Five reasons businesses struggle with social media

Adam Singer has a nice piece this week on why individuals are far better at social media and building connections than most businesses are today. It feels “obvious” that people can build links faster and better than corporations, but Singer spells out several reasons why companies struggle with adapting to new social media norms, even when they say they want to do it:

It’s messy to build links – you need to get creative, you need to combine multiple skill sets and wear many hats: technical, creative and even relationship building.

It’s messy to build a community – it has strategy and can have some structure, but needs the freedom to think outside the lines and improvise. Most businesses love planning and hate improvisation.

It’s messy to be consistent with updating a blog – be structured and have an editorial calendar all you like, but at the end of the day the individual with passion, motivation and connections can soar above your entire team’s results.

It’s messy to continue a dialogue on Twitter –individuals can link or say anything they want and there are no repercussions. And those people are far more interesting than any brands, or even employees of brands following strict rules.

It’s messy to network – not like an individual has to ask permission to build affinity with social media power users. They just make the connections.


For legacy public broadcasters, I suspect the effective resistance to new interaction models is double the norm, partially because we’ve developed a perfection cult, and partially because of our precarious financial positions make us extraordinarily risk- and change-averse.

Where Apple always aims

…while most people have entered the digital world, participation falls off sharply as complexity increases. For example, 93% of respondents have a digital camera, but less than a third use digital photo-sharing tools. Similarly, 92% of respondents have a cell phone, but only 22% have used an internet-based phone service such as Skype.


The iPad — like the iPhone, like the iMac and all prior Macs — aims for simplicity of use amidst a sea of complex products. It’s what Apple does best and what Microsoft claims it wants to do: give you the power to create and consume media and information with the least effort.

My technically-minded friends are unimpressed with the iPad, and personally I’m a little disappointed at some things that were left out of this first edition (some things seem to have been left out deliberately, like a camera). But the iPad isn’t aimed at us. We can load Linux on commodity PC hardware. We can hack the Windows registry. We manage e-mail servers, not just our own e-mail. It takes a lot to impress or challenge us.

But for the average user — the person that doesn’t care about the difference between a Gigabyte and a Megabit — the iPad fulfills the 93% use case, like a digital camera. It’s a digital lifestyle appliance, simple enough for everyone and powerful enough to be useful in several situations.

I don’t know if it will be an unqualified success, like the iPhone. To me, the iPad is an evolutionary product rather than a revolutionary one. The iPhone revolutionized the smart phone market because it was the first to get it “right” for a broad swath of consumers. Uptake was instant, even when it was just a 2G model with no apps and no cut-and-paste.

iPad uptake will be far slower. But each revision will be better and better and the price will moderate over time. As people are disappointed by netbooks and find they want to consume a variety of media on the go with the least hassle, and with familiarity from the iPod Touch and iPhone, it’s got a serious shot at creating this new category.

Down with PC applications, up with cloud-based apps

Apple endured its darkest days during the early 1990s, when the PC had lost its original magic and turned into a drab, utilitarian tool. Buyers flocked to Dell’s cheap, beige boxes. Computing back then was all about the programs. Now, computing is all about the programming – the words and sounds and pictures and conversations that pour out of the Internet’s cloud and onto our screens.


I’m not so convinced — yet — that the iPad is the answer to a bunch of different needs. It’s clearly a 1.0 product and it feels like Apple has withheld some key technologies and features for the next revision.

But if Apple delivers on a few more functions — video conferencing, textbooks and a sort of cloud-based “docking” and sync — then the fate of the PC is fairly well sealed, at least for personal use.

Mobile DTV? You have got to be effing kidding me

PBS, NETA, APTS and CPB leaders are out of their freaking minds if they think Mobile DTV will take off. All momentum is in the opposite direction. All of it. But go ahead — read the giddy predictions:

Public TV leaders at NETA predicted Mobile DTV will be used for simulcasts of live TV as well as weather alerts, datacasts of traffic maps and sports scores, radio with pictures and interactive brainstorms yet to come, CPB is backing a PBS experiment with a 24-hour children’s TV service.

Though commercial broadcasters are mum about their business plans, said CPB Senior Vice President Mark Erstling,  they agree that kidvid is Mobile DTV’s “killer app.”

There’s even hope that Mobile DTV will seduce 18-to-24-year-old “millenials” to watch news and public affairs TV, said Lonna Thompson, general counsel of the Association of Public Television Stations, speaking at the NETA Conference. A survey indicated their level of interest would double, she said, because they’d no longer be “tethered” to a set in the living room.

Mobile DTV may be able to do a tolerable imitation of cable: Planners say broadcasters in D.C. will air at least 20 different Mobile channels during the tryout this spring.

It can also do a limited imitation of video-on-demand by “clipcasting”—constantly downloading, in advance, an array of popular videos to be stored in users’ receivers—though it won’t let users choose among every video on the Web.

Where it may shine is fulfilling past visions of interactive TV that cable has failed to realize. If the mobile receiver is a cell phone, it can provide a return path for ordering pizzas, voting on American Idol or whatever users want to click

“There will be great businesses built in Mobile DTV,” predicted Andy Russell, senior v.p, PBS Ventures, at the NETA Conference. “We think the possibilities are enormous with this new platform.”



  1. So the whole “alternative uses” angle on DTV never came true. What makes it likely to happen with Mobile DTV? And who’s going to pay for all that software development? TV stations can’t even make regular content in most markets now, but we’re going to hire traffic and weather and sports programmers for our little Mobile DTV channels?
  2. You seriously think that just by creating yet another distribution channel — one that competes with existing popular channels — millenials will suddenly get interested in news and public affairs programs? You’ve got to be f***ing kidding. “Oooh! ‘Washington Week’ on my mobile phone? Check it out Kayleigh!”
  3. So Mobile DTV’s big idea is to copy cable? Excellent business plan. You do realize most of the cable companies are monopolies with extensive infrastructure, right? They don’t make money by lining up channels alone.
  4. “Clipcasting?” It’s called YouTube! Perhaps you’ve heard of it? I have it on my phone right now! Besides — who’s going to curate that? More people we can’t afford to hire?
  5. Dear God you’re going to the “interactive TV” angle again? Jesus, that died 20 years ago and rightly so. TV is a largely passive medium. Interactivity is a web practice. Have you all learned nothing since the advent of the Internet? Ordering pizzas? Voting for “American Idol?” Really? This is the glorious future ahead if only we develop Mobile DTV?
  6. Great businesses will be built with Mobile DTV, huh? You mean like HD Radio has burned up the dials and made Clear Channel billions? Oh, right — they’re in the toilet along with the rest of the commercial radio world. But TV will kick ass with a new platform that requires new hardware, barely duplicates existing and growing functionality on other platforms, and has little to no value proposition for users, right? Sure. Sign me up.

There was a time, many years ago, when a kid — like myself — enjoyed smuggling a little 2.5 inch Casio TV into my high school study hall and getting fuzzy TV images of “The Price is Right” or daytime soaps or whatever was on. But aside from that experience I’ve never wanted mobile TV. Mobile video, yes (and I have that), but not TV.

Keep in mind that TV, including some of public TV, has turned into a broadcast wasteland, especially during the day when people are mobile. I’m going to tune in for “Judge Judy” for 1.5 minutes while I’m on line at the bank? Not likely.

The only shot Mobile DTV has is kids programming, and only from PBS. But is it a “killer app?” Well… if you define “killer” as the only remotely viable app for Mobile TV, done at cost in a noncommercial model, then sure. And Lord help us all pay for all the infrastructure this year and forevermore.

To understand why Mobile DTV won’t make it, just look at what kids are already doing today: they’re texting and using social networks and calling one another. They’re doing social things, not kicking back and watching TV. At most, they might refer friends to see a web video clip, but that will be something forbidden, not a great vocabulary lesson from “Word Girl.”

As 3G and 4G wireless networks (and WiFi) become truly ubiquitous, and our devices are always on the ‘net, TV will become increasingly quaint. The only likely users for Mobile DTV will be the very Boomers that won’t buy the Mobile DTV devices anyway.

And let’s not forget all the bold promises of DTV that remain unfulfilled, which we’re hearing yet again from our august leaders: datacasting, weather, sports scores, news, ad nauseum. The fact that “radio with pictures” was noted in the article tells you how desperate these folks are to get attention. And hey — where’s my MP4-encoded DTV broadcasts? When’s that gonna be done?

Finally, don’t get me started on the low technical quality of the proposed Mobile DTV channels. I have a 2-year-old Flip cam that shoots better video than could be displayed on Mobile DTV. How does this make sense? Disruptive technologies can indeed come along with a lower technical quality, but who intentionally builds a Ferrari and then dents it up, puts a speed governor on it and smashes the windshield to get different customers interested?

Today — the “day of the Tablet” — I encourage all the public broadcasters out there with an eye toward Mobile DTV to look at the real future: mobile apps, mobile web, mobile multifunction devices field-upgraded on demand with new software from the cloud. The web absorbs and carries all media, synchronously and asynchronously. Reverting to broadcast just doesn’t make sense in most cases, and where it does make sense, we already have technologies and deployed assets that work fine; they even work better than fine if you consider HDTV.

Mobile data is much more valuable to our society and economy than propping up a shrinking business model. Let’s stop fighting the losing DTV battle and start fighting for a public service media future that meets the needs of our community and meets people where they are and where they’re going, not where they’ve been.

Tabula rasa

When the White House announced that President Obama would deliver his State of the Union message on Jan. 27—the same day Apple was planning to unveil its new tablet computer—many of us at Slate cringed. “What is Obama thinking?” one of my colleagues joked. “He’s going to be totally overshadowed.”

The idea of a product rollout trumping the president’s annual speech to Congress does seem funny. Maybe the tablet will be a bust. Maybe Obama will rock the world. But the opposite is at least as likely. This isn’t Obama’s fault. It’s just the way the world is going: Technology, as a driver of social change, is overtaking politics.


Sometimes it’s hard to take a wide angle view of what’s happening in our society, whether within our national borders or planet-wide. This piece by Slate’s William Saletan explores just how pervasive and entwined our First World society is with technology. It’s changing how we act, how we think and, of course, how we communicate and share ideas.

And for me, the Apple tablet introduction totally overshadows the pronouncements of our President.

Apple’s tablet will actually change the world, one way or another. Our President, a year into his floundering administration? Not likely to change much.

Scarcities to exploit

TechDirt’s Mike Masnick summarizes 10 different scarcities your public service media company (okay… ANY media company) can use to fund operations:

So the key is to find scarcities — as we’ve said many times. But, not just any scarcities. Those scarcities must also be valuable. Value plus scarcity is the real reason to buy. And, the intersection may be different for each kind of content creator. In fact, it should be different for each content creator, because it is essential to recognize how to express the key value that a particular creator brings to the table. To help explain that, we discussed 10 key scarcities that are helpful to think through in creating reasons to buy. The list is not complete, but is a good starting point.

  1. Access: Access to the actual content creators is a real scarcity and one that can often be used to make money in ways that make fans quite happy. In fact, a study released at Midem claimed that, in a recent survey, 19% of respondents claimed they would pay anything to meet their favorite star. Now, obviously, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but it does suggest a high degree of demand for access from top fans.
  2. Attention: One of the most important scarcities in the digital age. Attention is incredibly scarce, and if you’ve got it, you can do a lot with it.
  3. Authenticity: This one also includes “trust.” The ability to be authentic carries tremendous weight and is quite scarce at times. But if you can provide something that is authentic and valuable, it’s often a very strong reason to buy.
  4. Exclusivity: Many people value having something that very few (or perhaps no) others have.
  5. (New) Creation: The ability to create something new is a scarcity. This often confuses people, because a digital good once created is no longer scarce — but the ability to create it is still very much a scarcity.
  6. Tangibility: The granddad of scarcities: physical products. Sometimes when we discuss scarcities people seem to think that we’re only talking about tangible products. Nothing is further from the truth, as we often think that other non-tangible scarcities represent much larger opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the value of tangible products.
  7. Time (saving or making): People will pay if you can save them time (or give them extra time in some manner).
  8. Convenience: If you make things more convenient, many people will buy, even if free options are available. That’s one reason why iTunes has done so well. Apple has made the whole process super convenient. It’s also one of the top reasons why people say they buy bottled water — even if they know the water quality is no different than tap water. They just find it more convenient.
  9. Belonging: Never underestimate just how important a sense of belonging to a group or a tribe is — and being able to provide that in an authentic manner can be a true scarcity.
  10. Patronage: Definitely depends on the situation, but there are some people who just want to support an artist, no matter what. And that presents a scarcity.


Awesome list and great thinking and strategy points. Some of this public broadcasters have already learned (belonging, patronage, attention).

But the rest are ready to be explored.

Movie made by chimpanzees on BBC

Initially, the chimps were more interested in each other than the video technology, as two male chimps within the study group vied to become the alpha male, disrupting the experiment.


Sounds like some TV producers I’ve known. 😉

Derek Powazek – What I Hope Apple Unleashes Tomorrow

Tomorrow, if the stars align, Apple could unleash a device that’s sexier than reading a magazine. A glossy screen like the iPhone, quality content in the iTunes store for a (hopefully) reasonable price, major publishes on board and independent publishers like me able to join in.

Apple already has all the pieces in place. The iTunes music store, right now, has magazines in it. You probably didn’t even know that. They’re using the podcast framework to distribute PDFs. But that falls back into the old problem of reading PDFs on a computer (it sucks) and charging for content (you can’t).

But an Apple device that leverages the power of the iTunes store, that makes it easy to buy and read digital content, that opens up for participation from all kinds of publishers … it could be the missing piece of the puzzle.

It’s the same hole they filled with the iPod. When it came out, there were CDs on one side (physical media for sale) and file-sharing on the other (free but dodgy). The iPod filled the media experience gap, and the iTunes store filled the payment side. Many pundits said it wouldn’t work. It worked.


It’s critically important for public broadcasters to watch the introduction of the Apple tablet. It’s the first device of what is likely to be a new era — an era that might make paying for non-music digital content a reasonable proposition for millions of people.

Media Evolution

Seth Godin on the evolution of every medium, when applied to the television industry:

TV used to be driven by the guys who knew how to run cameras and transmitters. Then it got handed off to the Ernie Kovacs/Rod Serling types. Then the financial operators like ITT and Gulf + Western milked it. And finally it’s just a job.

Yep. TV has become predictable.

Though I wasn’t part of the early days of public broadcasting, every account I’ve heard or read suggests it was a time of remarkable innovation and experimentation. There wasn’t a lot of money, but there was a lot of passion tied to a powerful mission. These days public TV doesn’t do commercial-style media well.  But it also doesn’t do mission-based media well.

There are outstanding examples of great media creation within the pubcasting world, but as a whole we’ve blanded the place up and disconnected it from our communities. Time to rethink the mission and re-energize the work. And it might just have to start with the engineers.

Wow! KQED drops out of news project

Current has the news that KQED is out of the Bay Area News Project and the NY Times is in.

Personally, I’m fairly disappointed in this turn of events. Perhaps KQED will tell its side of the story in the days to come.

So far, all that’s available is speculation and back-room chatter.