Miloje Sekulić

Archive for the 'internet in Serbia' Category

Is there a place for the media in the age of Facebook and blogs?

*Original text

A bogeyman has appeared on the internet, in the form of social networks and the social media. Facebook has recently announced its 500-millionth member. If we also take into account the fact that blogging has become the favorite hobby of people all around the world, with more supporters than football, the power of what we call social media and social networks – places on the web on which registered users can publish and share content or interact among themselves – has become truly terrifying. We are witnessing an emergence of a whole new universe that is self-reliant and is becoming self-sustainable. “Google is the media with the biggest advertising potential in the world”, said professor Vilkos at the recently held lecture at the Media Center. And he knows what he is talking about – his book about the fundamentals of PR is used as a textbook on dozens of universities in the world.

From the viewpoint of PR, social networks and social media are becoming a dangerous competitor – especially in the area consumer goods-PR – to the traditional media, especially their online extensions or the independent online media. What is exactly our job? Since the beginning of February 2007, after leaving journalism, I have been leading the E-PR sector (internet, online PR) in McCann PR. The simplest definition of the job performed by me and the guys in my department was offered by a lecturer and consultant in the field of internet, Dragan Varagic: “The aim of PR is to create a positive image of the company (product, service or an individual – M.S.) using the internet”. No more, no less. But internet services are becoming more and more numerous, offering us an increasing number of possibilities to use various creative ways to reach members of target audiences and convey the messages of our clients. And possibilities are truly extraordinary.

If we consider a consumer product like beer, it is possible to bring together its fans in a form of a Facebook group, and to engage them by organizing sweepstakes, notifying them about promotions and communicating with them, like what we did for the Lav company. Communication does not have to be direct, text and pictures are not necessary to announce a fact. There are other ways. When it became necessary to inform consumers, mostly youth, that Bambi had shrunk the package of the Kolo biscuits, allowing it to be easily taken outside or to school, we have made a video game in which the user takes the role of a worker packing the biscuits, six at a time – which is the new number of biscuits in a package. There are many such examples and new possibilities emerge every day. In Serbia, we have only scratched the surface. The rest of the world has gone much farther. How about the fact that the clothing chain H&M has more than three million fans, while Starbucks cafes has more than 13 million. The day is not far off when they simply will not need the media as a platform to communicate with their target audience.

If, as a media professional, your reaction to this was: ‘Well, we don’t need them too’, think again about the advertising money that is the main source of income to most of the media. Except the ones who can manage to live off their circulation. Although their number is decreasing because the internet is taking away their readers as well as viewers. Online editions can be a solution, although unsatisfactory. Mere transfer of content from print editions cannot guarantee visitors and survival. The solution lies in adaptation of the traditional media to the internet as a communication channel, to habits of its users, and to its multimedia possibilities. This means regular updating of content, even if that means that the same piece of news will be updated several times in a day with each new fact. This also means integration of text and the gallery of pictures and videos. Utilization of all the potentials of a newsroom (of newspapers, for example) in the process of creation of a web edition is only the first step. After that, you must allow the visitors of the website to express themselves, because in the age of social networks and social media they expect such functionality, and not only in the form of comments or forum discussions. You should allow them to be your amateur journalists. Engage them and stimulate them to post video or photo comments about current events. During registration, give them the possibility to receive news versions enriched with comments of reputable analysts, to personalize the look of web pages, to use services that cover certain content… For example, a calculator of remaining credit together with articles about them. Simply stated, build a community. The community, together with the number of visitors, is necessary for the next step, which is development of commercial content like shops, programs to share revenue with service providers or introduction of various ad services. The money will begin flowing and you will survive not only in the battle for attention of internet users with other “user generated content” web locations, but in the market as well. Keep in mind that in during the last year in Great Britain the online advertising budget was bigger than the budget for any other form of advertising. I am aware that in our country this budget does not exceed three percent, but this is the moment when starting positions are being defined.

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VIPer or “Is it time for my retrirement?”

Exacty ten years ago, in the late autumn of 1999, I came upon an advertisement where the Alternative Academic Educational Network (AAOM) invited interested parties to a semester of postgraduate studies titled “Contemporary business and global computer networks”. Tijana and I applied, passed a few selection rounds and set off into the world of the Internet. We met Varagić, Vukmirović, Pocajt… that’s how it began. After that, there was no way back. Instead of engineering railroads for high velocity trains or, in the least, roads, I was smitten by the Web and began to dream virtual dreams.

For those born after 1985, Serbia was a pretty dreary place in ’99. After the “people’s events”. year’s of wars that we didn’t participate in, the mass exodus of the young and educated, hyperinflation the likes of which the world hadn’t seen before and the total collapse of a society and its values, we were greeted by the NATO bombings. After that came the tilting of the widmills that we called the reconstuction of the country, at the epicenter of which, working as a construction engineer at the CIP Institute of Transportation, was I. To me, the Internet and the dream of success on it represented something that could probably be best defined as a light at the end of a tunnel. There were a few comedic events along the way, like the time I convinced a friend living in Canada that an investment of $800 into the domain was an entirely sound one. I just never quite managed to realize what was supposed to be on that domain. There were successes, of course. I created the business magazine with the largest readership in the country, created another success story with partners (until the synergy between us faded), founded and developed the first e-PR department in any PR agency in Serbia (and wider) and successfully worked for some truly big clients there, pumped up Lepota i zdravlje (Beauty and Health) to a million page views per month and today we have launched VIPer.

VIPer is a Futuremedia project in which I am the general manager of the online project. This is a sort of mash-up of Twitter and Facebook, essencially a Fan Social Network. What makes it unique is that, at this moment, there are 65 more or less VIP personalities, who are generally popular in the region and whose identities are vouched for by the editorial boards of Svet, Scandal and Hello!, have already opened profiles and are able to let their fans know what they are up to through the Web or by sending a simple SMS, a service provided by aour project partner KlikMee. The fans, other than following their favorite stars, have several communication tools available to them and others are being developed.

Will it work? I am entirely convinced that this project will explode around the New Year as the mainstream stars line up their end of the year gigs and appearances. Excel Sheet says that VIPer will see its first revenue in April. I believe it will be so. I have great interest in its success as I have managed to struggle out a profit share.

Will I retrire after this, the biggest project of my career? Of course not. The time has come for the past decade and the sacrifices made to pay up and pay out. In every sense.

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