Yes, we all know that there are 450 million people on Facebook, that YouTubers upload the equivalent of 86,000 feature length films (in under 10 minute increments) to the web every week, and that Twitter users tweet more than 50 million times a day.
An even more interesting – though maybe not surprising — fact is that there are 309 million people in the U.S. and combined they have an astonishing 276 million mobile phone accounts. Factor out babies, prisoners and the occasional rural recluse and that’s a pretty impressive market penetration. Oh, and did I mention that by the end of next year 45 percent of those phones will be smartphones.
Of course the real story here isn’t about technology or platforms. The real story is what all those Facebookers, YouTubers and smartphone users are doing with the platforms and tools. They’re rapidly transfering power from broadcasters, publishers and marketers to themselves, the former viewers, readers and consumers. The latter, now content creators and distributors, continue to embrace the potential of digital technology, open-source software, and community faster and more effectively than those from whom they are wresting control.
Just look at what happened yesterday in New Jersey; thousands of students across the state walked out of school disrupting classes, throwing off test schedules, and reminding teachers and administrators not only who’s really in charge, but how easy it is to mobilize in the age of Facebook and Twitter.
Granted there’s no shortage of students in any public school system looking for a reason to get out of the classroom. Nevertheless the ease and speed with which the event was organized speaks volumes about a new generation’s use of all things digital.
Michelle Ryan Lauto, an 18-year old college freshman, posted an “event” on Facebook, attracted 16,000 members in a matter of no time and organized a state-wide protest against cuts in school budgets. One person plus a Facebook account equals the power to inspire thousands of student bodies to stand up take action.
My friend Faris Yakob talks about how we all have a primary mode of interacting with content. People over the age of 35 (rough guess) are perhaps viewers and readers first, content creators and sharers second. They may be online and in social networks, but TV and print remain their primary mode of engaging with information and entertainment.
But the generation entering adulthood (ready to buy cars, homes, furniture, electronics, and laundry detergent) uses the web and its interactivity as their primary mode of engagement, relegating TV and print to second place.
They will have grown up like Michelle Lauto. They will never be passive consumers of either products or media.Still there remain brands, marketers, manufacturers, educators determined to pump out circulars, broadcast messages, and exclude consumers from participating and co-creating.
Sure all those tactics still work and there are well established infrastructures to support them. And yes, they’ll perform for another few years. Maybe even longer. But consumers, readers, viewers, audiences and students no longer behave according to the old rules. In fact they’re writing the new ones.
For everyone on the left hand side of the slide above, it’s time to get with it. I don’t mean put up a Facebook page and use it to “collect” fans (now called likes.) Or launch a Twitter account to tweet out offers and incentives. Instead:
It’s time for brands to understand all the different ways in which consumers engage with content, media, technology and each other and then learn to create experiences, utility and social value, along with an invitation to participate.
By now there are thousands of companies and brands using social media platforms and networks. Some actually get it, using them not as replacements for old media but as ways to create and build a new kind of relationship with their communities. But others are still sitting on the sidelines. I’m not sure what they’re waiting for. The pace of change will accelerate at a blinding pace. If they want to be around to see the future, it might be a good time rethink their vision.