Thursday, January 08, 2009

Thoughts on distribution & Twitter as communication

By Lon S. Cohen

Ever read one of those fanzines?

Fanzines (or just ‘zines) are those cheaply produced magazines, mostly printed by photocopying or other inexpensive printing process and distributed to a small number of subscribers. They’re generally not very slick, professional nor are they meant to be. Quick and dirty is the name of the game here. They’re generally written about a specific topic like a rock band or most notably the science fiction culture. They are always self-published and have little if no promotion. Generally a ‘zine has an underground or indie feel to it.

The problem has been distribution, which for years meant mailing them out, leaving stacks in retail outlets or distributing them on street corners or at public events, etc. Similarly, centuries before ‘zines appeared, people produced their own bills, flyers, newspapers, pamphlets and libels to disseminate a point of view. These most democratic carriers of personal expression could be distributed or sold on the corners of Colonial towns and European cities.

In both cases the distribution of material was very limited. Limited by physical travel times and in the olden days, low literacy rates. But the information could still have a great influence on public opinion. In 1649, English Parliament even instituted the Printing Act, which sought to stem the decadent distribution of libels. A lot of good that did, since one of the most famous of these pamphlets was called, "Common Sense" written by Thomas Paine. "Common Sense" served to incite a little thing called the American Revolution and served as a basis for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

Nowadays, we have Twitter.

Had Paine been on Twitter he might have written Tweets like, There is something absurd in supposing a continent (American) to perpetually governed by an island (Britain). That would easily have fit within the 140 character limit even if he added the modern IMHO to it. Or perhaps another famous quote from one of his pamphlets, These are times that try men' s souls. FTW!

Spreading beyond the niche appeal of geeks and social networking aficionados, Twitter is gaining popularity in usership and in media exposure – possibly because people in the public relations field and journalism are becoming one of the largest of the second wave of adopters. On Twitter we share links to articles, blogs, pictures and videos. We talk to each other about a multitude of topics and hold public chats. We even talk to customer service representatives and get headlines from our favorite news organizations in our live stream. But many of the companies that try to get into the game, come at it with the same dogmatic approach to marketing they’ve practiced for decades.

Too many companies either go at social networking like a bull in a china closet or a canary in a cave. There seems to be nothing in between. I attribute it to the fact that most companies really don’t understand the nuances of the medium. They don’t take the time to learn. The funny thing is, we're figuring it all out for them for free with these hashtag chats, blog posts, articles, etc. All a company that potentially wants to join the fray needs to do is sit back, watch and learn.

That’s it. Right now, if you're in public relations, advertising, media or are a brand looking to get into social networking all you need to do is poke around and follow/friend the right people and you will get a free education in social networking. Never before in history has it been easier to glean from the knowledge of others who want/will give it away to you for free! Connect, pay attention, be savvy, keep tight lipped and you will learn more than a college education. It's so empowering. And I’m not talking 101 here; I’m talking higher education, Masters level stuff. What I learn from Twitter people alone daily amazes me.

This is probably the most opportune time in the history of communication. It’s happening right now. Now is the time to get into the pool; just make sure you're acclimated. Or in other words, jump in with both feet but make sure you test the water first.

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