Digital media is evolving. After years of rapid growth, we have entered an age of digital curation. Curation means selectivity in the way we use technology—it means drilling down, finding what tools work for which jobs and honing those tools. This new era presents new opportunities for social change and economic growth.
That was the consensus amongst panelists at the Hamptons Institute, a televised conversation between new media leaders presented in July at Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY. The forum included mavericks who have fueled the fire of social for some America’s biggest brands. They delved into how consumers and brands are connecting through new platforms and shared some worthy perceptions and conclusions about the long arc of digital technology.
In discussion were Christine Cook, SVP Advertising Sales of The Daily, David Steward, President and COO of 20×200/Jen Bekman Projects, Michael Kelley, Chief Marketing Officer of AdGenesis, Anthony Risicotto, General Manager, Tremor Media and moderator Michael Gutkowski of Hearst Corporation.
Each of these panelists has invested more than a decade as executives in key technology roles for multiple corporations—each are contributing innovations and tools that are advancing the digital conversation.
Michael Gutkowski, President & General Manager of LMK Mobile at The Hearst Corporation, started the conversation off by noting that there are currently 750 million people on Facebook, equivalent to the third largest country in the world. While the positive impacts sail on, Gutkowski voices concern that there is a lack of understanding of Facebook’s privacy policies in general, and specifically how often the policies change. For instance, Facebook has permissions to use your photos for ads in other places. (As a Facebook user, when the policies change, users by default, agree.) The conversation repeatedly returned to the need for education concerning technology impacts, especially concerning privacy and right-matching messages to intended audiences really matters—think that ill-advised status update from a night at the bars that may cost you your next promotion.
Michael Kelley, CMO of Adgenesis, previously a partner of Pricewaterhouse-Coopers’s digital media practice, had his eye on what the tweens and teens in his family are up to, with similar concerns to Gutkowski. He is interested in teaching appropriate behavior and protecting privacy with new policies, including family networking protections, not unlike the tiered freedoms given to new drivers. Kelley’s point was that young people are engaging in social media without awareness or education on consequences–both in circles of friends and the workplace.
On the business side his company, AdGenesis is designing new ways to acquire information about users, looking not at what users have purchased already (think Amazon), but what they would like to purchase in the future. Currently 99.5% of banner ads do not receive click-throughs. According to Kelley, AdGenesis is getting about an 11% click-through rate in their customized programs. Kelley suggests that for people who care about content, this is really important as it points the way to successful financial business models for emerging technologies and the opportunity to stimulate the economy with new revenue streams.
David Steward’s leadership in managing multiple digital offerings includes past tenure as CEO of F+W Media, a $200M private-equity backed niche consumer media company. Steward was also instrumental in building/ redeveloping three of America’s top media brands: People Magazine, Martha Stewart Living and TV Guide. As President/COO of 20×200 he has a broadly stated goal of bringing art down to affordable prices, with integrated services, brands and marketing. Steward’s efforts include leveraging authentic word of mouth marketing and viral distribution.
Like other panelists, Steward sees Google+ as much more reflective of the way we live than Facebook because what we discuss to our friends, family and workplace are differentiated, just like in real life. On Facebook we’re forced to talk to everyone in the same way. What remains to be seen is whether Google+ can reach the critical mass Facebook has at the moment.
Christine Cook held a front row seat at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, as SVP Digital Sales—arguably one of the fastest growing mash-ups of media, consumer marketing, and products fueled by technology. Today she is SVP for Rupert Murdoch’s ‘The Daily,’ a news publication created expressly for the iPad, launched in February 2011.
Cook sees Google + as leading forward by communicating with select audiences. In her view, Google has a long history of being successful with sophisticated technology underpinnings. As for digital media in general Cook feels there is a mixture of beautiful, automated communication, but enough care is not being taken to address the stumbling blocks. With the core technologies are evolving so quickly, it is an exciting time, but is also a time when users are particularly vulnerable.
Beyond this, Cook argued that an increasingly digital world means we’re less dependent on shrinking environmental resources—information stored in the Cloud, does not require trees for paper or trucks to deliver physical goods.
Anthony Risicotto brings his background with multiple media and video brands to Tremor Media, one of the largest independent online video advertising companies in the world. To his eye, there is distinct flattening of the manner in which we communicate, with different messages online are treated as equally important, regardless of their origin
Risicotto appeared to be fascinated by radical changes in the way we collect information. We are not clustered around the television watching news, he noted, but are contiuously harvesting information in all sorts of individual ways, from our smartphones, to billboards, to the side of a coffee cup. He predicted that the next 10 years will be a tremendous sea change as information sharing and acquisition changes the social mores of human communication.
When quizzed about their own social favorites and practices, it is worth noting that the majority of panelists said they do not use Facebook for business—only treating it is a place for family and friends, not colleagues.
Applications that allow news browsing in a manner closer to print were high on their list as emerging curation tools, including Flipboard and Pulse.
During the Q&A, a member of the audience observed that with all the many benefits of digital media, there are significant trade-offs, including limiting the relationship to self, relationship to others and relationship to nature.
When engaged with technology one is no longer alone with one’s thoughts and feelings. Virtual exchanges can displace actual, direct relationships in time and space (think of being in a restaurant where friends are all on their smartphones—not with each other fully). The term ‘nature deficit disorder’ is starting to be used to describe what we miss in the natural world while constantly engaged with technology.
There are many conversations occurring constantly about digital media, almost all somewhat glibly discuss the remarkable progress, successes and excitement of finding new ways to relate to each other and the world. Few seem as clear-eyed and willing to frankly address the mixed gains and losses as this collective think tank hosted at the Hamptons. Curation—matching tools to desired functions—may just be a product hearing oneself think as the social buzz succumbs to a dull roar.
Pamela Biery is a freelance writer and communications professional living in Seattle. Her work has appeared in regional and national publications. She maintains a website at www.PamelaB.com.