Rachel Drinkwater @REDrinkwater
Sunday 20 March 2016 21:51GMT

Wednesday 16th March 2016 saw Birmingham City University’s annual #RethinkMedia Conference, a part of Digital Cities Birmingham . The event promised to “delve into the latest in digital and social media and digital for businesses or organisations” and “put a spotlight on emerging trends, up and coming players and fresh thinking to facilitate new ideas, approaches and thought” and certainly lived up to expectations.

With an impressive array of inspiring speakers and a café conversations breakout bringing out an array of ideas and discussions, it would be near impossible to write about everything, so here are my top takeaways from the conference:

1: Every business is now in technology
2: Everyone wants real-time stories
3: The challenge is getting your message across
4: People want bite-sized snippits to consume on the go
5: People want to be spoken with, not messaged at
6: Gain attention by adding calls to action
7: People like the idea of printed media
8: Forget the Internet of Things – It’s all about the Internet of People
9: Kindness, caring and empathy
Have Your Say

Takeaway 1: Every business is now in technology

Alia Lamaader started her keynote speech about SLACK Technologies and the media industry with an observation that everyone is now in the technology industry. This has been something that has been on my mind for a while now. When I was choosing my first degree, I chose Information Systems as it seemed like no matter what I wanted to do for a career, working with computers would feature somehow. Now, over ten years later, this is more true than I could have imagined. Not only does pretty much every organisation have computer systems to manage their operations and administration, but they are all digitally connected; to their communities, their customers, their competitors, their supply chain via the internet. In the post web-2.0 world, social marketing and promotion is prolific and some may argue essential – even my village’s corner shop has a Facebook page! So every company needs to be technically aware and digitally able to remain competitive, to manage their customer and stakeholder relationships and especially to carry out marketing and promotion.

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Takeaway 2: Everyone wants real-time stories

This was Alia Lamaader‘s second observation (read her first here) as she explained that there is an increasing demand for real-time stories. Not only this, but all news is breaking news. Back in the days when there were four channels on the TV, news had to be extremely important to interrupt the scheduled programming. In the digital world, consumers not only want to specify what they personally consider to be important, but a host of notifications and real-time feeds from social media tools and aggregators mean that all news received to a consumer’s device is treated like breaking news, interrupting their current activity and drawing their attention.  Think Jam’s Dan Noy also considered this, but added that this can pose a challenge in keeping a message current. With a constantly updating newsfeed and equal priority placed on items reaching a consumer’s device, being ‘current news’ is a split-second state – your message will immediately be superseded by the next big thing – which is simply the next item incoming to  a consumer’s newsfeed or the next notification from an app. Which leads us onto Takeaway 3

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Takeaway 3: The challenge is getting your message across

Amidst a sea of cat pictures, blogs, YouTube videos, notifications, Tweets, personal emails and Facebook messages, your message is floating, hopefully with some well-targeted wind in its sails, but still floating in a very big ocean. In addition to his concerns about remaining current (see Takeaway 2), Dan Noy spoke of consumers’ mobile devices as their “weapons of mass distraction”, which pose significant challenges when it comes to getting messages heard.  Firstly, those who consume news via mobile devices and social feeds are receiving heavily filtered news, based on their online communities and preferences and secondly, as mentioned by Adam Biddle, MD of Edition, as the sender of a message you have little control over what that message appears next to. As he quite rightly pointed out (and I paraphrase); “if a marketing message arrives on my Facebook feed next to a photo of my friend Dave with a cat on his head, we all know which one is going to get my attention”.

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Takeaway 4: People want bite-sized snippits to consume on the go

There is an alarming amount of rhetoric at the moment that our attention spans are dwindling to goldfish-like proportions, that we are incapable of focusing on anything longer that a 140-character Tweet or a one-minute video.  Having recently read Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows, one could be forgiven for thinking that the attention span and intelligence of the human race is doomed. But as Alia Lamaader points out, worktime and daytime consumption is increasing. Yes people want bite-sized, quick-to-consume content, but maybe that’s because they’re always connected, always consuming and able to read frequently throughout the day. It’s easy and work-acceptable to read a 100-word summary of information on your phone at your desk, but breaking our War and Peace might just raise a few eyebrows.  Similarly, with the world’s collective knowledge literally at our fingertips, the way we find information is changing. We scan read, we read summaries, we flit from source to source until we’ve found the information we want. This is very much a hot topic at the moment and definitely not something that’s going to be resolved right here. It is however something I’m looking into for my MA Research… watch this space for my findings…

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Takeaway 5: People want to be spoken with, not messaged at

Clay Shirky writes about cognitive surplus (there’s a great Wikipedia summary of his book here). This is the phenomena of individuals contributing their time, energy and intellectual capital to creating and sharing online content. Often this is to direct benefit of other individuals or organisations, for seemingly no gain to themselves. However, whilst there is often little monetary benefit from creating and sharing content online, the benefit comes from having a voice, belonging to a community and showcasing talent. I, for example, am writing this article purely for the opportunity to share my ideas with an audience larger than my long-suffering group of friends, to maybe get into a little discussion with like-minded members of the media community online and yes, to gain a little exposure for my blog in the hope that someone might like to employ me to do some writing for them (yep, shameless plug there).   Think Jam’s Dan Hoy spoke of this when he said that your audience wants to be spoken to, not spoken at. In the digital age, audiences do not want to passively receive your messages, they want the opportunity to be involved, to be heard, to collaborate and contribute. As Birmingham City University’s Paul Bradshaw beautifully summarised “remember, that a gate opens both ways”.

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Takeaway 6: Gain attention by adding calls to action

Just a quick one, but I really liked this tip from BCU’s Paul Bradshaw. Particular words can capture audience attention and draw an audience in with a call to action, such as ‘see’, ‘watch’, ‘meet’, ‘learn’, and ‘listen’. These active verbs engage the reader, inform them of what options they have and encourage them to carry out the action. This is used frequently on a number of online channels. A quick search for ‘Meet the man who’ on You Tube returns pages of hits. Similarly, ‘Watch here’, ‘Learn more’ and ‘Listen to…’ crop up multiple times on media pages such as the BBC. If anyone has any stats on engagement rates linked to using this kind of language, it would be great to hear them. Please share in the comments.

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Takeaway 7: People like the idea of printed media

Another hot topic at the moment. Writers such as Nicholas Carr and Jeff Gomez have rather dramatically announced the death of printed books and media, claiming that the printed format is obsolete, replaced by digital versions available on a variety of convenient mobile devices.  With the recent announcement from the Independent newspaper of its decision to switch to a purely digital format, it does seem that there is a trend in that direction. However, in the first panel discussion of #RethinkMedia, it became apparent that there was a certain nostalgia for printed media. Both Paul Bradshaw and Dan Noy admitted that they had books and newspapers in the house, mainly as a good example to their children and most of the panel agreed that they enjoyed the theatre of reading a print newspaper and the associated sense of culture and refinement. The panel did however agree that it was rare for them to source a printed version of the news and Alia Lamaader lamented the lack of ability to self-curate the content when time-pressed.

Both the BBCs Mark Frankel and Think Jam’s Dan Hoy believe that switching formats is not a problem, with Frankel stating that “it’s not about the paper, but about the content”. Indeed legacy technology being replaced by new advancements is not a new trend and has frequently been seen in other industries. However Hoy’s concern is the threat of losing the journalistic style associated with print newspapers. Although Frankel defended the digital format on the basis that the BBC’s most shared piece of content recently was a 10-minute-read long-form article, Hoy’s concern was based on the increasing demand for short-form media (see Takeaway 4), long-form journalistic techniques may become obsolete.

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8: Forget the Internet of Things – It’s all about the Internet of People

Emma Mulqueeny introduced the concept of ‘The Internet of People’ and I was immediately amazed that I hadn’t really thought about the internet in this way before. Without people, without the content they produce, their websites, blogs, social networking activities, academic journals, commerce, sharing and collaboration, the internet is just a collection of wires, servers and nodes. People, their ideas and knowledge and willingness to share; these are the currency and value of the internet.  And online people build communities (you might want to check out Takeaway 5), which act incredibly similarly to communities in the offline world. People build relationships, gain a sense of belonging, build emotional attachments and those who are involved with the media, trying to promote their messages or brands, need to build and tap into these communities however, it’s important to remember Takeaway 9

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Takeaway 9: Kindness, caring and empathy

From Emma Mulqueeny introducing the concept of #Kindfulness and discussing the mental health of millennials, to discussions around engaging your audience and listening to what they have to add (Takeaway 5). From Alia Lamaader’s advice to “know your audience and let them know you” through to Matt Shaw’s advice to “be honest, humble and authentic”, the overwhelming message running throughout the conference seemed to be that of kindness, caring and empathy.  Many speakers, including MD of Edition, Adam Biddle and Sadie Spooner of Unruly expressed the importance of humanity and engaging an audience on an emotional and human level, making the audience care and caring for your audience.

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Were you at the conference? What were your main takeaways? What really got you thinking? Do you disagree with something a speaker or I have said? Add your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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