Forget Blogging - It's Social Media That Will Change You

Back in April 2006, Tim & I helped organize a a day-long seminar on podcasts, wikis and blogs at NJIT. It was designed for non-technical business professionals to learn about these new tools and how they might be used in a corporate setting . Though I had been blogging for a while elsewhere, Serendipity35 was a new thing. I had been doing podcasting in preparation for NJIT to enter iTunes U. Still, we ended up doing the session on wikis.

Though the term "Web 2.0" had been around since 2004 when Tim O'Reilly defined it as business embracing the web as a platform and using its strengths, you didn't hear the term being used that much. My post has had 25,000+ reads since then, probably just because of it containing the keywords podcast, wiki, blog and business.

Three years ago, Business Week did a cover story on blogging called "Blogs Will Change Your Business." It was one of their first big pieces on "bottom-up media" and "news as conversation." Many people, especially in the business world, associated blogs with "trivia, banality, venom, and baseless attacks."

"Beyond Blogs: What Business Needs to Know" was one of their June 2008 cover stories. Like my old post, that 2005 article continues to draw many online readers. Type in "blogs business" at Google today and the story comes up at the top of the results. 2005 was before YouTube, Facebook was a college baby and no one could Twitter, but the magazine warned that "Your customers and rivals are figuring blogs out. Catch up...or catch you later." Business Week set up a blog at that is still going.

So, let's update that seminar a bit here. They started their new article by crowdsourcing the research. They posted questions on Blogspotting and asked what needed to be updated in the 2005 article and readers makes lots of suggestions. So they annotated the original article and added lots of notes and clarifications and created an updated version. But, being that they are still (this year) a print magazine, they had to publish a new print version too. In that version, they admit to having missed a part of the blogs story - the 2.0 part.

Sure, blogs would become the new printing press making lots of folks publishers, journalists and editors. But they also would be just part of the revolution. The other DIY tools (podcasts, wikis...) and social networks (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn...) would actually grab more people than blogging. (They cite a recent study from Forrester Research saying that only a quarter of the U.S. adult online population even bothers to read a blog once a month.)

Not all of what they see going on is good for business: rivals become "friends," share company information, post pictures of products and employees, spend hours on Twitter, YouTube. IBM set up its own social network for employees called Beehive and it has 30,000 employees on it. Good for business?

What changed in that updated version of their old cover story? The first thing to change was the title - delete "blogs" and go to "Social Media Will Change Your Business."

How many are there out there? Technorati was indexing 112 million blogs early in 2008 and reported that 120,000 new ones appear each day - BUT only 11% of blogs have posted within the past two months, so the real number is probably more like 13 million blogs. (Other sources say it's more like 4 million, but that's still a lot of blogging going on.)

Do you count the microblogging hit Twitter in there? Personally, I don't see the appeal of these 140 characters maximum posts, but more than a million people do.

What about wikis? The British telecom giant, BT, has more than 16,000 employees collaborating on wikis. They use the same open-source software that Wikipedia and Tim & I use for our wiki. Their employees use them to write software, map cell-phone base stations, launch branding campaigns and allow engineers in Asia to pick up a project as Europeans go to bed.

Business Week found that "An intern can amend the work of a senior engineer. Meanwhile, some 10,500 employees at BT are already on Facebook. BT is also offering an internal social network. But just like Facebook and Twitter, it won't work unless it attracts a crowd. [They] can't force anyone to use it. It would be fruitless to try... [all they] can do is provide tools and watch."

That leaves podcasting. Podcasting hasn't caught on as dramatically. According to some sources, "podcast awareness" has increased from 22% of the public in 2006 to 37% in 2007 and may reach 50% this year. More than 70% of all podcasts are still heard/viewed on computers and not on a portable media player like an iPod. (Remember that the POD originally meant "portable on demand.") The listener market is currently estimated at over 6 million. A number of traditional media sources offer podcasts (The New York Times, Forbes, The Scientific American, Time etc.) Podcast advertising is perhaps the best indicator of where this medium is headed in business. The predictions are for a compound annual growth rate of 154% from 2006 to 2010. ($3.1 million revenue in 2005. The iTunes software still dominates podcasting and is the big (but not the only) podcast distribution point for content with 38 million iTunes users.

We'll check back in a few years and see what else we all missed.


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