Archives for the month of: January, 2009

According to MinOnline, a little noticed phenomenon began to coalesce last year. While everyone was watching social networking and video sites soaring in popularity — Internet Audio was quietly taking off too.

It may be one of the Big Things of 2009 — indeed, it may already be. Says Arbitron: 33 million Americans listen to Internet radio each week. Among at-work listeners, Internet use went from 12% to 20%. And among college graduates, 30% of all radio listening is over the pipes.
It makes sense. Sites like Pandora and Last.fm allow listeners to tailor their experience and — more important — share favorites and playlists with ease. As people in general demand more and more customization from their organizational and institutional relationships, it boggles my mind that anyone still puts up with broadcast at all.
From the article:

Why is the rise and success of Internet radio important to publishers? On several grounds. First, this is what your prize in-office users are doing with much of their day. Finding ways to weave into one of the things they most enjoy about broadband should be a no-brainer for any veteran Web content provider. If you think they like social networks and video, then wait until you see how much users love their Pandora. The average session time is three hours. Also, Web radio is an enormously robust channel for audio programming, including podcasts. Services like Last.fm, for instance, let users find and save popular podcasts into their libraries for later playback as a channel.

More to the point, however, streaming audio represents a massively popular mode of online behavior that invites a range of publisher partnerships: branded audio channels or “editor’s choice” channels, for instance. Why shouldn’t an online site offer an audio feed of its editor’s Web radio channel or channels created by that issue’s featured celebrities? What would an Utne radio channel sound like, or a BHG or High Times channel, for that matter? Lifestyle, art, regional and certainly music publications all aggregate taste groups that likely share musical or even talk radio preferences. Web radio listeners already swap their music channels in much the same way the rest of us trade and share article links in social media. Audio is the next content type users will want to coalesce around and share. This is a Web trend in the making that Web publishers should not take lightly.

As I tweeted a few days ago, the rise of Internet radio seems to me to spell game over for satellite. SiriusXM recently got a reprieve from having their stock delisted from NASDAQ, but how do they stay afloat over the long term?

Through a circuitous route, I got to thinking about experts.

Seems a Ketchum PR man who’s billed as a social media expert was on his way to present on social media (natch) to a key client, FedEx, at their headquarters in Memphis. Upon landing, he tweeted: “True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here.'” This got FedEx folks mad, which got lots of people interested and a fracas enused.

Folks in the communications world are still talking about the boneheaded tweet, pointing out that even in the world of social media, basic rules need to be followed.

(A long time ago, I learned that when making a call on a client, you wait until you are well out of the building and on the way back, in the car, to discuss any aspect of the meeting with your colleagues. Not in the elevator, not in the hallway, not in the bathroom. This is the 21st century example of that dictum.)

Other commnications pros are jeering, pointing out that this social media gaffe was by a social media “expert.” One person pointed out that, at the time of The Bad Tweet, he had just about 1,000 followers (which is a lot but not rockstar status). How is this guy an “expert?” they are saying.

That’s a fair questions but I would flip it on its side: Are there experts in social media? 

Dave Fleet says he used to think it silly to talk about experts in social media — but now he sees the usefulness of it. The area has grown up enough for there to be experts. Another person says, however, that calling someone an expert in social media is “like saying you’re an email expert.”

But, there are experts in email, making lots of money. Some of them do good work, others are all sound and fury. It’s probably the same in social media. The fundamental question is not how big your follower litst is, or whether people see you as an “influencer” or “collaborator” (though those can be markers). The question, as one commenter at David Fleet’s article says, is: “Can you help me make some money?” 

We’re seeing “old” and “new” rub up against one another, “big” and “little”, “social” and “push.” Some rules are changing, and even older rules are becoming yet more important. But one — results matter — remains.

Andrea Jarrell pointed out to me that, according to Inside Higher Ed, Brandeis University is selling all of the art it owns

Says the article:
“These are extraordinary times,” said a statement from Jehuda Reinharz, the university’s president. “We cannot control or fix the nation’s economic problems. We can only do what we have been entrusted to do — act responsibly with the best interests of our students and their futures foremost in mind.” The university’s statement pledged continued support for teaching the arts, and for the liberal arts, and said that the decision was part of “an emerging new vision for the university aimed at streamlining it for the future while bolstering its focus on undergraduates, the liberal arts and research.”

Last week, the Brandeis faculty agreed to create a special committee to review the curriculum. Among plans being discussed are adding business or engineering programs and finding a way to simultaneously expand undergraduate enrollment while shrinking the faculty. University administrators have also floated the idea of replacing all existing majors and minors with new “meta-majors,” a term whose definition is hard to pin down even among those who have discussed it. Many faculty members have said that they will never go for the abandonment of traditional disciplines, and many have derided that idea as simply cover for eliminating positions and departments.

Two points, related.

First, it is interesting to note that no institution really is safe — even ones that exist within other institutions. In today’s climate, all organizations are subject to breakup and no organization is guaranteed permanence. Higher education is an area (like primary education) that has been stretched by the transformational forces in society but so far has sidestepped the revolution going on all around us. For the most part, colleges and universities still look like colleges and universities. But for how long? How much of that stability is just momentum? (So, for example, looking just at the art museum issue: Why should a college be home to the best art museum in New England? Why shouldn’t such a museum be standalone?)
 
Second, the challenge Brandeis is facing is quite literally to do more with less. That is going to take equally revolutionary thinking. You can’t just wring more out of people, you’ve got to restructure the way the  work gets done. I happen to think this “meta major” business sounds like a bunch of bogus claptrap. However, it’s worth asking: What is a “major?” Why do we have them? How are they best taught?

It’s may also be worth asking: Why is there tenure? Should there be required minimum teaching skills in order to actually get up in front of students? Why does all this have to take place in a location?

I got to thinking recently about a time I spent a half day observing a visioning exercise. I was excited, at first, to have the opportunity to learn a thing or two. The people leading the session have worked with lots of civic groups and local governments over the years.

I saw, though, that at the end of the session few participants were any closer to a real vision than when they began. Why? Because, while the facilitators did all the steps by the book, they were not attentive to what was happening in the room. People had tuned out, so everything was a”going through the motions” exercise.

The consultants had fallen into a trap I can really sympathize with (since I do presentations myself, and it’s happened to me): they’d lost the room and couldn’t quite get it back. So they fell back on their slide deck and just got through it.

This got me wondering about how often  such sessions unfold this way. How well are civic engagement consultants really doing their job? Because, while process is important — how things get executed is equally (if not more) important.

For many people in the civic sector, this is not necessarily welcome news, because execution of small group discussions can be a definite bottleneck. Some might even object that with the right process or approach, the skill of the person in the room should not matter. But, in my experience, the skills of the person in front of the room do matter.

(Just as important is a good match between the task and skills — is it a conversation, a speech, a workshop, a focus group? Not everyone has the right skills for each.)

The good news is that such skills can be taught and improved. But It can be painful. I say this from experience. It takes the oppenness to hear negative feedback without dismissing its source, the courage to fail publicly, and the perseverence to try again.

I found this to be a useful research report from the Pew Center For The People And The Press:

“As Barack Obama takes office, the public’s focus is overwhelmingly on domestic policy concerns – particularly the economy. Strengthening the nation’s economy and improving the job situation stand at the top of the public’s list of domestic priorities for 2009. Meanwhile, the priority placed on issues such as the environment, crime, illegal immigration and even reducing health care costs has fallen off from a year ago. . . .

“Of the 20 issues people were asked to rate in both January 2008 and January 2009, five have slipped significantly in importance as attention to the economy has surged. Protecting the environment fell the most precipitously – just 41% rate this as a top priority today, down from 56% a year ago. The percentage rating illegal immigration as a top priority has fallen from 51% to 41% over the past year, and reducing crime has fallen by a similar amount (from 54% to 46%). And while reducing health care costs remains a top priority to 59% of Americans, this is down 10-points from 69% one year ago.”

Also of interest: Dealing with global warming, last on the list, at just 30%. What a difference a year makes.