And the next big thing in ‘new media’ is…real-time conversations (2009)

A recent post on ReadWriteWeb says that Paul Buchheit, the man that built Google’s Gmail and Adsense, believes that real-time, multi-person conversations is the ‘next big thing’.

I made a quick joke about this on Twitter about everything coming full circle. We have all these web tools like blogs, twitter, video conferencing, etc, and the ‘next big thing’ in technology is talking to someone in real-time.

I’m a bit skeptical about this claim, as I cannot see joining some kind of chat-room where people are speaking on any number of topics; no way for anyone to take charge, no way to know who is speaking, trying to jump in on the conversation.

If you’ve ever conducted a phone conference with a number of different offices, you know you have to have someone in charge of the conversation and give each person their turn to speak, otherwise it is a jumbled mess.

But this did get me thinking about Media Relations. My ‘rolodex’ is Facebook. I use Facebook professionally as well as personally and for me it seems to be a bit better than something like LinkedIn. Facebook allows me to not only have keep up with them through their own tweets, but have one-on-one chats with my contacts on any number of topics, whether they be work-related or just idle chat. I don’t disregard the idle chat either because it is what keeps up the ‘relationship’.

There are nice tools out there like Vocus that have millions of media contacts out there. Vocus allows you to put together a news release and blast it to a ton of people who have signed off on having interest in your particular subject area.

Yet Vocus is also close to being a SPAM pusher. The contacts in Vocus know they are in the database and can opt-out of they choose, but the software does allow anyone with an account to blast out all kinds of info.

My thoughts on Vocus is that it is nice as a starting point – identifying some of the people, writers, outlets that have interest in your subject area – but it is up to an individual to start a relationship.

I highly advise making contact not through a mass-distributed email, but through a direct, unique email.

An email that when the person who is receiving it reads it, they know that you have taken the time to write an email that is unique to them. Use something like Vocus as a starting point, but in order to really have a relationship, you need to engage the person individually.

The Vocus-effect came to a head recently with Michael Arrington of Techcrunch. Arrington said he would honor and then break media embargoes from PR contacts because basically he was getting mass distributed emails with a header saying something like ‘this information is embargoed’ and a distribution list of thousands.

Shel Holtz wrote about the incident on his blog and the PR blogosphere had a field day with the topic. Arrington took some heat for saying this and if memory serves had to back track a little bit on his statement, but on the flip side those who sent out a mass distributed embargo had no point in doing so.

The news embargo is done between a person and a PR rep from an organization that has a relationship together. It can be useful for both parties, and its basis is done out of mutual trust.

Arrington made a statement publicly that ensured that Techcrunch would never, ever get an embargoed story before anyone else did, but the people sending out mass-distributed embargoes mistake the sending of emails and using the web tools to be a ‘relationship’ with him and others.

Whatever the next big thing in communication is, it will still boil down to whether or not it improves your relationship(s) and communication(s) with the people you use them with.

We have things that enable us to reach the masses; information distributed to thousands of contacts through the web, sending news releases to someone like Michael Arrington and hundreds of others believing you are conducting media relations.

The tools of communications are only tools, and we need to understand each ones strength and weakness and make sure we use them appropriately.

The ‘relations’ part in media relations comes from a true, individual, one-on-one dialog and no amount of internet-based tools will replace the work needed to be done in order to start and maintain an actual ‘relationship’.

Mike Nicholson

I've spent my career working in a variety of Strategic Communications, Public Relations, Public Affairs, Information Operations, and Executive Outreach positions. With a history of planning, preparing, executing, and assessing communication strategies in the U.S. and abroad, I use this site to write, think and share lessons learned on organizational communications.

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