'Beware the power of social media'

This popped into my inbox this afternoon. I know Jovan Regasek well and have big respect for the man, ITWeb and the other publications his company puts out. For those of you wondering, ITWeb survived full on through the dot.bomb crash and was one of the few online publications that actually gave rise to various print titles (instead of the other way round). These were all set up from scratch and, today, rake in advertising revenue. Jovan is a true online media pioneer in every sense of the word.

Now, to the below piece, which I don’t agree with. Read it and judge for yourself. I think its overstated, for one. Two, bloggers are just going to love being called “barbarians”, and three — I am not sure why the media owner needs to “beware”. I see a strong, symbiotic relationship between established media and social media. Hell, I can’t decide whether I am a blogger or M&G Online publisher half the time. Also I don’t understand why the rise of something new (citizen journalism, blogging, social networking) necessarily means the decline of the other (traditional media models) — both strong information forms each offering something different. A symbiotic relationship rather than a parasitic relationship? Surely there are many lanes on the information highway? I’ve written on this before in a previous column appropriately called Why can’t we all just get along?

“Media owners: Beware the power of social media”
As consumer-generated content commands more audience attention amid the growing power of communities, media owners need to change the way they think about doing business in the online world.

Both online and traditional media face their toughest competition yet – their own audience, as material posted by amateurs begins to command more attention than professionally generated content.

This is the view of Jovan Regasek, founder and CEO of ITWeb, a pioneer of online publishing in South Africa and a rare web-based business success story. Regasek gave his views on “The changing face of the media” at an online industry summit hosted by KUGM earlier this year.

According to Regasek, in order to remain competitive, we need to change the way we think about doing business in the online world.

The phrase, “Content is king” was coined, or at least became popular, with the emergence of the online media. The online world proclaimed content king and everybody believed that content was the key to cracking the code of commercial success. Rather than king, he says content has become a commodity. A weak currency, losing value all the time. The online world is overwhelmed with content.

“This increases the value proposition of online media – its future lies in its ability to provide relevant and intelligent content.”

He says readers have lost their faith in media independence, perceiving traditional media as being either under influence of government or big businesses or perhaps even both. “Moreover readers are losing faith in the independence of the media professionals. For them, the most reliable source is the people they trust – their real life or virtual peers. Not experts, not authorities.”

It’s painful for our professional pride, but the amateurs can attract more audience than the most successful professional media. A video clip on You Tube can attract up to 40 million views.

This is the time of the amateurs, the time of the bloggers. These are the people calling the shots these days. They create content. They disseminate content. They have full control. They are in charge. “They have full freedom with no responsibility. They don’t subscribe to the media ethics.”

For amateurs, social media is a freedom-of-speech paradise. But as a reader you can never be sure if the content is fake or real. Everybody can have his or her version of the truth. Everybody can assume any identity he wants. You can believe everybody and you can believe nobody.

According to Regasek, communities drive and control the Internet. The most successful online stories are linked to the rise of communities, and they are emerging as the dominant format of virtual life.

He says communities and social media are inherent to the Internet. They date back in the eighties from the early days of the Internet, starting with bulletin boards and forums to culminate in the Second Life social network – a fairly faithful mirror of the real life. “Communities perpetuate themselves. The more they grow, the more they grow.”

A community generates a vast amount of content, through interaction with each other, contributing to the common knowledge. Many will argue that the social media (consumer-generated content) is the most democratic contribution to the humanity’s culture. “However, virtual communities are bad news for the marketers. They are anti-commercial by definition. And they are bad news for the media owners.

Consumers are overpowering everything and everybody, but his shift of power is more dramatic in the media than in any other industry. The reader/viewer is overpowering the media.”

He says the media as we know it will continue losing control over content creation and distribution and, as a painful consequence, its influence on its readership. To remain competitive with our own audience, we need to change the way we think about doing business in the online world.”

Regasek say the media industry as we know it lives under glass bell. Waiting for the Barbarians to come.

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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