Giles Crouch has been passionate about marketing and communications for close to 20 years much of which has been spent working in international markets. Also the co-creator and founder of the Ice Awards, creative advertising awards for Atlantic Canada, Giles has long been pushing for change and innovation within the industry. It's only natural that he has come to spend the past two years entirely immersed in his newest passion, social media.
Giles was happy to chat with me before his state-of-the-nation presentation at Podcamp Halifax!
1) Atlantic Canada's social media scene – how does it measure up with the rest of Canada/North America?
We’re on a par in many ways with the rest of Canada in terms of what social media services and tools we use and how we consume but participation is another matter. We’re seriously lagging with mobile application usage. In terms of Internet usage Ontario and BC lead simply because of density of urban populations, higher incomes and access to broadband in more rural areas coupled with increased populations since the Stats Can survey in 2005. As the Atlantic Provinces increase broadband access in rural communities I think we’ll see a big increase in social media usage as these rural communities find their “voice” and we expect that to be with tools like photo and video sharing, music sharing and blogging. The work the provinces governments are undertaking to build high-speed infrastructure in this regard is very positive and shows insight to the future.
The interesting thing we’ve seen in Atlantic Canada is the way the Power Law curve has come into play. This means that while many people are “consuming” social media (watching, listening) fewer are very “active” in social media in terms of writing and creating. This will change in 2009. We saw a drastic upswing in people voicing opinions and discussing issues from the spring to winter of 2008.
2) Where do you see the local market turning to social media? Who stands to benefit?
I’d say mobile applications, but the prices for data usage remain too high and there is not enough free wifi access in Atlantic Canada. New Brunswick leads the pack in regards to wireless and in cities like Moncton, Fredericton and St. John you’ll see the impact of social media more than in Nova Scotia, PEI or Newfoundland. This year however, we’ll see more use of social media tools to organize groups and societal functions. Communities in New Brunswick have already adopted social media tools, but Halifax, even with progressive groups like Fusion, are late to adopt. Businesses are going to realize the value of more open communications.
Atlantic Canadians will mostly stick to Facebook, primary blogging platforms WordPress and Blogger and add Twitter into the mix. Businesses and professionals will adopt LinkedIn and maybe Plaxo a little. We’re not big about “change” in Atlantic Canada, that means first-mover technologies that get adopted tend to do better in markets like ours. This is similar to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and most of the Northeastern USA.
Who will most benefit? The general public and businesses who “listen” more to what is going on will benefit by developing better products and services. Local companies who want to grow exports will also benefit if they have a good story to tell.
3) Which industries or companies need to get more in tune with social media in their business?
Social Media is going to get very local in the next 2 years. Service-oriented businesses will begin to feel the impact of social media tools as people start to share their opinions and opinion/ranking-type tools become more prevalent, these are tools like epinions.com and yelp.com. So local restaurants, mechanics, stores that haven’t really felt the need to engage with the Web will start to find that they now need to be aware of these Web tools. This will impact major urban areas first and trickle into smaller communities over time.
Regionally, large companies like utilities (power, telco’s) and grocery stores should start to get a handle on social media for competitive advantages. The smaller competitors that engage and build relationships in the next year will hurt the larger companies. Unfortunately there is no real competition in the power-generating sector, but activist groups who are learning how to use social media as an organizing tool might force government change in regulatory terms and the utility companies may face a significant public relations crisis, as well as similar industries.
4) So far, what have the game-changers been in social media development throughout the world?
The ability to easily form groups based around identified interests. People, general everyday citizens now have an ability to tell the stories they want to tell, in the way they want to tell them. In a way, this has somewhat marginalized the storytelling power of traditional media like newspapers, magazines and television journalism. Twitter changed the news game forever with the terrorist attacks in India, since it enabled people to share the crisis in a very personal way and in the way they wanted with less reliance on mainstream media. This happened again with the US Airways crash on the Hudson river last week.
Politicians who’ve usually ignored the 18-34 market, like Obama, harnessed the tools and understood the messages that matter – and they engaged that segment. Conversely, the government in Belarus shut down the mobile networks to stop protestors. The India terrorists used Blackberry’s and social media services on those phones, to coordinate attacks and evade police. It can be a two-edged sword…so really, we have no idea what’s really going to happen, but it’s gonna be big – when we look back on it in 10 years.
5) What's the one thing, person, company, tool, or movement to watch in social media for 2009?
People. I think 2009 will be more about how people are using Social Media tools than the technology itself. The technology is simply an enabler for group activity and socializing – something people have always done, but the “costs” of organizing have been very high before. Certainly Twitter (microblogging) will come into it’s own like email, Instant Messaging and blogging. Twitter is an example of how people decide to use a technology (so I guess that’d be my pick if I had to.)
A microblog service like Twitter doesn’t gain much value until most or all the people you want to engage with are also using it, whether that’s 5 people or 500. So 2009 will be the beginning of Web 2.0 and social media for the masses.
Another trend we’ll see is people saying “no” to many social media services. This will mean many blogging, microblogging, photo sharing and such services will shut down. People are learning how to value and use the media channels they have available. As a result, they will tend to stick with what they are comfortable with, so getting someone to “switch” or add another tool will be much harder. Even to the point where the “power of recommendation” by a “trusted source” won’t be enough to sway one!
In technology terms, it’s mobile social media tools that will begin to take shape, going beyond SMS as wifi becomes more prevalent and carriers are pushed to ease up on overpriced data packages.
With access to capital falling, especially in Canada, we’ll see fewer start-ups, certainly in Atlantic Canada, in this space and many collapsing since they can’t monetize their product/service.
Keep an eye on
http://podcamphalifax.ca for online video of the event's presentations.
They will be uploaded as soon as they become available!