Murdoch should worry less about the Googlebot and more about social media

I remember in January 2000, old media mogul Rupert Murdoch said he was not going to waste his money buying any ‘dotcom’ upstarts. The very next day, AOL bought Time Warner. Not the other way around!

Murdoch had apparently failed to grasp the significance of the interwebs.

However, ten years later Time Warner has regained its mojo and is now trying to offload a spent and jaded AOL. Did Murdoch get it wrong ten years ago, or did it simply take a whole decade for him to be proven right?

In 2009, the mob is rushing once again to the conclusion that Murdoch is losing his marbles, planning to charge for his online content and blocking the Googlebot from stealing it.

Personally I believe that Murdoch should worry less about the Googlebot, and more about how social media is turning his industry on its head.

The problem is that all of those dotcom upstarts have brought us information overload. There has been an exponential increase in the amount of information and content available to us, way beyond the capacity of the human brain to process.

The solution is social media, which empowers us to easily share the content we care about with our friends and contacts, and adds valuable metadata to that shared content, such as Likes or Retweet counts. This metadata helps us filter the signal from the noise, so that we can focus on just the best quality content from our trusted circle of friends.

This works great for movie reviews. People have always listened to the advice of friends when it comes to choosing what movie to watch. Social media simply provides an efficient and scalable way to do this.

The best example of this social filter is currently FriendFeed, although we can expect to soon see something equally impressive on Facebook. Twitter Search could do this even better if only it were possible to search the entire tweet history of just your friends, or a chosen social distance into your social graph, rather then merely search 7 days of the public timeline. I am hoping that the Google Social Search Experiment will enable this sort of social filter when Google completes its Twitter integration.

Back to Mr. Murdoch… Social media also works for the filtering of news content, however it’s more tricky than movie reviews because there is a need for trustworthy fact rather than mere opinion. This is why Eric Schmidt believes that figuring out how to rank real-time social content, perhaps based on a reliable measure of reputation and authority, is “the great challenge of the age“. It also explains why Twitter’s Retweet feature does not allow the original tweet to be modified, because this makes the Retweet count a more reliable indicator of authority.

So my advice to Rupert Murdoch and other media companies struggling with this; worry less about the Googlebot and more about social media. Focus on improving the quality of your content, so that people share it with their friends.

And if your own social media strategy is not delivering any tangible benefits, try moving it from your Marketing department to your Customer Service department. Use social media to listen more carefully to the needs of your customers, so you can improve the quality of your content to the point where a paid online content model becomes viable.

If Marketing and Customer Service argue about who owns the customer relationship, remind them both that thanks to social media it’s actually the customer who owns and controls the relationship with your business. Not the other way around!

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