Pioneers herald social media benefits

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Digital thought leaders have hailed the power of social media and collaborative technologies in helping organisations engage better with their customers and work more productively, but some warned that many Web 2.0 technologies are still immature and must be treated with caution.

Speaking at the Thinking Digital Conference hosted by digital innovations organisation Codeworks today, Darren Thwaites, editor of the Teeside Evening Gazette, explained how the firm has successfully embraced the online medium with the help of hundreds of “community bloggers”.

“Two years ago our online brand was virtually non-existent,” he said. “The days of the letter to the editor have changed though and with new web tools we can really get people involved.”

The company created 20 “hyper-local sites” accessible through the main homepage, each containing information and local stories uploaded by “citizen journalists” relevant to a particular postcode.

The project has been so successful the firm has also begun to produce five new regional-specific print titles featuring re-purposed material from the hyper-local sites, he added.

However, others were more critical of Web 2.0 tools. Matt Locke, commissioning editor of channel 4 argued that although for its teenaged audience, social networks “are the centre of their life”, the tools are still too “clunky”, and reaching the right audience is a challenge.

“In the last five to 10 years there has been a sharing and overlapping of different ways of communication and we haven’t developed the right tools yet to explain where we are,” he added.

“But eventually social software will become a commodity and we’ll have better tools for specific purposes.”

Jeremy Silver, chief executive of music software company Sibelius Software, added that the speed at which users move from one favourite social network to another will be “terrifying” for any firms looking to exploit these sites comm ercially.

Elsewhere at the show, Ian Kennedy, European head of technical operations for Cisco, hailed the power of telepresence technologies to enable the harnessing of collective intelligence and better cross-cultural collaboration within organisations.

He quoted recent research by business psychologists Pearson Kandola which found that it takes four times as long to communicate messages electronically as face-to-face, and that 64 per cent of communication is non-verbal.

“With this telepresence technology you can pull audiences together and have highly collaborative sessions very easily,” he explained. @ 2010 Incisive Media

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