FIR Podcast Network co-founder Neville Hobson joins the Roundtable this week to discuss a variety of topics of interest to public relations and communications professionals. Among the subjects we explore include:
— The impact of wearable technology on communicators.
— The role of social media in international political movements, sparked by an article about recent protests in Hong Kong.
— The ways in which communicators have tried to monetize content beyond simply being a marketing tool, inspired by a post on Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich.
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Chip: Hi, this is Chip Griffin from CustomScoop with another episode of the Media Bullseye Roundtable. I am very excited to have here at the table my friend Neville Hobson, who is one of the podfathers of the FIR Podcast Network. And we had Shel on a few weeks ago so it’s great to have you here, Neville.
Neville: Well thanks, Chip. I appreciate the invitation. Very, very pleased to be here.
Chip: And I appreciate the fact that you guys have welcomed the roundtable to the FIR Podcast Network and now more recently my new show, “Chats with Chip”. It’s a great partnership that for us goes back, I guess, gosh almost ten years with you guys, right, with CustomScoop being one of the early sponsors of FIR.
Neville: Yes. You were the very first Chip, and that was, as you said, nearly ten years ago. So we’ve had that, I think, phenomenal connection in a decade almost now, which is terrific.
Chip: Absolutely. Well, without further ado, let’s jump into the topics of the day. And the first topic that we’re going to touch on is wearables, and I know this is a topic that you’re very passionate about and have focused on lately. So I thought I’d let you tee us up for this one, Neville.
Neville: Okay, that’s great. Well. Wearables. A word that I see used a lot. The specific twin word or twin-word phrase is wearable technology, or technologies even, plurals. There’s so many different ways to describe it. Typically it means mobile gadgets of some kind that you attach to yourself and most people think immediately of smartwatches, this embryonic industry segment that by all accounts, by all predictions is really going to take off next year once Apple’s watch launches. It is predicted widely to kick off a market that isn’t brand new by any means, but it doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction at all.
So, will Apple’s product do that? Will it raise awareness? Will it stimulate great desire in something that I see a lot, actually? Then again I am looking for people wearing these things on their wrist. There are loads of them around. If you go to Amazon in the US and in the UK, both sites launched recently wearable tech storefronts, and if you’ve got a lot of spare cash and a huge desire you will blow all your cash on acquiring some pretty cool gadgets without any question, and many of them are smartwatches. Not restricted to smartwatches, by the way. The definition of wearable is pretty broad. Some people see smartphones as wearable tech to them, because it is also with them on their person somewhere or in a bag they are always carrying. I’ve even heard some people – and I lean towards this myself – referring to a car as wearable tech, because they’re always in the car and the car’s full of tech that tells them things, that interacts with them and vice versa. So, that’s coming on the horizon.
What interests me, Chip, a lot about this, other than the tech, and I am attuned to this without any question, is seeing potentially use cases, or usability cases, how people are using these things as they become more accessible, as they become more available, as they are perceived by folks to let them do things in ways that they like. Make it easier perhaps, give them access to content in some form that is simpler to get at it than having to fish out a device or something. Or they may not have it with them, but they’ve always got their watch. So this is the focus on smartwatches in particular.
So in the workplace, it’s a topic Shel and I discussed in this week’s FIR, funnily enough. Alarm bells in my mind are appearing that I don’t see any others ringing those bells. What’s going to happen is that in the workplace typically you’re going to find people coming to work wearing these gadgets. You can pick up some very capable devices on Amazon, as just an indicator, in the US for 50 bucks, in the UK for 30 pounds or less. They’re very, very affordable. May not be as cool as Apple. Apple’s watch is certainly not the luxury element – but the functionality and the utility, and there is a cool factor without any doubt – are very compelling to a lot of people. By all accounts Amazon are shifting these things out the door as fast as they come in.
So we have an industry segment that’s growing slowly, it seems to me. We have people who are using these things a lot that are coming into the workplace with them, yet no one seems to realize just exactly what the real implications are of devices like this. I hear some people saying, “Well this is no big deal, why should we be worried? Yes, it’s like smartphones. They transmit data. We know all that stuff. So what are we concerned about?”
I think it’s a very, very different thing with using smartwatches, for instance, which is an unknown technology in the workplace in what it is doing and capturing. You’ve got Google Glass type eyewear with video recording and audio capability to record as well, for instance, where someone walking through anywhere can be, unbeknownst to you, recording this. So looking at it from that negative element rings the alarm bell. There are plenty of utility examples.
To me it seems there is a huge amount of complacency, and I see an opportunity, indeed, if you will, a responsibility by communicators, particularly for the company you work for, for instance. For someone, if it’s going to be someone, it should be the communicator I think to be on top of this, to have a greater understanding of the implications of wearable tech, and be preparing methods and ways to communicate this within the organization to help educate people on the pros and cons of these, and that of course leads to organization policies. But it seems to me, Chip, too much complacency, too much fud, F-U-D out there, and too little action to address it.
Chip: Yes I hear what you’re saying, and I do think that wearables raise a number of issues, certainly in the privacy realm and things like that. I also sort of look back a number of years ago, when we first started having cell phone cameras, and I remember I won’t call it a panic but there was a lot of concern over them. Initially there were places like gyms, for example, that prohibited smartphones because they had cameras built into them and they were afraid that people might be surreptitiously recording video in the locker room. And certainly that has happened, but it wasn’t the epidemic that people thought that it might be.
So I wonder whether some of these things are issues that will just end up sorting themselves out sooner rather than later, by normal social conventions, if you will, and whether it really is something that is a great concern. I mean certainly I think that there’s a lot of potential, there’s a lot of risk. We need to be thinking about it, but I guess my concerns I think are probably less than yours on this particular topic.
Neville: I get that, and indeed most people I get reactions from, when I raise this, probably about 90%, 9 in 10 people I’ve talked to look at me and say, “This is not a problem. We don’t see what the issue is.” And many in fact say, “This is a subset of the bigger picture regarding the “internet of things”, so what’s so special about wearable?” And I get alluded to, “Well we have smartphones, and no one complains about that.” I think there is too much unknown about this. There is a, if you will, a growing concern it seems to me, I see this mentioned by people I pay attention to in the tech area, on the gathering of data by organizations who are going to slice and dice it and do things with it unbeknownst to you. It’s not illegal to do that. I think we should be concerned about that.
So partly to me, it’s more about education and awareness raising, to be sure that we understand the broader implications of this so we can be prepared for it. This is not about control. It may sound like it, but I don’t believe it is at all. There are significant advantages to some of these tools and technologies in the workplace in the particular, but elsewhere too, yet no one seems to understand all of that. This is just the tip of the iceberg too. We’re talking smartphones and stuff like that. Not even talking about things like sensors embedded in clothing, sensors embedded in buildings, walls, doors and stuff like that in buildings themselves.
So a lot of this stuff is not known, yet the tech is rolling out at a rapid pace. We need to understand it, and it seems to me there is a lack of understanding broadly everywhere.
Chip: And I think you’ve touched on something really important, and this is an area I do have concerns in, and this is the data storage issue. It goes beyond wearables, right, I mean all these companies where anything is stored in the cloud, you know this data tends to be out there, and the laws haven’t fully caught up – certainly here in the United States as well as elsewhere with – “What do you do with some of the data retention? Who can access it? Which police or courts can tap into this data?” And I think that is an issue.
A few months ago I used the function on one of my Android phones to just see where I had been. And it was something I didn’t realize that was so easily accessible on the phone. But those are the kinds of things that find their way into court cases. We’ve had for years over here in the United States something called the “E-ZPass” system, which allows you to go through tolls without having to throw coins in the basket. That would track when you passed through, but now you have phones and watches and other devices in your car that’s recording your actual route.
Obviously the UK is well known for having cameras all over the place in public. So we have a lot more of those things out there. And I think that’s an area that as a society we need to try to figure out what our comfort level is with that. There is a tension, right? Because I think younger people are growing up just being accustomed to this to some degree. At the same time, particularly here in the United States, the country itself is becoming what I would describe as more libertarian in that we don’t really want the government to know everything about us at all times, and that cuts across party lines here. So it is a fascinating debate, and I think it’s that data piece that I think is the one I would focus on.
Neville: I agree with you, Chip, and that latter point you made. Over here we have people, a lot of people talking about concern about government surveillance and things like this. Yet the truth of the matter is most people don’t care. And one reason I suspect is that to most people, nothing bad has ever happened. And the popular argument, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, why should you be worried?” That’s not the point in my view. It’s do they have the right to do this. I guess the main point from my perspective on this, just briefly, is that this is about helping people understand truly the implications of all of this.
So ranging from someone coming into the workplace with Google Glass and it’s on record and some of the software somewhere up in the cloud somewhere is facial recognition software. So as the person’s walking through the office capturing images of fellow workmates, their faces etc., is being used somewhere up in the cloud unbeknownst to anyone. And indeed it could well be that the individual wearing the glass hadn’t thought about implications, and it’s not done for nasty reasons. This is all just, let’s do it, kind of thing. Stuff like that is really what I’m talking about, rather than looking for deeper secrets in all of this. It’s helping people understand good practice and we need to do that at the outset. And that’s lacking, it seems to me.
Chip: Absolutely. And I think this is a topic that we’ll continue to talk about more here, I’m sure on FIR, and hopefully more communicators will as well. But as regular listeners know, I’m obsessive about trying to keep this show to 30 minutes. So we’re going to move on to the next topic now, even though I suspect we could fill the full 30 minutes with just this one.
So the second topic today is taking a look at how social media impacts political protests. This particularly keys off of an article in The New Yorker from last week that talked about social media and the Hong Kong protests. The article starts out by contrasting the current protests with those that took place more than a decade ago. The author here writes, “In 2003 the Hong Kong protesters were relatively isolated. Today they enjoy a global network of online support. In the social media age, protests are no longer local.” And so I guess the question is how has social media impacted some of these international political movements that we’ve seen, and is it really that much different than decades ago when some of these would form without having obviously the advantage of social media?
Neville: It’s a very interesting one, and observing what was going on in Hong Kong this past week, which from what I see on the news this morning, Chip, it seems to have now fizzled out, where there’s very few people still there, and the territory’s getting back to normal. Which to me is the kind of question that struck me reading The New Yorker piece in particular, but other commentary I’ve seen. Yes it has had wider awareness on social media. Yes, I’ve seen tweets and other content being retweeted, shared, you name it. But what true difference has it made to anything? I say zero. I don’t think it’s made a jot of difference. I think what happened there in Hong Kong would have happened no matter what, and the concluding element we’ve got to – and I’m not saying it’s the conclusion but a concluding element we’ve got to – it would have happened as well, with or without social media.
What it seems to me social media’s contributed to it is simply wider awareness, but it’s not led to meaningful action anywhere else in support of it that has made a difference, meaning for instance, things like governments getting involved because of popular parallel protests, or calls for action to pressure the Chinese government to do something. Maybe that’s one avenue you might expect to see from all of this. So I just wonder what has been the benefit from all of this at the end of the day.
Chip: Yes and I would agree with you. I’m skeptical even honestly that it’s necessarily given it more attention. If you think back to, Tiananmen Square, or [?] in Gdansk or the Berlin Wall. All of things were protests in overseas but here in the United States we got tremendous coverage of all of those, and that was well before social media. It was, in some cases, before we even had CNN. It was going to be helping us to cover things 24/7. So I think a lot of these would take place and would get attention anyway.Part of me actually wonders whether- over here we have a term called “slacktivism” and I don’t know if you’re familiar with that particular term.
Neville: Yes, I am.
Chip: Yes. So I sort of wonder whether having social media actually might contribute to the fizzling of some of these things, because folks who in the past might have taken the risk to go out in the public square now feel like they’re doing their part simply by tweeting it or sharing photos or those kinds of things.
Neville: That’s interesting, because my view on that Chip – and again this is then taking this out into a much broader topic potentially of general behaviors of people – is that the sharing is actually quite remote. It’s quite impersonal it seems to me, whereas the notion if you will, the point of social media in many ways, is to bring the personal to engagement. And this to me is very impersonal, where you just retweet for the reason you suggested, for instance, would be very impersonal. You retweet something without a commentary, which is what people tend to do. They just click and stuff like that, or they like it on Facebook or whatever. What does it actually mean? I don’t see much engagement in any of those things. And that’s not a criticism, its simply recognizing the nature of this. This is a broadcast medium in this context. It’s hard to identify with this.
To me it’s very similar to images and content you see about awful things happening in Africa or Asia. Famines or floods and thousands of people dying and things like that. You see all these images. It’s a bit like TV and stuff like that. It is so impersonal because it’s so big. You can’t relate to it as an individual. If you see one or two people and the impact it’s having on them, that I think would make a huge difference.
So I’ve seen lots of lovely photos. As one comes to mind I saw the other day from Hong Kong with everyone with umbrellas, and all the torches they’re holding up and there’s lightening in the sky. And you think, “Wow, this is going to win a prize for the photographer probably.” And I’ve seen it across a lot of photo blogs, and it’s all over Instagram and on Flickr. And you think, “So what’s that doing to it?” The actual subject has been forgotten and you’re looking at the visual. And to me that’s a lot of what I see, so I don’t believe it does make a lot of difference.
Chip: Do you think that social media has had any impact on the credibility of reports that come out of these protests? You know I think one of the common threads here is that most of these take place in relatively closed societies, both today as well as decades ago. So there’s always a challenge in getting accurate reports, right, because the governments tend to control things. So I guess the question is, “Do you think that social media has contributed to more accurate reporting? Or do you think it has facilitated the spread of more misinformation? Or do you think it’s a wash.”
Neville: I think it has made it more difficult to get at what is credible, because there’s now simply a lot more content than there would have been otherwise. So it makes it more difficult to get at that. On the other hand, it can make it easier if you apply a little bit of filtering to it, and in the end guess what most people do? I’m pretty certain I certainly do, is you look to places you already trust if you want to get what you believe are facts about what’s going on, and that tends to be mainstream media. That tends to be credible mainstream media. .
So you have your preferred mainstream media sources in the US and I have mine here in the UK and elsewhere. That’s what I tend to. I look at social and I see the massive content and I might think, “Yes that’s interesting,” and I may share something, but I want to get a sense of, well all these people are sort of saying this thing, so what exactly is happening? I’ll probably go to the BBC or someone like that. I follow that on social channels more than paying attention to unknowns who are sharing content, unless the mainstream media reporters are also sharing that content, in which case I do give it attention.
Now that’s an interesting new element to broadcasting – whether it’s social or mainstream media – are the advent of newer methods. The BBC does this, where they integrate social with their reporters reporting into an aggregate. You can get this content on Twitter streams, for instance, where it’s a mixture. You’ve got the credibility of the BBC umbrella over social media content shared by individuals who you don’t know, but if the BBC is including it, by implication then, it’s probably quite authentic. That’s an interesting development, it seems to me.
Chip: So if you and I are correct, then, that the impact of social media in these movements is overblown, why do governments spend so much time trying to censor it? Why are they investing the time and money to do this?
Neville: because it is the opening up of greater awareness of something, even if we might think there’s not much difference that awareness makes. We’re seeing things within a country that is traditionally very closed – thinking of China in particular. Hong Kong is unique, apart from anything else. It used to be a British colony, then a territory, until 1997. So just under 20 years ago it became – well this I wouldn’t call it independent, but kind of a self-governing territory within China – that wasn’t communist. I mean that’s putting it in very simplistic terms. It had its own separate government and very much a capitalist society just like it was before. So it is unique.
I think what the Chinese government probably are more worried about is people elsewhere in China seeing this being reported outside of China and fueling embryonic protest movements in other Chinese cities that are well within the control of the government there and how they run the whole of China, other than Hong Kong. I’ve seen some reporting about that. I think, yes, that makes sense to me. So governments – repressive regimes like the Chinese government – and thinking to others that we see in the so called Arab Spring, for instance, in recent years, I think their concern has been that: citizens seeing this kind of stuff not only reported in their own country but what others are saying about it around the world. Hence we’ve seen people trying to turn off the internet in their country. I think that’s part of it, Chip.
Chip: Yes, turning off the internet. That’s destined for success. Good luck, guys.
Neville: Yes, isn’t it just.
Chip: All right. Well let’s move on to the third and final topic today. This is based on a post by Gini Dietrich on “Spin Sucks”. I really do need to get her as a guest co-host on this show so I can stop this talking about her posts behind her back. I need to actually talk about them with her, because I think she’s been featured on three or four straight shows now.
In any case, this one piqued my interest. It was a post that she had earlier this week and it’s a straight up self-promotional post, right. It says, “Hey, you should think about working with us.” whether it’s working with her firm, Arment Dietrich or the part that I want to talk about is where she talks about Spin Sucks and she has a relatively explicit call for sponsors. And in it she writes that Lindsay Bell said to me the other day, “I’m proud of you for considering other revenue streams such as sponsorships” and she said, “The truth of the matter is I’m tired of watching Jay Baer kill it and I want in. So here’s the deal. You can sponsor Spin Sucks.”
I found this interesting, not so much for this particular case, but just thinking about how PR pros, communicators have taken blogs, podcasts and turned them into at least part-time businesses. And I thought frankly having you here on the show, Neville, that would be a ripe topic since you were probably one of the first out there to have at least a small business model around creating content with the FIR podcasts and now you’ve got the FIR Podcast Network itself, which I don’t think it would be any secret to say there is some ambition to turn it into a bit more of a business. It’s not simply that you want to go through the effort of managing so many RSS feeds.
Neville: No, you’re absolutely right about that, Chip. News on that soon, I would add. But I agree with you. This post by Gini is most interesting on that. It reminds me- to me this is almost like a micro-business where you could sponsor a bit of something. And for the owner of that bit, you add in the other fifty bits, and if you got individual sponsors for different bits then you might have a business model. It seems to me that we’re seeing this sort of thing emerging in different guises here and there across the social web.
It manifests itself in different ways, and indeed Gini lists some examples, as she calls them, a few opportunities on how you can do this kind of thing.
It reminds me a bit, and I don’t recall the name of it unfortunately, and I think Shel and I talked about it on FIR some months ago, but there’s a company or a business in the US, I think in California, that offers to sponsor content that you do that helps you promote content on your blog notably, that you would otherwise have difficulty doing it on your own without their input. I can’t remember the name of it offhand, unfortunately. I don’t know anyone doing it, mind you.
I look at what Gini’s suggesting and it makes total sense to me. I don’t anyone else doing this. So maybe now’s the time to do it. I think the risk is if everyone does this then you’ve got almost a killed marketplace unless – well not unless – in fact you then have the cream will rise to the top and all the rest of things will fall by the wayside, which is how things tend to work, isn’t it? So if Gini’s got some terrific content that others are interested in associating themselves with and make a payment of some kind, either money or in some other method. That lets Gini monetize her content, to coin a phrase as it were, then there’s a business model emerging here. But I’m not sure whether it’s like, “Here’s the manual, how you could do it.” because you don’t need that. You know what you have to do. It then comes down to is what you’re offering worth it? That to me will be the big differentiator, I think.
Chip: Yes and I think to me one important take-aways here is it takes a lot of time and money to create good content. I think a lot of people overlook this, particularly with all the talk about content marketing these days and, “Oh yes, let’s just go create a blog, let’s just go create a podcast.” These are not trivial things to do, and so you really do have to find some way to monetize it unless you’re independently wealthy and you know, just hanging out, and that’s what you like to do. But almost none of us are that.
So we’re out there trying to figure out – whether it’s to promote our own business or to generate some additional revenue streams. As people always like to say, content wants to be free. And as Brian Person well knows, I love to say that’s just garbage. Content doesn’t want to be free. Even if it’s just your time, you’re paying with something anytime that you consume something. And so I think that trying to find these different ways to monetize it I think it’s valuable because it will lead to more good content. Obviously competition does mean that it’s not easy and you have to keep trying at it, but I think that particularly in the PR space, there’s less fresh content in PR now than there was five years ago.
I think there’s a lot blogs out there that do sort of, me too, everyone sort of chimes in on the same topic, but I think there are fewer places where you can go for that original thinking, which is what Gini gives on Spin Sucks for the most part. And I think particularly, and she cites this in her post, but just last week we found out that “Bulldog Reporter” is going away, and they were one of the large online trade publications for our industry. And so now we’re down to really just a small handful of the professional content producers. And so that leaves, I think, more room for those of us who are creating semi-professional content.
Neville: I agree. I think it also highlights ever more the need, whether you’re an individual blogger, but if you’re like me as a good example, I’ll use myself as an example as an individual person who has a blog. And one thing I do, and probably not enough, thinking about what Gini’s proposing, is pay pretty close attention to the analytics, traffic to the site, how many subscribers to the RSS feed, the syndication deals that I already have, what happens to content there.
So I can come up with a profile – A of the property as it were, the online property – but more significantly where it goes, whose eyeballs it gets, who are they, where are they, how many of them are there and how frequently are they. Then I’m getting like a media property with a rate card almost. But if this is to get traction, and there’s going to be lots of people trying this, you absolutely will have to do that. Because if you want to interest someone in investing their dollars or their pounds or their euros with you, they’re going to ask questions. I certainly would. What’s your readership like? What’s the profile? Where are they? How many of them are they? What sort of content do they read? Which topics do they like? And you’re going to have to have that. In which case you are then becoming like a media property, which in fact, that’s what you are, is it not?
Chip: It is, and that takes time. Over the years a couple of times I’ve tried to create outside of the PR space some publications in both the online and print world. It takes a lot of effort to do them and to work with sponsors and advertisers and those sorts of things. So it’s certainly not a trivial thing to undertake but I’m glad that Gini is doing it and hopefully we can learn from that. I’m glad that you guys are doing it with the podcast network so we can sort of see how that works as a model. I find this stuff fascinating because I wear both the communicator hat as well as the entrepreneur hat. Experimentation is really at the top of my list of things I like to do.
Neville: Yes. Me too, Chip, me too.
Chip: All right. Well that will take us to the end of this episode. And I think once we put in Shel’s intro and outro we’ll probably be just a hair over 30 minutes. But that’s okay. I think it was worthwhile. And as long as it’s close to 30 minutes hopefully my five listeners- actually I think now that I have you on – we’ve probably doubled our listener ship this week Neville, because we’ve reached across the pond. We’re at ten now, so that’s really outstanding.
Neville: It is excellent. It’s been a pleasure, Chip. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our concise chat today. So thank you for inviting me on to the roundtable.
Chip: It’s been great having you here and look forward to having you back some time down the road.
Chip: And to all the listeners who stayed this far, thank you, and we’ll have another episode next week. Next week will actually be hosted by Jen Phillips, who used to be the regular host of this show. I will be travelling to the PRSA conference in DC next week. So she’ll be having hosting duties and her guest co-host will be Doug Haslam. So enjoy that, and I’ll be back in two weeks’ time.