Now, whilst I fully embrace the World of Digital (tm), Social Media and all that, I definitely wouldn't place myself in its Stalinist wing: those who see 0s and 1s as the 'only way'. In fact, I think the digital fundamentalists can actually end up doing their discipline a disservice (as fundamentalists do in all aspects of life - social, moral, political, cultural, technological or religious).
Because great as it is, new, exciting and ripe with possibilities, at the end of the day digital is just another channel. A very powerful, very 21st Century one, admittedly, particularly when it comes to engaging certain people in certain ways. But it is just a tool nonetheless, not a cure for all ills.
Digital (in whatever form it takes) can't be all things to all people on all occasions. And in trying to claim it can, and so replace all other channels (particularly TV), the more blinkered digital evangelists are in danger of alienating just as many as those they also send off down the garden path. Neither is a good outcome.
So to provide some debating points, I'd just like to point out a few recent articles that argue a more balanced, and sometimes strongly oppositional case.
First up, Andrew Harrison in last week's Marketing Week, under the banner of "social networking is merely the emperor in his latest new clothes", who makes some points worthy of consideration for those of us who love our blogging and Twittering...
"Twitter has an active user base of only 1.2 million. That’s worldwide. About the circulation of one issue of The Sunday Times in England. Yes, Twitter’s growing fast – but if advertising on private mail exchanges is the best way to deliver commercial messages, then letters would have evolved ahead of TV as the biggest display advertising medium of the last century...
...Last.fm is now a mature business in the UK and yet only has a reach of 0.3% of the UK’s 36 million regular internet users...In comparison with established media, these reach numbers are minuscule. Compare Last.fm’s 100,000 users each month with TV: Dancing on Ice gets 9 million viewers each episode (84 times Last.fm’s entire monthly reach from just one programme).There’s a similar chasm between Spotify’s 55,000 monthly music subscribers and the 20 million listeners who tune into radio breakfast shows every single day...
...of course lots of real people are gathered on these virtual sites, but that doesn’t make it an appropriate advertising medium any more than Wetherspoon pubs or Costa Coffee are a new important medium for advertisers because they are each a home for social networking in real time."
It does, though, allow me to make a neat segue into another decent recent read, in which Asi Sharabi makes the very important point that 'everything is social media', no matter what and where it is...
"When people have the ability to share and converse in real time, beyond the physical world, everything becomes social. Every object can potentially become a social object and a point of conversation. The gravity of conversational tools simply suck in everything worth talking about. Everything. Think about the most a-social media: a 48$ billboard. Nothing social right? wrong. If I can take a picture of that billboard and tweet, blog, twitpic it and make it a point for conversation this billboard became a social object and hence social media."
Which is why (for example) Twitter's 1.2m users are important: the first grains in an avalanche with the potential to spread across the web (potential being the operative word here: we're not talking exact science!).
But ideas are the catalyst for this avalanche (if it happens). And digital is simply a convenient and efficient space in which to talk about them. But then so is chatting down the pub or over coffee, as part of the broader chain of conversations. Which is why I said Andrew's point is a bit glib. Because, arguably, a Costa Coffee has just as much potential to be a social media space as Twitter - SM needn't be digital!
Mr Contrarian's post is worth reading in its own right, as he has some strong points of view on the pronouncement of TV's death...
"It is a story built on shabby journalism, ad industry buffoonery, and the willful suspension of skepticism on a scale unprecedented during my time in the advertising business. This story has been advanced by a gullible press, confused advertising and marketing executives, web promoters, and careless pundits caught in a feedback loop of such proportions that it's possible it has done serious harm to the media and advertising industries."
...and highlights some of the more amusingly extreme 'expert' predictions on the digital vs. TV future amongst Google's 124,000 search results.
But the NYT article is the one with the numbers, and so the most compelling. Key figure (amongst many): 99% of 'video content' viewing in 2008 took place on TV, although this did fall by a massive 1% to 98% for 18-24 year olds.
Now I'm in no way trying to be an apologist for conventional media, or to say TV is (still) the only way. That would be falling into the same trap. There's loads of rubbish programmes out there, and adverts clogging them up (much as is the case on line as well, it should be pointed out).
But even though our future may (eventually) be a wholly digital, interactive, social one, we are not in that place yet. And are probably still a long way from it for the vast majority of people.
Which is why conventional media, and TV in particular, continues to have such an important role to play: when done right and well, there is still no other way to engage so many people so quickly, generating fame, common understanding and social currency in the process...that a few of us may then go and Tweet about.
At the end of the day, we live in a mixed media economy, and a balanced approached approach is what's required: it's about creating engaging (brand) experiences that get talked about (and meet brand objective) wherever they happen - on line, on tv, on the bus, in the pub...whatever. It's not about whether my 30" TV commercial is better than your Facebook app (or vice versa).