Communication overload
Communication overload is about to hit full steam (image by Nicholas Smale)

When it comes to communication the biggest problem someone faces right now is overload. From cell phones, text messages, emails, and social networks. The vast amount of communication that the average person parses is staggering. Never before has one had such an access to instantaneous one on one or even one to many communication options.

I’m guessing you feel this yourself and it’s not just you– people in your target market feel this as well. It is the consumer you are looking to sell. It is that purchasing manager you are looking to inform about your product.

Is your message to your target market worthy of breaking this communication firewall? Right now these choices are still relatively left to the user but going forward these choices will continue to be managed by the systems themselves.

Now the Bad News

For you it has been easy. The communications you have sent out to your target market have pretty good chance they will at least be received. Your email will go to the inbox where it will show up in the order it has been received by time in the day. You social updates will show in the stream of conversations of family and friends.

Well that is now but in the near future our inboxes won’t be so courteous to our communications. As technology and the tools we use learn more about us, what we care about, what we read, respond to, forward, and ignore–well let’s just say this changes the game a little in your outreach to your target market.

Imagine a new radio that auto changed commercials (image by James Cridland)

Look at it this way. Let’s say you are buying a radio advertisement. You do the traditional buy of a certain amount of runs for a certain date period. Your guaranteed your commercial will run between such and such time and will get such and such slots. That is great except one thing your ad rep didn’t tell you…

Now radios are equipped with this new device (not the HD radio I still have figured out if I need)–this device knows what the listener likes, cares about, etc. When  your commercial comes on this new feature blocks that commercial and in fact plays another commercial all together.

You still pay for the air time, the radio station delivered but your commercial never was heard (or even had a chance to be heard). Now I should mention this is nothing new–the cassette tape, VHS, and time-shifted television were all said to be the death of their respective markets and advertising. That wasn’t what has happened–in fact those industries thrived and advertising grew at a rather brisk rate.

There is a Difference in Technology Today

The difference with the technology today is that we now have the data, or put another way– we have the predictive history of what you like, interact with, and consume. This new dataset of interactions allows technology to filter out automatically what is important and what isn’t. Your television doesn’t do this–sure Tivo recommends television shows you might like but when you watch a recorded show does it automatically skip past the commercials? Shouldn’t it?

For social networks and email to be useful as communication tool I argue that they have to employ this regulation feature. Social media as it sits right now is broken. Email is slowly falling into this category as well.

Social is broken because 80% of what you see is not relevant to what you care about. All your conversations are lumped into one stream causing you to self censor what you update. When that update to your  friends who are little more on the wild side never gets mentioned because you don’t want the parents of the little league team to see it–well let’s just say it’s stifling the real you and the purpose of connecting with people you care about.

So How Does This Get Solved?

First technology and the social networks will have to solve these items. There has to be some form of classifying people on social networks. You need an easy way to update a certain segment of your friends, followers, or groups. This is a feature I think we will see in most social networks in the near future (12 months).

For email–well the priority inbox for Gmail is a step in what I feel most mailbox solutions will move towards. Essentially technology and your usage patterns dictate what you see first, what you respond to first, and what gets your precious attention.

What This Means For  You

If you have any message or any form of communication you want to reach someone you have to start planning for these changes. Take the example of the priority inbox from Gmail. Gmail is automatically tagging things that are important to the receiver. These get placed or ordered into what is essentially a special folder that is titled “important”.

How do you create communications and content that is guaranteed to be placed in the ‘important’ inbox? If you don’t then what box is your email regulated too?

For social, when the user of a social network has the ability to easily group friends, updates, and streams based on social circles or the network itself inherently does this for them–what social circle is your updates on?

Social is broken because there is little if no segmenting of your communications.
Social is broken because there is little if no segmenting of your communications.

Let’s play out this social circle a little bit. Let’s say your target market has this new social network that automatically groups people based on how they interact or how they met them. They have a social circle called “college friends”, “co-workers”, “family”, “high school friends”,  “swim team families”, and “other”.

How Does Your Target Market Group You or Your Business?

My first question is what group do you fall into? Most likely it is “other”. You could reason that the average social user will connect more with the group that they resonate most with most of the time.  While there still might be this one overall stream the updates will be segmented. The real challenge for you is not that you are in this overall stream but that you focus on creating  a way that this person in your target market absolutely has to check the “other” tab.

Today you can be lazy as this does not exist. Shortly I believe you will not have this luxury as email and social will increasingly auto regulate updates and will auto-decide what a particular user sees and cares about. All this will be done behind the scenes in much the way  personalized retargeting or remarketing is being done with search and across the ad networks.