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Social Web

The Impact of the Social Web

March 6, 2009

The Social Media Influence 2009 Conference which I attended on Tuesday was quite enlightening.  Interestingly I was the only lawyer present.  There was a speaker on the law –  Struan Robertson  who is a journalist and legal director of – but he was only allocated half an hour, and as the previous speakers overran he ended up with a mere 20 minutes   He did an excellent and enjoyable presentation.

While I already knew the social web is expected to have a profound impact in society over the next 5 years (more so even than the internet has had in the last 5 years), what I had not really considered was how much it would alter people’s jobs.  The future of the legal profession was the only one I had previously thought about.  Now I realise many others are similarly set to change.  For example, in the media industry PR is facing huge fundamental challenges. Also many new  careers are emerging.

What was also news to me is that every organisation is going to be affected and will have to address the internal changes that social media will entail over the next year or so.  Just as they had to get websites and email addresses after the early days of the web when very few businesses had websites and email.  I had written an article for the Society for Computers and Law which I was ready to send off before the end of March deadline.  But now I intend to make a few adjustments to it in the light of the knowledge gained at this event.

It was interesting to hear how entire industries – such as print media – are having to rethink their business models.  Who buys newspapers nowadays? I for one hardly ever bother.  Anything I want to dip into and browse is easy enough to do online, whereas a book I want to read, I would find more convenient to read in print.  So I can well understand why newspaper sales are declining while the demand for books, (which many people were predicting would drop), continue to rise.  It seems nobody has worked out an online business model that can make up for the lost offline newspaper sales.

In a world with more and more noise, traditional advertising is less and less effective.  Consumers are finding ways to filter out advertising messages.   Whether by recording programs and fast forwarding to avoid watching the commercial breaks, as my teenagers do, or filtering telephone calls using Caller Identification, or deleting the all too numerous email newsletters, the challenge for marketing and advertising is to find new ways to convey a message to consumers.

No longer is the PR’s role one of bombarding the media with pitches and press releases. Today as more and more customers are turning to the Internet when they want to find out about products and services, new methods are emerging for engaging them.  Blogs, online news releases, social media, and other forms of web content give companies the opportunity to communicate with buyers directly – at the time when the buyer wants the content, rather than interrupting them when they are doing something else (like watching a TV program) to promote the message.

Some companies have enjoyed phenomenal successes by creating entertaining videos on You Tube which become viral .  An example is an Aston martin video here. However, once advertising agencies pile in to replicate such successes then they risk alienating consumers.  The name of the game is to find ever more inventive ways to communicate with consumers in an open interactive way.  A very good option for many brands is to engage in dialogue with consumers as Dell did – turning around a situation where customers expressed dissatisfaction, into one where Dell listened and improved its products.

The legal profession should sit up and take note of this new trend and expand their focus to become effective business advisers in this new social web world that is opening up.