In 2010 a string of seemingly unrelated events transformed the global media landscape. At first glance, one might wonder what the launch of the iPad, the BP Macondo oil leak crisis and Wikileaks had to do with one another.
Together these moments led to a fusion of content publishing online and realised the promise of a new, real-time, hybrid media landscape that is truly global.
For communicators, the implications are momentous. If, as a profession, we continue to think in the silos of the traditional world of print media - TV on one hand, and the emerging worlds of social media, Facebook and Twitter on the other - we risk missing the biggest opportunity for communication professionals in a generation.
We live in an era in which change is so rapid that sometimes the present is only visible once it is past.
We are entering a new phase in the development of the information age. It is having a profound effect on the media and information industries - and, crucially, on how our stakeholders receive, share and publish information about us.
Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, in their recent book Macrowikinomics, said the internet is no longer about surfing, passively reading, or watching. It's about 'sharing, socialising, collaborating, and most of all, creating (content) within loosely connected communities'.
Newspapers and broadcasters are redefining themselves accordingly. Eye-witness accounts and footage - often shared on the web - drive coverage and are playing a growing role in shaping the agenda of the traditional media.
We are seeing an increase in participatory news as the media become more dependent on people's eyes and ears to enable them to break news.
At the same time, publishers and broadcasters are pushing to incorporate live web feeds into their news stories and, further, to present data in new ways.
Much of this is being done in collaboration with the audience - publishers are opening data to the world so readers can play a part in the development of stories.
In a world in which content is the strongest currency, we are seeing the emergence of what might be called a gift economy. There are many ways of sharing (or gifting) content such as video, audio, photographs or data within social media networks between friends, or within communities and the media.
The companies that are best able to share valuable data and content with their stakeholders will be those that gain clout and respect in such a gift economy.
Media relations functions must reflect this new external world:
- The discipline must develop new models for launching stories and driving them across a range of digital platforms.
- We need to establish different alliances and new ways of distributing content with media partners online.
- We need to participate in community dialogue on digital platforms, driving tweets across communities to alert them to fresh activity and comment.
There is a considerable opportunity to narrow the perception gap and build new relationships with our stakeholders that are more direct, open and transparent.
We must not be held hostage by the past but embrace the future and create our own digital newsrooms of tomorrow.
Views in brief
Which historical figure would have been a great reputation manager?
William Wilberforce campaigned against vested interests and was stoic in the face of adversity. He devised radical ways to promote his cause. Pamphlets full of eye-witness testimony were used, showing captive Africans packed in the ships. There were sugar boycotts, petitions, and marches.
Which organisation has turned around its reputation in the past year?
Toyota is making every effort to regain the public's trust after its product recall. It has used social media to build dialogue with the customers affected. Transparency, openness and dialogue have helped them rebuild trust.