Nonstop communication challenge: keeping up with the speeded-up, changing world of communicating

I recently ran across a remarkable item that crystallized some of my thinking on the explosion in digital communication that we’re all living through.

Rachel Levy, a marketing consultant in Boston, decided to list all the various applications that help manage the flow of information on Twitter, the popular microblogging service. The list is here.

Levy lists 10 apps that she uses regularly and 24 more that she uses occasionally. She also lists 62 apps that she doesn’t use — but which are taking up space in her brain merely by the fact that she’s aware of them.

Now, let’s put Twitter in perspective. It’s got about 10 million users. According to a recent Harvard Business School study, half of the people on Twitter never make a single post, or “tweet.” And of those who do, 10 percent of the tweeters account for 90 percent of the information on Twitter.

So, Rachel Levy mastered 34 software apps and learned about 62 more — simply so she could communicate with the 500,000 avid users who generate the bulk of Twitter traffic.

I’m not dismissing Twitter. Those 500,000 people are overwhelmingly connectors and influencers. I recently attended a seminar where a number of members of the traditional media said they use Twitter and consider it an important way of getting story ideas and information.

A super-user on Twitter who connects with your message can potentially spread it to hundreds of thousands of people, virtually instantly and at very low cost. So, understand me: This column is not an attack on Twitter.

But it does point to one of the key challenges everyone in marketing faces now and will continue to face in the foreseeable future: how to stay abreast of the unprecedented speed of change in communication.

It seems that every day, in casual conversation or business meetings, I hear a reference to a new software program or information service I’d never encountered before: Envivo. Wordle. Mailana. Grou.ps. Glimpse. Seesmic.

Geeks are cranking away on their computers in basements across the world, hundreds of thousands strong, unleashing their creativity in a way that wasn’t possible until this decade.

Many of these programs and applications will be useful in getting our clients’ messages out to the right people. Many of them will make us more effective in our jobs.

And many of them could be just as great, but we’ll never know — because we’ll miss discovering them among the hundreds of apps that spring to life every day.

Inevitably, many of today’s popular applications will be superseded by others that offer improvements. Twitter has only been around for two years, and for at least half that time, users have been openly wondering when “the next Twitter” will appear.

What does this mean for marketers? It means that we’ve got to work harder than ever to stay informed about all the ways in which we can communicate on behalf of our clients.

It means our clients will rely more and more on our expertise. If it’s challenging for us — we who are immersed in this every day — to stay abreast of changing communication options, how much more difficult is it for our clients, who devote only a fraction of their time to it?

And I’d also argue that we’re entering a phase that carries Marshall McLuhan to extremes. When McLuhan coined his famous phrase, “the medium is the message,” he was primarily responding to the impact of the newest communication technology of his day: television.

With the rise of digital communication, never has McLuhan’s idea rung so true. With Twitter, with Facebook, with dozens of other technologies, the message you’re sending isn’t as important as the fact that you’re sending it.

What you say on Twitter isn’t as important as simply being on Twitter. If you’re not there, you have no message.

Obviously, there will always be a need for creative, thoughtful messaging. But right now we’re in a phase where the most important thing is just to be in the arena — if you can find it.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Ira Gold on 08/24/2009 - 10:22 am.

    I will take a look at this. You know you actually gave me idea. Thanks!

  2. Submitted by Andrew Eggenberger on 08/24/2009 - 04:48 pm.

    John,

    I think this Ira Gold message is spam (it links to a business that provides gold based IRA’s and 401k’s).

    I doubt spam is one of the arenas you were referring to in your piece, but it is kind of ironic for it to pop up as a comment on this particular posting.

  3. Submitted by Albert Maruggi on 08/24/2009 - 05:43 pm.

    What is interesting is that many of these social platforms allow users to configure their messaging to alert them via their email or text message on their phone. So here you have PR people trying to catch a reporter’s attention via Twitter Direct Message that may well be seen by the reporter in their email inbox.

    I wonder I have a headache

  4. Submitted by Todd Thomas on 08/25/2009 - 12:12 am.

    I think Albert, is quite right that this kind of social platform facilitates you to get connecting with everyone around and you can get those alerts to your mobile phone.
    I also think that twitter provides lots of things that you might not get on any other social media tools…
    You are right the only 50% of user use twitter actively but, “is that matter of concern?” I think it is not, because on every “social network” website the situation is more or less same…

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