Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Next Transition in Communication

Over time, the way in which communication happens has gone through some very interesting transitions. Each of them resulted in profound changes in information flow, and with that, significant changes in the discipline of marketing. We’re about to see the evolution of a fifth form of communication, and it will have an equally interesting effect on our lives.

1. One-to-One

The oldest form of communication is the one-to-one model. Face to face interactions and conversations were the main way in which messages were communicated. While very interactive, this was not a very scalable model at all. However, because it was the only way of conveying messages, it found an audience that was not overwhelmed with communication, and was likely much more receptive to new information.

2. Broadcast

The modern marketing industry was born with the advent of mass broadcast communications. Radio, print, or television enabled messages to be mass communicated to broad audiences. This was a highly scalable, but entirely non-interactive, as it was a one-way communication and allowed no way for the listener to engage with the communicator. Also, as broadcast grew, it reduced the attention span of audiences by overwhelming them with too many communications.

3. Email

The next interesting evolution in communication was with the advent of email. I’m not talking about email marketing, however, as that is much more similar to a broadcast model. Interpersonal email, however, added a very interesting element with the “Reply All” function. Now, the audience members in a communication group could easily respond to a discussion, and do so in a way that created ad hoc, topical group discussions. However, these discussions were closed to outsiders. A person who was not in the discussion would not see the discussion happening and could not join the discussion without explicitly being included by an insider.

4. Social Media

Solving this discovery problem, of course, was social media. Now, with the discussions happening in an open format, anyone can detect, read, or join existing discussions. The speed with which these communications happen has been well documented, and discussions on a particular topic can quickly grow to involve and influence hundreds of thousands of people. However, social media creates huge volumes of communications, most of which are not of interest. Filtering through this noise is a daunting challenge, and whereas most social media can be filtered by keywords or brand names, this still tends to result in an overwhelming volume of content.

5. Conversation Discovery

So what's next? As the major search engines apply their computing and analysis horsepower to understanding who is talking to whom about what, we may be on the verge of a fifth major shift in how information is communicated. Passive conversation discovery, guided by the algorithms of Google and Bing and their analysis of vast amounts of social media data, may be the way we discover what conversations are happening that may be of interest. Much like Amazon’s book recommendation systems which looks at “people like us” and sees what they are interested in, Google and Bing may soon be able to accurately detect and show specific conversations that are most likely to be of interest to each person. This finally allows the interactivity and openness of social media while not having the overwhelming volume of unfiltered social

Each of these evolutions in communication has changed how we interact with each other, how we learn, and how we market. This coming fifth transition promises to be as disruptive as any before it.

What are you doing to be ready?

(this article first appeared as a guest post on SavvyB2B)
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar


Veronica Brown said...

Steven, I enjoyed this post. The ramifications for B2B marketers for this trend are huge. I added my thoughts to a post on our blog at Thanks for your thought leadership on this trend.