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21st century communication: Beyond the buzz

February 2, 2010


This is not a strategy. Don't be left in the dust.

Don't be left in the dust.


When it comes to new media, it’s important to get beyond the buzz. The web has brought upon us a new communications paradigm for the 21st Century. To early adopters, the domain of “www” is a cinch, to others; it can be decidedly perplexing.

Some would say we suffer from perpetual information overload, an overwhelming stasis. However, paralysis – a common response to feeling overwhelmed – should not be the answer; nor should sticking your head in the sand. A reductionist approach that dismisses the web phenomenon as a “generational thing” will not work either.

The web has transformed communications. For the first time, there exists a mass communication channel that is decentralized, fragmented, self-distributed and highly specialized. Never before has a technological communications medium done more than just broadcast. More than a means to relay a message, it is a platform upon which to network, collaborate and co-create.

But the biggest mistake is to get caught up in the medium. The trick to being an effective communicator in the 21st century has more to do with being a savvy storyteller than it does with possessing technological wizardry. This is not meant as a polemic opposition to McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” but rather, it is to point out that, given our new context, we must become more strategic about our messaging. The stronger the narrative, the more likely the message – and moreover, the brand – will surface over and above the growing din.

The new paradigm has dramatically changed our expectations around those creating the messages – corporate brands and public services alike. By opening up the channels to more voices, information has become democratized. Coupled with the ability to call up information in an instant, we expect a greater transparency on behalf of those communicating to us.

Building a strong brand takes strategy. Brainstorm the brand with the rigor – it needs to work as a concept offline before even thinking about hitting the online channels. A strong brand has messaging that is consistent and authentic. In the face of these new technologies, it may be easy to forget how personal communication is. Regardless of how it is mediated, the fact remains: communication is still about relationship building. The more consistent and authentic the brand, the sooner trust is built amongst an audience.

In the CIBC Presents Entrepreneurship 101 session, “Beyond the Buzz,” I discussed what’s possible when leveraging the social web to communicate. I used cases that ranged from the 350 climate change campaign, which yielded unprecedented results worldwide, to Dell’s IdeaStorm, a platform that has taken customer service to the next level.

The notion of “people-powered” communication is at the heart of all of these examples. And the way to get people on side hasn’t exactly changed. People are looking for authentic and trustworthy brands. Success is creating brand ambassadors – when the public is moved to spread your story for you.

Strategic communications in the 21st century is just as much about the age-old tricks as it is about new technologies. It is certainly exciting that entire communication campaigns can be administered at little to no cost and yield tremendous results – not to mention without hiring a big agency to craft the messages. In an increasingly accelerated environment, the challenge will be striking the balance between effectiveness and haste. And if you are strategic, neither should be compromised.

Downloads and resources

Weren’t able to attend the class? Need some notes or want to look something up? Click below for all of the goodies from the lecture. Watch the video and the slide presentation below.

CIBC presents Entrepreneurship 101 2009/10 – Week 16 – How to Communicate Effectively in the 21st Century from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

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  • http://twitter.com/ttang_ Tim Tang

    Ten years ago, Jim Carey starred in a 3-time Academy Award nominated movie called The Truman Show. The story begins with Careyu2019s character Truman Burbank as the first baby to be legally adopted by a corporation. With the rights to invade Trumanu2019s privacy without his knowledge, the television network creates a show around him by inserting 5,000 cameras in Hollywoods biggest studio. Itu2019s a 24-hour, real-time, real-life television following Trumanu2019s life. Its revenue model is placing advertising discretely into Trumanu2019s life without him noticing.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkZM2oWcleMTen years later, itu2019s a reality. This month, American Idol co-creator, Simon Fuller, will launch a new reality-TV-web series called If I Can Dream. The show will be available to its audience 24/7 into the lives of 5 individuals aspiring to hit it big in Hollywood. In Fulleru2019s own words:u201cThe next frontier is the video world of authentic real-time interaction. Their every move will be streamed live online as they rehearse, write music, socialize and plan their careers. Innovative camera and sensor technology will allow a global audience to interact with the aspiring performers through text, blogs, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook as the action unfolds in real-time u2014 something that has never been attempted on a global scale before.”http://www.ificandream.com/http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1628457/200912…The only difference between The Truman Show and If I Can Dream is consent. However, even this line is blurring. It is easier than ever to for information travel.http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2010/01/…Manulife has confirmed it uses Facebook and other social media to investigate its clients and to support its cases during dispute. Facebook breaches Canadian privacy law (http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2009/07/16/f…), but few users have discontinued:http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/World-News/Fac…However, there is real tangible value for businesses who leverage crowdsourcing and social media in the right way. For instance, Intuit has found a way to build a community of loyal power users through online forums in such a way that they could share technical support information with other Quickbook users. At any time, 70% of customer service questions are answered by other QuickBooks owners. This cost saving from free support fall directly to their bottom line in call centre operations.http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09…In another cost saving example, when Best Buy misentered the price of a 52-in HDTV from USD $1,700 to $10, savvy consumers quickly placed orders online and bragged about it on Twitter. Best Buy caught news on Twitter and corrected it before it became news (and no, they did not honour the $10 POs).http://gizmodo.com/5335570/best-buy-fixes-10-sa

  • http://twitter.com/ttang_ Tim

    Ten years ago, Jim Carey starred in a 3-time Academy Award nominated movie called The Truman Show. The story begins with Carey’s character Truman Burbank as the first baby to be legally adopted by a corporation. With the rights to invade Truman’s privacy without his knowledge, the television network creates a show around him by inserting 5,000 cameras in Hollywoods biggest studio. It’s a 24-hour, real-time, real-life television following Truman’s life. Its revenue model is placing advertising discretely into Truman’s life without him noticing.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkZM2oWcleMTen years later, it’s a reality. This month, American Idol co-creator, Simon Fuller, will launch a new reality-TV-web series called If I Can Dream. The show will be available to its audience 24/7 into the lives of 5 individuals aspiring to hit it big in Hollywood. In Fuller’s own words:“The next frontier is the video world of authentic real-time interaction. Their every move will be streamed live online as they rehearse, write music, socialize and plan their careers. Innovative camera and sensor technology will allow a global audience to interact with the aspiring performers through text, blogs, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook as the action unfolds in real-time — something that has never been attempted on a global scale before.”http://www.ificandream.com/http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1628457/200912…The only difference between The Truman Show and If I Can Dream is consent. However, even this line is blurring. It is easier than ever to for information travel.http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2010/01/…Manulife has confirmed it uses Facebook and other social media to investigate its clients and to support its cases during dispute. Facebook breaches Canadian privacy law (http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2009/07/16/f…), but few users have discontinued:http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/World-News/Fac…However, there is real tangible value for businesses who leverage crowdsourcing and social media in the right way. For instance, Intuit has found a way to build a community of loyal power users through online forums in such a way that they could share technical support information with other Quickbook users. At any time, 70% of customer service questions are answered by other QuickBooks owners. This cost saving from free support fall directly to their bottom line in call centre operations.http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09…In another cost saving example, when Best Buy misentered the price of a 52-in HDTV from USD $1,700 to $10, savvy consumers quickly placed orders online and bragged about it on Twitter. Best Buy caught news on Twitter and corrected it before it became news (and no, they did not honour the $10 POs).http://gizmodo.com/5335570/best-buy-fixes-10-sa

  • http://twitter.com/ttang_ Tim Tang

    UPDATE ON SOCIAL MEDIATen years ago, Jim Carey starred in a Academy Award nominated movied called The Truman Show. The story begins with Carey’s character Truman Burbank as the first baby to be legally adopted by a corporation. With the rights to invade Truman’s privacy without his knowledge, the television network creates a show around him by inserting 5,000 cameras in Hollywoods biggest studio. It’s a 24-hour, real-time, real-life television following Truman’s life. Its revenue model is placing advertising discretely inserted into Truman’s life without him noticing.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkZM2oWcleMTen years later, it’s a reality. This month, American Idol co-creator, Simon Fuller, will launch a new reality-TV-web series called If I Can Dream. The show will be available to its audience 24/7 into the lives of 5 individuals aspiring to hit it big in Hollywood. In Fuller’s own words:“The next frontier is the video world of authentic real-time interaction. Their every move will be streamed live online as they rehearse, write music, socialize and plan their careers. Innovative camera and sensor technology will allow a global audience to interact with the aspiring performers through text, blogs, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook as the action unfolds in real-time — something that has never been attempted on a global scale before.”http://www.ificandream.com/http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1628457/200912…The only difference between The Truman Show and If I Can Dream is consent.IMPACT OF SOCIAL MEDIAHow was Susan Boyle discovered? Was it through Britain’s Got Talent or YouTube? Here’s a clue:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZYIf you answered YouTube, you would be incorrect. Britain’s Got Talent discovered Susan Boyle, and you just discovered YouTube. Social media amplifies your message; not your value proposition.

Lisa Torjman @ MaRS

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Lisa manages social innovation projects for the Social Innovation Generation (SiG@MaRS) program at MaRS.

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