New media is digital media, social media, interactive media, read/write media or any other buzzword that you prefer. The critical question is why should you care? The primary reason is that new media is one of the most cost effective ways to have a dialog with your "audience." If you are a business organization, audience means customers. If your are running for public office, audience means voters. If you are a non-profit, audience is likely to mean members or volunteers. You get the idea.
We tend to think of new media as tools that help us communicate, primarily using the global communications infrastructure of the Internet. Under this definition blogging (read publishing) is new media. YouTube is new media. LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are all new media. All of these "tools" are communications services. They help us to connect to people with whom we may have shared interests. Are these people our audience? Maybe. Often they are, if only at a particular point in time or with respect to a particular message.
As stated above, the reasons for leveraging new media are fairly obvious, but there are more subtle reasons that may be equally important. Below we explore a small subset of these reasons and provide some insight on how to get started.
Why use new media?
There is some anecdotal evidence starting to surface regarding the value of an individual's (and by extension an organization's?) social graph. Which raises the question, what is a "social graph?" It is the unfortunate term that some in the tech industry use to refer to "social connections" and more specifically to those connections that can be mapped online. In other words, it is similar to but distinct from the social connections we have in "real space" because of the ease with which we can access the "graph." The latter is not a trivial difference. So what is the evidence? Simply put, those with more connections have the opportunity to make more money.
The discussion above focused on the use of new media for direct "exploitation" vis-a-vis some organizational objective. Sure, we can put a nice face on it by using terms such as "dialog" but that does not hide the fact that it is primarily a form of sophisticated marketing. Yes, we understand that to do this type of marketing successfully it must be done within the context of an emerging Internet ethos, which is nuanced. We encourage our customers to leverage new media in this fashion to its fullest extent and expose them to ways in which they might do so. Here, however, we are simply exploring additional reasons to consider new media as a strategic weapon.
The world of ideas is a big place. It doesn't matter how big and powerful your organization is (or hopes to be) much of what you need to achieve your organizational objectives will come from outside your own walls. In short, most of the interesting relevant "stuff" that you need will be, by definition, "not invented here" (NIH). To access important/relevant NIH ideas you must engage. New media is one of the most effective ways of engaging. Take for example the power of an RSS reader (e.g. Google Reader). It is now possible to quickly aggregate (for convenient review) the thinking of leading authorities on any particular topic in a matter of days, if not hours. Want to directly connect with this authority? Leave them a comment on their blog or send them some commentary via email. Will they all respond? No, but the number that do may surprise you.
This is new media as knowledge management (KM). There are many other examples of new media in the KM space (e.g. wiki's). Ultimately new media as KM may prove to be orders of magnitude more important than new media as marketing. Why? Because the former impacts almost every organizational activity while the latter just a subset, albeit an important one.
How do we get started?
It order to get the web you have to live the web. What? You don't get the web simply because you use it on a daily basis for search and email, at least not in the sense that you need to. To get the web as a communications and knowledge management medium you must interact with it. You do that by leveraging many of the previously discussed tools. It is like learning to swim. First you get acquainted with the concept of water and then you wade in at the low end of the pool. But you don't really learn to swim until you overcome your fear and take the plunge into the deep end. It is only at this time that you understand that swimming is much more than a concept, it is an important skill that prevents you from drowning. For similar reasons "risk" cannot be understood from a textbook or from "playing" with other people's money. Until you have skin in the game you don't understand risk.
The degree of fear related to learning a new medium should not be underestimated. We all generally fear what we don't understand. We fear our inability to learn. We fear appearing stupid. It is like learning a foreign language and learning to swim at the same time. Access to capital may help but is not determinative. So how do we proceed? The best advice that we can give is to hire the kids and provide them some parental guidance. Why hire the kids? Because they were born digital. It is the only world they know. They don't fear these waters because they have been swimming in them for quite some time now. That is the strategy the Obama campaign used. It is a bottom up strategy. Sure the kids need guidance, but guidance is not the same thing as command and control. The Obama campaign did not just use the web, they grokked the web.
When we work with clients we "strategize' with doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs. But we work mostly with the "kids" to implement. Clearly we are using the word "kids" to highlight a generational divide, but the fundamental concept is broader. A "kid" is a staff member that has a healthy amount of intellectual curiosity and is willing to experiment and capable of quick assimilation. For the most part, and for obvious reasons, there is a strong correlation between these attributes and relative youth, but not always.