BY ALEXEI ORLOV
Mr. Orlov, ex-CEO of RAPP Worldwide, puts forward six primary conundrums in support of the Forrester conference on the changing face of digital and the challenges of social values and ‘Life Blur’ (Shanghai, China).
The New Age of Sociability
We are creating new bridges and constructing innovative gateways — and there is no sign other than this will be perpetual. It’s exciting and the fortunes to be made are vast if conceived, made and delivered correctly — but who is taking care of the crumbling walls of our so-called social values and the fundamentals of coherent and mindful sociability?
The generations that live today, like the ones before, are of course influenced to some degree by the history of their forefathers, but like never before they will not accept the status quo and they will seek deeper knowledge and will question — because they have more power and more independence through the gift and the sword of technologies.
The new tribes are not just shifting to address realities of the moment; they are heeding less the lessons of the past. For many, simply speaking, they are not impressed with the world they have inherited. And they want greater freedom and will write their own history on their terms.
We have embarked on what is, by far, the biggest human experimentation that man has ever known. But while we know so much more and have greater choice by the technologies that we have unleashed, we are in no way near-enough able to keep up with our very selves; we are building rockets as we fly them!
EMR and the Challenge of the ‘Ever-On’
Many stand dangerously close to the cusp of becoming cracked and splintered, driven by accelerating need and accumulating angst that is the frenzy and the whirl of the ‘ever-on.’
In many parts what we have changed is the way and manner of how we connect, transact and acquire.
Whilst communities are indeed more evolving and on the face of things more vibrant and fluid, it certainly does not mean that at the lowest-common denominator — our basic human instincts or behaviors — have changed all that much to the better. We are just more capable of doing more good and greater harm.
We have in many ways become victims of EMR, Electromagnetic Radiation, which is an essential part of modern life and without which many of the modern technologies would not be able to operate.
EMR, however, is prone to cresting and falling into annoying ‘over-buzz’ — that crackling interference one gets when, for example, the waves from a mobile collides with a PC.
The ongoing dilemma of vital EMR and that of ‘Life Blur and Social Noise’ is pretty much the same: too much clutter, disruption and irritation, all from misaligned social splicing.
We can rapidly share ideas and just as easily inflict opinion upon others. And we possess the power to have whole conversations in real time without the sound or sight of a fellow human being. Businesses have to grab this crucial nettle. Modern-day sociability is, after all, core to their very existence.
The Crucible of Modern-Day Sociability
Today there are fewer structures: mealtime, playtime, workspace, sleep and relaxation have all morphed into wherever, whenever, whatever. Now add to this widespread constant messaging, interruption, demand, peer opinion, social cause, imposition of views, values, needs, rampant accessibility, shout of fiction over fact, fact overflow into confused mind dumps and what we have is a furnace full of phenomenal stress and behaviors akin to neurosis full-blown!
As a result, private time is increasingly becoming a form of pseudo convalescence and big business. And busy time, spent wisely, even bigger business.
We live in an age of pursuit gone wild and knowing this, we are increasingly desperate to assure ourselves that we still remain in control.
The bringing together of work and play for many is the norm: ‘Life Blur’ — a blurring of the lines, be it time, place or event — is an integral part of daily existence. But it is not always under control.
Hope has now become an essential social tonic. It keeps us from going quite mad from over heated Life Blur and Social Noise. Those companies that master relief, happiness, appeasement — the balance, if you like, to the ‘speed and spent’ of buzz and the sting that often comes from such vigor — are winning over the others who don’t give a damn.
For the most part, we have simply arrested the word ‘sociable’ and given it a different context. Our technologies have substantially contributed to this, allowing people the power of time and space-shifting and thus, far greater capability to reference facts as much as to create fiction.
Together, we are collectively challenged with six primary conundrums:
1. Form and Function
People will be less inclined to blindly adopt and move instead to more controlled functionality. Choosing specifically and opting in at their own discretion, they are the addressable market — the most valuable to any brand seeking to free itself from the clutter.
Modern day sociability has many layers to the cake and gives rise to ever-evolving trends, from the phenomena of the ‘unfriend’ — people expelled from online tribes, through to the other extreme, the intexticated’ — to those completely consumed by their mobile technology.
The emergence of ‘ego-surfing’ and checking into everything and everyone is a major ritual within new-age social networking; scanning the net for one’s own name as well friends and contacts and getting to know all — whether it be right or wrong, malicious or favorable — has become the norm.
The collection of “social scalps” or “virtual notches” is an obsession for many millions. Even if they deny it, the evidence is all too present. The problem with such sociability, of course, is that viewed or used with limited context or information can have very negative connotations.
But as the experimentation slows down and people become increasingly savvy, there may well be seismic changes to the form and function of sociability. Addressable audience assimilation will create many opportunities, for as ‘narrow-cast’ grows, so will the noise become less profligate, replaced perhaps by deeper and maybe, over time, true long-tail value.
Our technological evolution has thus far not been matched by the same heightened spiritual revolution, but it will accelerate, providing rich pickings to those who have a care.
Technology has the power to bestow upon man the opiate of triumph and the bleakness of great loss. Even though we still falter and fall, technology in the main has begun to play a significant role in resetting our collective moral compass. We have the power to magnify and amplify like never before — and such power demands greater responsibility. The digital age is embracing, but can go much further.
Today, the tools that afford effortless speed of life are as dangerous as they can be life enhancing; issues that took so long to be known and addressed are today’s instant worldwide causes. No longer does society need to shout to be heard; technology will do all that. But whatever got us here today will not be what gets us to win tomorrow.
People have increasingly gravitated towards social causes. Cause and its effect will increase and become significant brand benchmarks.
3. Time Currency
The capture and manipulation of time will continue to be the ongoing quest — to promise of delivering more value for less mess. Time and immediacy have become the most precious currency to modern-day living.
Even though we are bound by the unassailability of the 24-hour clock, the people of the world are looking for ways to not just to do more in the space they have, but to make the content far richer and more valuable, too. Increasingly, even though it is said that many spend up to 50% of their waking time swimming in media, there is a competing trend to break away to regain uncluttered space and if that is too hard then engineering preferences to only go and be where a person wants to be. This is creating massive challenges to untidy or lazy brand marketing and huge opportunities for brands that know how to remain relevant and topical. Less is more.
4. Emotional Deconstruction
What people want and what they need is almost always never the same thing. We are expert at clouding our judgment through the urgency of manipulated need and perceived want.
Many have lost sight of the difference between cyber-sharing and being there, really touching, hearing, seeing, smelling — truly connecting and putting at risk their basic sensibility. We ‘hate’ with ease. We make friends at a click. We profess all sorts of endearment and vitriol without much thought and at a whim. Speed can be kind but often all too cruel.
The recalibration of human interaction and how far it should be manipulated will be important for individuals and businesses to understand. Many businesses are well on the way to re-thinking how to recapture the best elements of ‘human touch’ so that they create viable substance and powerful reasons for their customers to return.
How our younger generations are treated will determine their future behaviors. There needs to be a keener, more robust awareness of what is happening to them for they are the fertile soil in which future hope depends.
Awareness of the wider world is coming at them with a force and at a pace that no generation before has ever had to endure. They sleep less, they rest less — they are truly restless. Because they know no better, many have rushed willingly into the maze, quite forgotten from which direction they entered and are not quite sure where the points of success, let alone the exit may be.
Daily they face information overload and accelerated expectation. No wonder, then, that the rate of young suicides and cases of situational depression are on the rise. Rampant ‘sociability with no borders’ simply cannot bode well for the future — for when the values that held families and nations together are unknown or have no meaning, then the future possibilities for society fall to risk — and all too often, darkness.
Like all generations before, they need the wisdom and learning of time. And despite their protest, young people do need due care and responsible consideration. They need to be listened to and equally they need to be helped to listen ‘right,’ so that they do better for themselves and by others.
The new generations, young as they are, have leapt into a positions of tremendous power. They are major influencers of both opinion and consumer spend. From a simple bedroom to a park bench they can and do much more than any time before. And yet they are still growing. Still in need. Giants, yes, but not yet whole, lost in the confines of inexperience.
We may engage in random search, but there is nothing random about what we are creating. Layer upon layer of insight, precious and in the wrong hands, devastatingly intrusive.
Today, in digital world, the notion of ‘free’ is the frog’s tongue — it reaches far and quick and almost always returns with a fine morsel of new information. Free is the business model that feeds and feeds. All this information driven by millions of vital composites of fact, creates insights and relevance to others who willingly pay for it.
Digital is the new oil, so rich, so deep — and you, me, us — we are each and everyone, the drops that make the deep wells of new-age wealth possible. We are the aggregators blessing and fuel
So many still assume they are getting ‘stuff’ for free, but is it really so? Relentlessly, blindly most times, they trade themselves — ‘me@part of me.com’. Every time we enter the viral loop, we are potentially giving away powerful information…information that is being aggregated into cumulative statistics, knowledge piles of tremendous value and muscle to those who design, engineer, own and control the digital corridors and repositories.
Information is not just power, it’s colossal money!
These millions upon millions of users who are the power by dint of their sheer volume, do not want and care even less for regulation even though at the same time they scream for protection of their data and human rights. It remains a veritable melting pot of conflicting desire, will and need. The viral loop might be fun but once a person has entered its deep chasms it is well nigh impossible to escape; privacy is instantly at risk.
But what lurks within the systems of the world are not in the realm understanding or capability of most users, for most, no matter how well they may use all the tools, are still for the most part digital innocents who just think they are masters of the digital sphere.
More so than ever before, the misuse of technologies within social media has damaged and upset countless millions, caused by deviants who lay in wait, like vampire bats. Their nefarious inclinations have spawned two opposing but highly profitable industries: that of criminality in virtually all its guises and defense and protection.
No matter how many barriers are put up, the innocent masses continue to need and use social media and the parasites continue to re-morph, draining away, uncoupling the good.
The impact of all this on users and companies will be the continuation of cost hikes and the acceleration of laws and regulation, which compared to other media, is still very far behind.
All companies involved with any form of social media will have to just face up to the inevitable and evolving fact: that open-ended ability to do and say as one pleases, without having to own the consequences, is coming to an end.
Free is too expensive.
As the saying goes: there is nothing common about common sense. Sometimes the obvious hides in plain sight and simple principles that protect and guide the bigger purpose are not shared and all too often overlooked.
Be Thoughtful and Generous
The real winners will be those who will be able to turn intuitive data facts, relevance and personal knowledge into people they really get to achieve empathy with.
Make Care Front and Center
It is important to be authentic in how you will care. Before, during and after every transaction. Make no promise that you cannot keep. Be fierce about holding to your word.
Protect Against Data Spillage
Viral and virus share a common gene: Reach — the ability to spread wide and deep. Protecting data and constantly enhancing is an implicit part of Brand responsibility and core to your integrity.
Understand the Difference Between Want and Need
‘Faux Sociability’– social connectivity that is random and has no relevance will drive people away. Know the difference between people really wanting information and thereafter needing to connect. Don’t push them into places where they have to opt out and escape. Instead, give them the room and the means to come to you — on their terms.
Reject Digital Arrogance and Assumptions that Confuse and Distract
The expectation is that anything digital — the primary portal of brand connect these days — works. That means it is intuitive, easy to navigate and supportive when it needs to be. Anything less than that is a loss.