What’s New in New Media?

I was reading posts on a LinkedIn community and came across an interesting question. Responsible for naming a corporate media department, the author posed the question, “What is new media?” That got me thinking about how corporate communication has changed, and the role of technology in affecting that change.

Technology is a fundamental force driving our economy. Advances in technology drive innovation across a wide range of industries. In communication, technology is central to the process of message delivery. As technology advances, it affects all forms of communication. Communication changes culture; and changes in culture drive technological evolution. The circle goes round and round.

Corporate communicators have long relied on print as the primary vehicle for communication. However, over time technology changed the paradigm. In the late 70’s, print was joined by video as a key communication technology. Vast networks of VHS tape players became a fixture in many offices. Moving into the 90’s web-based technology emerged as the primary channel of both internal and external communication. New technologies emerged and were integrated into the communication process at a dizzying pace – forever changing the communication landscape.

When web-based technology emerged as the primary communication channel for most organizations, “network pipes” were limited. The broadband connectivity we take for granted today was still a decade away. Early adopters of communication via the web were limited primarily to text and simple graphics. Photography, multimedia, video, and audio were pushed to the sidelines. Then along came fiber optic technology, Fast Ethernet, and a new generation of more powerful multimedia servers. The relentless advance of new technology emboldened communicators to demand more from the network. A new battlefront emerged with IT on one side, facing off against those pushing the envelope and demanding better communication capabilities. IT insisted on centralized control and governance over media distribution. Communicators pushed for a richer online experience. There are still skirmishes between those who manage infrastructure and those who use network resources to communicate with audiences both internal and external. The battles continue, but the outcome is certain.

New media, rich media, multimedia are one in the same. Web-based communication has become a mashup of data from multiple sources combined into a single, integrated tool. The line between text, graphics, animation, and video has blurred. All represent content, that when creatively combined create a persuasive new form of communication. Video has emerged as a key component of new media on the web. In 2008, video accounted for 60% of all Internet traffic. The amount of video on the net continues to increase and is projected to account for almost 90% of all Internet traffic by 2011. Combined with video, graphics and animation enable video to be presented in new and different ways. Live video webcasts have become an important part of how many organizations communicate. Websites increasingly offer users video content in streaming format or for download to a portable media player. Where once content downloads were limited to a PDF document, multimedia is now a common form of content download. And this not limited to large Fortune 500 organizations. Sure, IBM has video on its website, but so does KnittingHelp.Com.

What’s new about new media? Nothing, and everything. At the dawn of history, cave painters illustrated the results of the hunt. The application of technology, charcoal, made some hunters more successful than others. Incorporating technological change is what corporate communicators do. There’s nothing new about that. What is new, and central to success, is having a vision and the ability to put powerful evolving technology into the hands of skilled communicators who in turn can deliver compelling messages in new media form.

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