364: LIVE from NY II: The Shape of Things to Come is … well … spiritual

from New York, I reported yesterday that hundreds of the leading minds in publishing are gathered here, grappling with revolutionary changes in the way the world connect our stories and our lives.
    Yesterday, I described the historic scope of this change in media that is flattening our beloved newspapers and magazines, threatening to close our bookstores and forever is changing the way we get vital information about our world.

    Today, again LIVE from New York at the Tools of Change 2009 Conference, let me describe the shape of this change. Let me explain what these experts, scholars and gurus are saying this transformation IS — and what it is NOT.
    It’s well worth reading this story, because there’s some tremendously good news here for people of faith and for many professionals like former journalists. This is very challenging, but very good news.
    So, here we go, interwoven with some of the comments, data and conclusions presented in these first two days of meetings here …

    Care to read the whole series in this big, newsy week?

    Here are easy links to all 4 parts in the TOC2009 series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

FIRST, this transformation is NOT defined by Twitter, Facebook or even Blogging.

    These are powerful tools — and a lot of fun for millions. They’re also sure signs of the most fundamental change in our global culture: Individuals feel they should be in charge of making their own decisions and their desire is closer to reality, now, thanks to the connective tools in the hands of billions of men and women.
    Twitter? Facebook? Blogging software? They’re merely this moment’s toys and tools in the midst of a powerful cultural change.
    How can they be so fleeting when every cool person we meet these days talks about Twitter or Facebook as the next big thing?
    Well, at this gathering, it’s clear that some trendsetters already are rejecting these tools. Seth Godin, described here at one point as “our No. 1 expert on marketing” doesn’t even use Twitter. Chris Brogan (below left), a hot young guru of media marketing said he’s just about had it with all the spammy “noise” that accumulates on Facebook and is on the verge of dumping that platform.
    Most people here talk about blogging, not as if it’s the new big thing, but as if it’s yesterday’s sturdy tool until the next thing comes along to let people tell their stories to the rest of the world. There’s no magic aura in the term “blog.”

    Global data presented here makes it clear that the future does not even lie in traditional computers themselves. Half of all Africans now own a cell phone! More stunning than that — they pay an average of 30 to 70 percent of their income to own that phone. In Africa, those precious phones in the palms of millions are Africa’s major portals into our world’s information.
    Bestselling books in Japan are written on cell phones and sold via cell phones. Newspapers in Singapore are reported — and read entirely from hand-held devices.
    So, the future of global connection is not about traditional computers. And it’s not about toys like Twitter, Facebook or Blogging — even though they’re extremely popular and very useful at the moment.

    So, what is the bigger shape of this change?
    It’s a word familiar to people of faith.

The future IS shaped like: “community.”

    Community. Community. Community. The word echoes through these ballrooms and meeting rooms.
    Results from a year-long study of 140 corporately funded experiments with social media in the online world were presented here by Francois Gossieaux (at left in photo), co-founder of Beeline Labs, and Ed Moran (at right), the architect of Deloitte’s State of the Media Democracy Survey.
    “We are talking about tribalization. We are talking about community,” Gossieaux told the crowd. “We’re talking about humans wanting to be with people they trust and feel good with. We’re talking about humans behaving the way they were hardwired to behave for the longest time.”
    Now, our powerful new forms of media — the ways we connect with each other’s lives — are far-reaching and flexible enough, Gossieaux argued, “that the tools truly are now in the hands of the users. That is what is happening. People are in charge of what they want. Period.”
    Of course, truth be told, the hundreds of men and women sitting in these day-long meetings and tapping furiously into their laptops and Blackberries to remember what’s unfolding are not in New York out of entirely altruistic motives. They’re good people, by and large, but most of them came here to learn how to earn money in the midst of this media revolution.
    It’s expensive just to travel to New York. In many cases, professionals traveled from other countries. It’s expensive to attend this conference. These folks want to understand the next wave of media — because they want to make money selling us things, specifically books and magazines in this particular crowd. (Newspapers are Missing In Action here, as we reported yesterday.)
    So, one expert after another stepped up into the conference podium to proclaim: If you think it’s as easy as learning a new media trick — wait just a minute!

    Their specific warning?

Community is NOT a marketing plan!

    Does this begin to sound like there’s some actual preaching going on at this conference? If you’re a person of faith, you’ve got to be smiling and nodding at least a little bit by now. And, hold on out-of-work journalists — I’ll get to you in a moment.
    Here’s a hard truth one speaker after another hammered home: Companies don’t know a lot about real community. They know about selling things to customers.
    That young marketing guru, Chris Groban? To drive home this point, Groban began scoffing at corporations who want to create what amounts to spiritual communities online around consumer products.
    “Soft drink companies keep asking about creating social communities online,” Groban chuckled. “A soft-drink community? I mean what can you possibly say about Sprite in a real community?
    “Hey, I like Sprite!
    “Me, too!
    “Hey, I put vodka in my Sprite!
    “Me, too!
    “Then, you’re done! What else is there to say to each other about Sprite? Nothing!”

    This chorus went on and on — for two days, so far, here in Times Square.
    Laurel Touby, the founder of www.MediaBistro.com told these media professionals bluntly: “It’s not about selling book to random strangers anymore. … You can’t take one-off, wham-bam approaches to building relationships with people. … Building relationships requires time, talking with people, building networks over time and tending to those networks once they get going.”
    A City University of New York scholar of American media and culture tried to make the point another way. Jeff Jarvis asked the crowd: Why was AOL-Time Warner a flop, while Facebook flourishes and Google has become the world’s single fastest growing company since its search-engine launched in 1999?
    Jarvis writes about media, culture and marketing at www.BuzzMachine.com and also wrote the new book, “What Would Google Do?” He told the conference that AOL made the fundamental mistake of assuming that the future of our culture would be fueled by simply selling people entertainment.
    “AOL should have been Facebook before there ever was a Facebook!” Jarvis said. “But AOL decided it was an entertainment company and so they went off and merged with Time-Warner.
    “Buzzzt!” he shouted. “Wrong answer!”
    “What’s this new Google Age about? It’s about community! It’s about people!”
    Jarvis said, “The key skill in any organization today is no longer marketing but conversing.”

    In fact, one marketing guru after another urged companies NOT to allow their existing marketing professionals to try running the social side of their online media. DeLoitte’s Moran predicted that an entirely new profession will emerge very soon — and here’s where you should listen up out-of-work journalists!
    That new profession, according to Deloitte’s Moran, will be called: “Social Community Facilitator.”
    He described this new profession as virtually — well, pastoral. These professionals will be balanced. Articulate. Approachable. Wise. Helpful. Compassionate.
    Moran’s colleague in the nationwide study of emerging social media, Goisseaux, quickly chimed in: “What we know is that people want to connect to other people. We are a social species. We not only want to connect with others — we want to get advice from others, get help from others. It’s hard-wired into our brains. And not just get advice and help — but give back that help to others. We want to help others as much as we want to get help from them.
    “This is reciprocity. This is community. These are fundamental forces and if you tap into these fundamental forces of community today — you are going to get results that are unbelievable.”

    Are you thinking about all of this, people of faith? Does this sound like one step away from a powerful sermon?
    And the truth is: These are the top gurus of what makes our culture and commerce tick telling top media professionals that these are the secrets to surviving and thriving in our turbulently changing global community.
    This is the shape of things to come.
    And the truth is:
    This transformation has a powerfully spiritual shape.

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