The next big things: agility and vision.

3 min read

New media aren’t so new anymore. Those of us who were around when the first Internet bubble blew up and finally burst can tell you that, more or less, we’ve seen it all before. It wasn’t too long ago that we were buying encyclopedias on CD-ROM. Remember when your Encarta encyclopedia on CD-ROM was the coolest thing ever? Now it seems as relevant–and as convenient to use–as Prodigy.

Times change, technology changes. New ways of relaying and accessing information require new ways of developing and expressing content. I am not the same writer on my computer that I was on my typewriter, or that I am when I write longhand; I’m not even the same writer when I write in Microsoft Word that I am when I write an e-mail or when I write in the WordPress content management system. And online platforms such as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter require writing styles very different from printed brochures or magazine article or newspaper ads.

But a good copywriter should be able to adapt to new tools and new forms. And a smart marketer should recognize that getting locked into any given media platform as if it’s the answer to all the world’s marketing problems is a big mistake.

For example, just a few years ago, MySpace seemed to be the place everyone needed to be–and Facebook was a site where college kids posted photos of themselves getting drunk. Today, MySpace is a great place for bands to showcase their music–but you’re probably not going to find all your old high school friends there. Meanwhile, Facebook has more than 500 million users around the world (some of whom still post photos of themselves getting drunk).

So you should be investing in a Facebook strategy, right?

Of course–but that’s not the point. Facebook’s not going away any time soon. But you also have to keep your eyes open for what’s on the horizon. For example, even a handful of years ago, most people didn’t have the sort of broadband web access that made web video practical for a mass audience; remember, YouTube is not even six years old. Even today, the quality of the video you post on the web can be shockingly low compared with the quality of video we shot 25 years ago and distributed on VHS tape. But as more and more people acquire fast Internet access, and more and more producers distribute high definition video via the web, quality will once again matter more. Crummy-looking web video will no longer be acceptable.

Another example: you may not think your organization has any use for local check-in services such as Foursquare or Gowalla or Yelp. Are you sure? All three are still growing like crabgrass. Will they all survive? Is one of them the next Facebook? Which one?

Our advice: invest in agility and big-picture vision. Work with advisors who aren’t so invested in a single strategy, be it “social media” or “digital solutions” or “traditional media” or “public relations” or something else. There are lots of narrow specialists out there, and very few strategists looking at the big picture.

What’s the next big thing? We don’t know. But we guarantee that lots of people who think they know are going to be wrong. Surround yourself with advisors for whom the ideas are more important than the platform, and it won’t matter.