly control brand or message was possible because the channels through which a brand could communicate were limited and controlled. This is no longer the case. Frequency is unlimited, formats are limitless, time slots are irrelevant, audiences are self segmenting and powerful content can come from anywhere. In this new media economy, if you try to speak with only one voice, there is a good chance you will not be heard. Now is the time to prepare for the Big Shift in media creation and consumption by beginning to rethink your brand and market strategy. As a company or brand, you must learn to think and communicate like a new media enterprise… to go to market with a broad strategy for communicating your message across an almost unlimited number of channels in a virtually limitless number of voices. You must come to understand the challenges and opportunities that you will face in a world where content can not be organized by time, frequency, channel or point of reference.
If you are a brand manager, you may find yourself having to lead the charge within your organization. It may be you out on the front line, convincing your company to become a media enterprise. If you are facing this challenge, you may want to introduce the executives in your company to what I call "Fart's Law." With the pace of technology and social evolution increasing so dramatically, we are at a point where the technology innovation described in Moore's Law will be consumed by a series of fundamental changes in our media ecosystem, leaving slow adopters in the dust. Fart's Law states simply: The possibility that any new innovation will succeed increases exponentially over the number of old farts who refuse to endorse it.
Over the past 10 years, audiences have been steadfastly and dramatically deserting traditional media channels, not because of the availability of new media, but rather because of the simple lack of quality and social value to be found over conventional media channels. There are virtually no traditional media channels that can report parallels of the unprecedented growth of new media over the last 10 years. They are simply churning customers from an ever-diluting pot, in the process of eliminating whatever brand goodwill they had created. Broadcast is the buggy whip of media, and narrowcast is a marketing term for desperately releasing content in hopes of aggregating a depleting audience that is already looking elsewhere for its media fix. What does this mean for the future, and what will happen to the "old fart companies?
While Hollywood and the record industry are struggling to build taller walls around their content, audiences are sending the message that they simply do not require their participation. While brands are struggling to make their voices heard within the boundaries of traditional advertising, audiences are tuning out and are becoming their own producers. Social networks, podcasting and other forms of user generated content are the tip of a spear that is smart-targeted right at the heart of media as we know it.
We are moving from broadcast media networks to social media networks, and that shift is occurring on top of a cobbled-together network of internet, cell phones, MP3 players and other devices that can create output or receive input. Stand back, because the network is becoming increasingly more reliable and elastic. It is a network of thoughts and ideas; of connections and diversions. Its audience is both nomadic and highly loyal.
So how are brands to succeed in this landscape? We have set in motion a series of events that have resulted in the opportunity for content to become creative again, and guess what… advertising is content! Consider this:
- The technology for creating world class content is now virtually free
- The technology for distributing content to any device is readily available
- In general, today's channel driven content structure is being rendered obsolete
- Audiences are looking elsewhere for their entertainment
The typical Old Fart response is "won't people complain when we put advertising in this new content?" Here is my message to advertisers and marketers: let's make advertising content again. Advertisers have access to the same tools. Let's break the rules that we built to wall ourselves into a world of spots and links. Let's take advantage of the new wave of content and creativity that is changing the face and voice of media. We are seeing it in podcasting as global brands are now working with us to enable podcasters to create the type of advertising that they believe will connect with their respective audiences. We are coordinating campaigns where a single brand is being represented by a hundred different voices. And, it is working. For the record, audiences are absolutely willing to except and endorse advertising. How do we know? We ask them! Think of the power of being able to be creative without permission; of having a direct connection with your audience that can be nurtured and grown. Work with us, and let's make waves.
Remember to communicate
Aside from the standard protocols we just discussed, don't let news of your resignation to reach your colleagues via the water cooler. Again, you don't want to circumvent the pre-defined resignation plan. However, once you've been given the green light, it's important that those you've worked with hear your news firsthand. It's likely, especially given that this is a job you love, that you have many friends (maybe even a best friend) within the walls of your office. Think about how you would feel if you learned similar news from the new guy while you stirred the creamer into your coffee.
I'm not recommending a resignation banner, party, pies, or cake, but taking a few minutes to provide a "pre-goodbye" is the type of civility that most people would appreciate. Your conversation could be as simple as, "Hi John, I wanted you to know that I've decided to leave XYZ Organization. I've loved working here and am going to miss working with you."
While you're sharing your intentions amongst your peers, don't forget one important aspect of communication: tact. The World War II American saying, "Loose lips sink ships," holds true for business, too. As you discuss leaving, think through what details you provide around the nature of your next role, etc. Your intentions may be solely for good, but others may not have your best interests at heart.
Go beyond the extended hand
Regardless of the reason, I have made the difficult decision to leave roles I have loved in the past. With each departure, I have always offered to help with the transition. Why? Aside from being a simple courtesy, it was my hope that whomever stepped into my role was not "picking up the pieces," but rather continuing a stride that was already set in motion.
Now, before you reflect on lost opportunities in your past, know that most of the time these offers are met with a kind, "Thank you," yet they are rarely capitalized on, meaning there are almost always pieces to be picked up and balls that are dropped when a new employee takes over. So rather than solely making the gracious offer, put some solid plans in place.
Sometimes your successor will already be identified before you've taken your last step out of the office. When presented with this opportunity, schedule some time with this person and go over the details of the role. Are there any tricks of the trade you can offer? Does Bob in accounting like reports saved in a certain version of Microsoft Excel? Are there clients who simply won't respond to you if it's after 10 a.m. on a Friday? Any such fact that has helped you to be successful will go a long way with those trying to fill your shoes.
Most of the time, an immediate replacement is not possible. In these cases, if you are able to craft a "cheat sheet" or a guide around the work you've been doing, it can seriously help your successors. Keep in mind that most jobs have some sort of vague description, along with technical details about how to gain access to organizational resources, but beyond this we're often left to find our own way. This is your opportunity to give back to a position that you love so that someone else may find themselves feeling the same way.
Don't forget to exhale
Leaving any job is stressful... sometimes even traumatic. However, know that all organizations experience departures at one time or another and will weather the storm. While there will be many who will feel sadness or loss without you, we all have an uncanny way of healing. That's not to say that you will be forgotten with time, but take comfort knowing that everything does eventually heal.
While society has inundated us with the notion that we should never give in, employment is a notable exception. You're not throwing in the towel, you're just finding a new game. As I mentioned earlier, having an emotional attachment to your work, your co-workers and even a commitment to your leadership and missions are normal. In fact, I might question your intentions if you had zero stress. Just know that these feelings will subside, and with any luck you'll find yourself in love with your new job soon enough.
Making the decision to leave a job you love should not be taken lightly, but if you're reading this now, you're probably past the point of indecision and ready to take action. Applying these tips as part of your exit strategy will go a long way toward eliminating any guilt you may feel and reiterate to your soon-to-be-former employer that you truly are awesome. For a powerful dose of inspiration, recall the words of one of the toughest cowboys in the Old West, Mr. John Wayne: "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway."
On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.
"Businessman thinking" image via Shutterstock.