JD Lasica is the founder of Socialmedia.biz, a social marketing consultancy, and Socialbrite.org, a learning hub for nonprofits. JD was an editor at a California newspaper before he became involved with digital media in the late 90s. He now speaks regularly about social media and user-generated media.
JD recently participated in the Traveling Geeks roundtables hosted by Econsultancy and I spoke with him about social media, the impact it's having and the fate of mainstream media.
In your opinion, what are the two most exciting things taking place right now in the world of social media?
The open ecosystem that Twitter has established -- allowing the community to develop applications on the Twitter platform -- is extraordinarily exciting. Its success is helping spur Facebook to consider dismantling the walled garden approach that doomed AOL and other old-school media giants in favor of joining the rest of us on the open Web.
The second cause for excitement is the way in which social media, in its various incarnations, has broken into the mainstream lexicon over the past six to nine months. A couple of years ago, no one knew what social media was. Now, every other person on Twitter is a social media guru. They're not, of course, but there's something mind-jarring about the fact that social media, in all its limitless possibilities, is the new rock 'n' roll. Regular citizens now understand that when people break out a Flip Mino or a Nokia camera phone to conduct an interview or live-stream an event, it's not a curiosity but a sharing experience to be celebrated.
Many industries have been impacted by social media and many are now making extensive use of it. Which industries do you think have been affected the most and which do you think have the greatest opportunities to use social media to their benefit?
Traditional media companies, particularly newspapers, are being hard-hit by the tectonic changes whipping through the mediasphere. The megatrends of nichefication, fragmentation and personalization do not play well with a business model based on packaging mass market content for a mass market that is largely disappearing online.
Social media is about being human -- it's about connecting with real people with real identities. So industries that stand to gain the most are the ones that have traditionally been cast in the public eye as aloof and impervious to the wants and desires of ordinary people. The cable company, the phone company, large corporations, companies whose brands seem beyond redemption may well be among the biggest benefactors of social media.
Are you worried about the level of hype that exists in the social media realm? What advice can you give companies trying to cut through the clutter and navigate the space?
It's true that there's a lot of noise and not enough signal. But I think a lot of voices in traditional media are secretly rooting for social media's collapse so that they'll be able to collect their pension on the way out. I'm not sure how one can label the social media revolution as hype if its fallout is having such profound effects, ranging from how we elect national political figures to how large institutions are forced to interact with the public. Yes, social media's impact has been overhyped -- it won't ameliorate the economic meltdown or bring about world peace (though there's a move afoot to nominate the founders of Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize) -- but in most of the corporate sector, executives are still underestimating the impact of the forces at work.
Companies that are open to transitioning to the new economy will come to realize that social media is not just another distribution vehicle but a fundamental strategic approach that entails a rethinking of business as usual. The precepts of participation, innovation and inclusiveness need to be instilled at all levels of an organization, and social media offers a way for customers and employees to engage in meaningful, productive ways.
There will always be a fear factor in moving into strange new waters. You may want to bring in some outside experts to help navigate the terrain (and bypass the gurus for the companies and services with a track record).
Your book Darknet: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation discusses the clash between Hollywood and consumers in the digital age. Arguably, the newspaper industry has been much harder hit by the rise of the internet than Hollywood - at least thus far. Do you think Hollywood will eventually go the way of the newspapers? What does it need to do to avoid that fate?
I wrote the book as warning call in anticipation of escalating clashes between media titans against grassroots media publishers in the areas of copyright law, remix culture and innovation when it was becoming plain that we were entering an era of media that was becoming more decentralized, fragmented and personalized. Newspapers have thus far refused to embrace the idea of readers as true partners in the news equation.
Hollywood is a different creature. Where news has become a commodity, the talent that produces a sterling work of mass entertainment is still a rare thing indeed. Ten years from now we'll still be going out to the theater and watching prime time TV on the telly alongside the rich stream of independently produced works pumped in via the Internet.
I don't think file-sharing of movies will ever rise to the level of music file trading. Hollywood can avoid the fate of the music and newspaper industries by continuing to produce high-quality programs with style and heart, but the studios need to take a more proactive approach in embracing alternative distribution methods ($1/day movie rentals, digital access to tens of thousands of past programs, etc.). Remember how successful King Canute was in commanding the waves to halt.
Speaking of newspapers: you were an editor at the Sacramento Bee for 11 years before you made the jump to digital media. What are your thoughts on the crisis the newspaper business is facing?
The crisis facing newspaper is one part inevitable -- other mass media such as magazines and broadcast television are also experiencing the financial turmoil accompanying the shift to a more nichefied, fragmented mediasphere -- and one part self-inflicted, given a newspaper culture that continues to punish, rather than reward, experimentation, innovation and failure (without which innovation is impossible).
The important point is not that newspapers are preserved but that important community journalism, in-depth reporting and investigative reports continue to be supported by people who do it for a living, in addition to those doing it as a hobby. That will eventually require a decoupling of journalism from newspapers.
Can enough bloggers perform good journalism to fill the void created by all the newspapers that are likely to go out of business?
I'm a big believe in what bloggers and citizen journalists bring to the table. But for the most part, these contributions supplement and augment journalism being done as a business.
However, as more newspapers do go out of business, I think we'll see an increase in the number of "place blogs" and "place sites" -- online city-centric and community publications run by a coterie of professionally trained and amateur journalists who believe in the same civic values that attracted many of us to journalism in the first place.
Tell us a little bit about your latest project, Socialbrite.
I just launched Socialbrite.org with seven thought leaders in the social good world, including Amy Sample Ward and Ken Banks in the UK. We're providing a learning hub and sharing community around all forms of social media and working with nonprofits and social change organizations to help them harness the power of the social Web.
Socialbrite is a space to offer articles, videos, resources and tutorials on how to take command of all this Web 2.0 jazz and put it to work for your organization or cause. All our content is released under Creative Commons licenses, so stop on by and borrow as much knowledge as you'd like. We'd love to hear from people who are doing work in this space.
Photo credit: roland via Flickr.