As one door closes, another opens window of real-time opportunity

ANDREW

As the opportunities for marketers to exploit Skype’s potential grow, social media has suffered a very serious setback.

Two stories hit the headlines last week that are likely to change marketing communications for the next few years.

First, Microsoft bought internet phone service Skype for $8.5bn (£5.2bn). With some financial analysts questioning whether Microsoft has overpaid – fearing the software giant might be caught out at the top of a second digital bubble that includes stratospheric valuations for the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – the marketing potential behind this move is massive. The deal is a game changer for Microsoft, which now owns a new killer application. In the home, Microsoft can marry Skype’s software with it’s own Xbox, your home PC and IPTV.

That’s certainly a compelling consumer proposition for getting into millions of homes and the battle for control of your living room entertainment is now a three-way contest between Microsoft/Skype, Sky – which has agreed its own tie-up with News International – and Apple.

But that compelling home proposition is dwarfed by the office opportunity. Skype is multiplatform, mobile and can be paired with Windows Phone 7. Just look what Bill Gates did for computing (putting a PC on every desk) and for the Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Excel packages that have been bundled into Windows ever since. Just think how ubiquitous Skype will become once it’s bundled into every office PC.

Right now, every business card has an email address and a mobile number, but very few have a Skype ID. Most of us don’t even know the
Skype ID of our closest friends. That will change and within three years it will be used as often to make calls as Excel is for writing spreadsheets.

Every business card has an email address and a mobile number, but very few have a Skype ID. Most of us don’t even know the Skype ID of our closest friends. That will change and within three years it will be used as often to make calls as Excel is for writing spreadsheets. Working out how to communicate in a video call, how to deliver content for media owners and how to monetise the caller base over Skype will be thenext big challenge for marketers.

Working out how to communicate in a video call, how to deliver content for media owners and how to monetise the caller base over Skype
will be the next big challenge for marketers.

Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer was quick to outline his ambition: “Together we will create the future of real-time communications so people can easily stay connected to family, friends, clients and colleagues anywhere in the world.” If this is the future of real-time communications, marketers had better embrace it.

The second high-profile news story was how the world of social media has begun to challenge the relationship between media and the law. In
particular, Twitter made numerous headlines. The anonymity of its service has helped, on the one hand, to fuel anti-government protests for the
Arab spring from Egypt to Syria and, on the other hand, to fuel UK gossip about the identity of those celebrities who take out super-injunctions.

In turn, traditional media coverage has focused on the tension Twitter exposes between the rights to privacy and a free media, as well as on the intrinsic difficulty of “policing” anonymous online media. But for politicians (and marketers), the implications of the events of last week will change the role of social media. Just because it’s difficult to identify those who break court orders, whether burglars or journalists, tweeters or Facebook friends, doesn’t mean there’ll be a relaxing of the law.

Instead, bosses at the social networks could be obliged to hand over names, email addresses and IP details of subscribers to UK authorities
seeking to prosecute breaches of privacy injunctions or other court issues – as has always been the case, for example, with prosecutions for
media owners or individuals which involve breaches to the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

These changes may well affect use and uptake as social sites evolve. If your users fear that they are liable to prosecution, it’s not likely to
encourage engagement. For that same reason some ISPs have resisted handing over subscriber details about alleged illegal file sharers on their networks to music companies.

So, while it’s always been the first part of the day job for marketers to understand how to talk to consumers, two new challenges have emerged. First, is your brand proposition on a Skype video call as compelling as your TV ad or your mobile communications plan? Second, the
challenge posed by social media has always been to introduce credible brand conversations with valuable content. Now, the bigger barrier to
success may be whether evolving legal developments make subscribers even more reticent to engage with you in the future. Good luck, you’ll need it.

Andrew Harrison is chief executive of the RadioCentre. You can contact him at andrew@radiocentre.org

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