Friday, October 14, 2005

Public-Private Intersections in New Media: Is WOM A New Medium?

I attended an interesting panel on Wednesday at Northeastern University. The panel was entitled “Public-Private Intersections in New Media” and hosted some leading academic thinkers talking about the implications of “new media” on our lives.

Craig Robertson pointed out that the media that get defined as “new media” are constantly shifting (the printing press, the telephone, the computer were all “new media” at one point). But he noted how the discourse of new media is actually quite old and can be situated socially, culturally, and historically. The question Craig wants to ask is how the discourse about “new media” is being used? Whose interests are being served? What’s up for grabs? Read Craig’s short essay on a history of new media.

Dan Kennedy argued that new media is not just about the internet, podcasting, and blogs (though it is), but also about how existing media are being used in new ways, such as under-the-radar direct mail targeting, targeted satellite TV (like, and DVDs.

This led me to think if we should include word-of-mouth on a “new media” panel? Interpersonal, face-to-face communication is one of the oldest media forms around but the awareness of WOM as a medium for companies, governments, and celebrity brands to pursue their ends has grown considerably in the past few years, spawning its own industry and associations (see for example, Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association and Viral and Buzz Marketing Association).

A telling point was made at the first International WOM Marketing Conference recently in Hamburg (read my blog posts about the event). The slide was entitled “People Are Media” which suggests how interpersonal conversations and connections (whether transacted offline or online) are being seen as a new media form in the same way we think of more “traditional” mass-media forms. The slide was part of a presentation by Fergus Hampton of the market research firm, Millward Brown Precis.

Fergus’ point about “people are media” also suggests that everyone is, or can now be, a journalist, advertiser, editor and publisher. This relates to a point made by one of the New Media panelists, Axel Bruns, about how we need a new language to characterize these developments. For example, he discussed the term “produsage” to discuss how people are both producing and using content. Axel contends that this term breaks down the tradition consumer/producer dichotomy. It also provides a nice parallel to a widely-used industry phrase – “consumer-generated media” (coined and popularized by Intelliseek).

In short, it’s a great panel and worth checking out. The panel was chaired by David Marshall and also included a student panelist, Meagan Redman (unfortunately Meagan did not get her own web space on the panel website but she made some excellent points – including the point that we need to consider that what is “new” for many is not new for all, especially in those less affluent societies where many of the technologies discussed on the panel don’t yet exist – and held her own quite well on a panel of PhDs).