In the last few days, 90 million of us popped in to try on new Threads. We fumbled our way round the dressing rooms, looking for people we know and, unwittingly perhaps, brought new material to the table, ready to be cut and trimmed to fit as yet unknown forms.
This week's launch reminded me of one of my fondest social media memories - 2010, 'watching' New Zealand’s football team compete in the World Cup. The visuals were on television but the collaborative live commentary via Twitter was the real winner. Threads won this week simply because people are tired, want to catch up and chat and don’t want the stresses and strains of argument and ego that have permanently stained the other outfits.
As Threads dangled from the servers we were momentarily captivated by the shy, exploratory tone we found there. Suddenly there was personal uncertainty regarding place and behaviour. It didn’t seem to be a showroom for the brash influencers with dollar-driven hacks and lavish travel budgets. It didn’t seem to be for the shouty people determined to drown out every voice but their own. And, almost miraculously - for the first 48 hours - it seemed that nobody was up in your face selling stuff. Old friends were found, new connections made - goodness me, for a moment or two it all looked marvellous. For an instant, like a cracked mirror catching the sunlight, we glimpsed a reflection of the past possibilities offered to us by social media. A place where we could meet, talk about anything and everything and find human connection of the 'kind' kind.
But, as we bravely tried on the new outfit and enjoyed the cosier feel of this new space, behind the scenes technical tailors have been invisibly stitching our data into the fabric of the Meta ecosystem.
I spent some time reading the terms and conditions - after all, its only been a week or two since Black Mirror’s Joan is Awful - and they led me back to the Instagram terms. I'd not looked at these for ages (joined in 2011) and they served as a grim reminder of the daily data harvest the company reaps. The 'free' conversation on Threads is also the perfect training ground for new AI models and potentially a natural progression of the intent indicated in Meta’s blog posts on their LLaMA (Large Language Model Meta AI).
Information is power and unfettered information is a training tapestry to be unravelled and upcycled ready for the next use.
So what does it mean for us?
The potential for user influence on the future direction of any social platform is severely limited in today’s world which is why we will never see another ‘Twitter’ as it emerged in 2006. If today’s social media was to post a status update, it would be 'feeling stale and stagnant, submersed by the power of a few'. But still we return, because our human need is for genuine connection and good relationships. Hope - and blind faith - lead us to believe that the latest outfit on show will fulfil that need but, sadly, I think in time we’ll find ourselves laid bare, stripped of data with our identity in tatters.
Note: I also published this piece on LinkedIn today - https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/emperors-new-threads-catherine-arrow
It’s a rare thing to find a practitioner who gets to grips with data and yet it is a highly valued skill. Using available data to inform strategy and implementation might seem obvious but it is an every day action that unfortunately is often ignored.
Those who regularly collate and curate data will know that Google Analytics is in the process of change at the moment with GA4 now available and touted by Google as ‘a new property designed for the future of measurement’. It collects both website and app data and has enhanced privacy controls and better predictive capabilities.
You can find out more details here and it is worth noting that ‘old’ versions will stop collecting data in July 2023.
So don't be a stranger to data - take note of the change, ask your organisation how they are managing the shift and explore the insights your data can reveal.
Are you ready for the challenges ahead? For the impact artificial intelligence will have on public relations? On society? The pandemic caused a paradigm shift for millions with a leap to digital they never thought they’d take - but the change was coming long before then.
Subtle steps have taken us towards everyday artificial intelligence and the deployment of digital entities that sooth our emotions, help our daily tasks and act as companions at home. In case you missed it, that paradigm shift has even greater implications for public relations and communication practice, reshaping our work, redefining the relationships we build, the reputations we guard and the risks and issues we manage.
I tackled the topic recently in a webinar which you can access here. It takes you through the developments, the opportunities and the concerns of artificial intelligence, digital and human relationships and the problems we might expect.
In a world turned upside down, how do you develop strategies to navigate uncertain times? How do you develop strategic relationships that will help you survive and thrive in times of global recession? Available early July, our new course, Navigators, gives you the opportunity to find out how.
I've been looking ahead these last few months and, as we have slowly worked our way through lockdowns, dramatic societal change and new ways of operating, I've had the privilege and opportunity to guide fellow practitioners through the twists and turns of strategy development, examining some of the changes we face and how best to meet them.
We must constantly challenge ourselves to explore new approaches and new thinking so we can help our organisations make sense of what's ahead and maintain the relationships they need to maintain their licence to operate. Understanding the process, looking beyond the tactical - the 'sending out stuff' - is critical if our discipline is to remain relevant.
I hope you'll find this guided professional development session both useful and informative. Old rules don't apply - take some time to navigate the new ones.
The last month has been mostly on the road running professional development sessions on all sorts of topics. We covered advancing digital strategy in Wellington along with a session on ethics, reputation and risk, then up to Auckland for internal communication strategy and evaluation, a webinar on research measurement and evaluation and this week it's back to Wellington to explore Words that Work with public relations professionals looking to improve their writing skills.
In the middle, I had the pleasure of starting work with students on the Massey University's Masters in Professional Public Relations running their first paper on digital innovation and communication management.
And for you? I've been working on getting two new courses up both of which are designed to help you make great plans and deliver awesome results - Digital Strategy and Internal Communication Strategy - and they will be available by mid-September. In the meantime, as part of the conversation around digital strategy, here's a short video to give you some food for thought on adding gravity to your thinking.
About Think Forward
Think Forward is written by Catherine Arrow. It answers PR questions, highlights practice trends - good and bad - and suggests ways forward for professional public relations and communication practitioners.