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Following on from F8 in September, Zuckerberg’s empowered speech may have left you wondering exactly what Zuckerberg meant when he claimed that he would “expand the notion of a more social web?”

The web has for some time been hailed as a global force empowering democracy and freedom of speech, with the social media being placed at the forefront of this battle. Yet the current rivalry between Facebook and Google could almost be interpreted as an archaic war for cyber control of web users. Indeed at a glance, Facebook’s challenge to Google seems like a challenge to the dominance of the worldwide web at large (after all, Google is the site that offers the most comprehensive analysis of the relationship between websites).

The decision to integrate apps into Facebook means that users may never have to venture outside the site. Zuckerberg himself recently stated that ‘Facebook is a collaborative tool’. Facebook currently has over 800 million active users who visit the site more than once a day, although this figure still isn’t as high as the 1.5 billion hits Google receives daily. Yet the ease with which Facebook membership is rising posits a potential sea change in the way in which we use the internet. With the integration of Spotify, Guardian, and even Twitter onto Facebook you may be wondering why you would ever need to open your internet explorer browser again.

Google’s attempts to encroach on Facebook’s territory in the last few years have not exactly epitomized success. Google+ is the fourth in a series of attempts by Google to enter the social networking sphere (remember Google Friend Connect, Google Buzz and Google Wave?) and membership on the site is believed to be little above 40 million members worldwide. In fact, Google has refused to comment on how many members are on the site inciting Forbes to publish an article entitled Eulogy for Google+.

However it remains to be seen whether the rise of Facebook will lead to the demise of the web at large. Facebook has, recently been in trouble for data sharing and the site is increasingly being viewed as ‘creepy’ by members.  Just like Google, Facebook stores a myriad of user’s personal information including private messages, the use of the like button and apps- but more interestingly also stores information about user’s friends, family and educational background. The site even detects subtle changes to a member’s lifestyle, enabling advertisers to target mothers-to-be for instance with baby products. This all sounds eerily similar to the decision by Google to remember your search information. So internet users might see the expansion of a more social web, but will this mean anything more than a transition of power between key magnates online?

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Is Facebook a content or conversation source?

Back in May, Matt Locke, Richard Sambrook and I had a conversation about the future of Social Entertainment.  (In case you are thinking “My that’s a wonderfully catchy, if opaque, buzz word. But what on GoogleEarth does it mean?”; Social Entertainment is a term we coined a few years back to represent the idea that as social networks grow to parallel the influence of mainstream media channels, so too would traditional media companies need to progress their content and communications to fully embrace the social sphere).  Not rocket science, perhaps, but we’re interested in the implications of Social Entertainment, especially with regard to how entertainment companies communicate with audiences.

It’s highly probable that no one listened to the podcast back in May (I haven’t asked for the statistics lately, in case my worst fear was confirmed and we had chopped down trees, but no one was around to hear the loud thud of timber on the forest floor).  So if you didn’t, let me summarise: We talked about some meeja things and at the end Matt and I made some predictions for the next 12 months.

The erudite Mr Locke suggested that the talent rather than the media brand would continue to increase in influence and that this posed both a problem for the brand and an opportunity for talent looking to take advantage of the currency of their social profiles.  The case of @ITVLauraK (nee @BBCLauraK) perfectly illustrates this issue.  Both Tom Callow at TheWall and Jemima Kiss at the Guardian sum up the ramifications better than I could.  Congratulations Matt.  You were right.

Back in May, I felt the interesting shift would be the inverse of our original Social Entertainment theory.  I.e. Social Entertainment originally concentrated on how traditional entertainment companies could leverage social channels to engage audiences.  I predicted (again, perhaps not radically) that Social brands would expand to become fully fledged media channels and businesses.  This was based on increasingly professional content finding its way onto YouTube – but I thought that Facebook, Twitter and the like would increasingly become media channels – producing and distributing content, not just hosting conversations around it.

Interestingly, our annual research shows a conflict in consumer perception, here.  As this graph shows, consumers now think of social networks as a form of entertainment.

However, when asked who are the top-of-mind entertainment companies, consumers do not name new social or internet brands.  No Facebook, no YouTube, no Spotify.  Only the old dogs are named (I can’t actually show you the brands, but we do have this info should it be of interest.  Let me know if so).

And so here we are at the 22nd September 2011 and the f8 conference.  Much has already been written about the social updates (I’d recommend the Mashable picture gallery, if you’re looking for a quick summary of what it’s all about).  But I’m most interested to hear about how content companies and entertainment channels are going to be integrated in Facebook. Is this the coming of age for Social Entertainment?  True my prediction, unlike Matt’s, has yet to come to full fruition.  But with the f8 announcement, we may well be one step closer. The integration, assuming the often vitriolic users embrace it, will mean that Facebook becomes a powerful, if not the de facto, promotional channel for content owners and publishers.  This presents an opportunity but also a challenge for entertainment brands.  Content has always driven conversations. But some content is more naturally geared to social conversations and ‘lean forward’ programming than others.  For all entertainment brands, programs and channels, not applying Social Entertainment is, from today, arguably not an option.  It’s a simple dilemma; innovate and  collaborate, or risk not being talked about at all.

This morning Edelman’s DERT team announced the results of their fifth annual survey on Value, Engagement and Trust in the Era of Social Entertainment. Gail Becker, President of Edelman’s Western U.S. Region presented the results and hosted the event along with Jon Hargreaves Managing Director of Edelman Technology in Europe and a panel of experts including; Matthew Hawn, Vice president Last.fm, Emma Barnett, Digital Media Editor, The Daily Telegraph and Simon Nelson, the Digital Business and Strategy advisor and former controller of multiplatform commissioning at the BBC.

We will be sharing the full slideshow on here later today and posting up video snippets of the event for now here are the highlights and some of our thoughts, let us know what you think.

The key stats from the survey:

· 4% of U.K. consumers feel positive about the move to a paywalled service

· 45% of people in the U.K. and 57% in the U.S. believe social networking sites are a form of entertainment

· Personal enjoyment and visual/sound quality continue to top the list of purchase drivers with “being one of the first to have new entertainment” dropping significantly (to 14%, down from 40% in the U.K. and to 17%, down from 41% in the U.S.).

· More than half (52%) of all respondents would like to use a computer to access further entertainment content, and 30% would like to be able to access that content on their mobile phone

· 49% of people in the U.K. and 52% in the U.S. believe they are spending more than a year ago with their mobile phones to access their entertainment, while 59% (U.K.) and 53% (U.S.) spent more time with their laptop

As the study revealed last year, the internet remained the second most frequently turned to form of entertainment for the second year in a row. While television remained the most frequent form of entertainment both in the U.K. and the U.S. (49% and 47% respectively), dropping 8 and 11 percent respectively since 2010.

The Internet as connective tissue

Most sources of entertainment are less used, this just means that people are spreading their consumption wider. It seems that to succeed in the era of social entertainment, entertainment companies must invest in multiple channels of distribution to enable consumers to access their content wherever and whenever. Five years ago the entertainment industry viewed the internet as a threat, but now it’s an opportunity for those same companies to monetise internet content through simple revenue models indeed the internet can be the connective tissue bringing content together.

Overwhelmingly, consumers (84% in the U.K.) feel negatively about the move from free to paid entertainment services. The survey also reveals that paywalls created by entertainment sources for previously free services are being met with feelings of frustration and distrust by users. Some cite the lack of improvement in quality of service, while others state they would suspect a profit motive driven by greed.

The study also delivers insights on how content providers can try to overcome feelings of distrust about paywalls by delivering value in other ways. 87% of U.K. respondents consider visual and sound quality important in making their entertainment purchasing decisions and nearly half (47% in the U.K.) consider the number of devices with which they can access the entertainment.

The US is the traditional home of the internet but it doesn’t crack the top 20 in terms of internet speeds.

According to Akamai’s quarterly State of the Internet report China and the US account for almost 40% of all IP addresses in the world but both rank well behind South Korea’s 11.7 Mbps average.

Average internet speeds are down around the world due to wider spread adoption of mobile broadband but the US is lagging behind both developed and emerging economies.

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While the $7.2 billion US broadband stimulus package has focused on connecting all of its citizens, the next phase must be to ensure that connectivity speeds can cope with e-healthcare, e-government and other bandwidth intensive applications. Lagging bandwidth speeds might be a question of geography but there are ICT-orient governments, like South Korea, that are already seeing the benefits. As the $7.2 billion gets spent, it is also no guarantee that the US will move up the rankings as emerging economies ramp up development. The US is behind now, and might be well in to the future.

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Akamai gathers data from its global network to track internet trends across geographies. http://www.akamai.com/stateoftheinternet/

Festival season is about to kick off and while wellies and wet wipes are flying off the shelves, brands are adding the finishing touches to corporate sponsorship, sales promotions and experiential marketing activities.

Festivals have become synonymous with brands over the past five years or so. Set on captivating the more technologically savvy, informed and trendy Generation Y, festivals present a unique opportunity to engage with this audience. But with many brands playing a similar game and sharing a strong desire to be present, many miss the point of engagement and turn their presence into nothing more than a badging exercise which doesn’t bode well for festival-goers. On a commercial level it also begs the question as to whether the investment is really worth it?

Festival commercialism has always been a touchy subject for music lovers. Set on the view that festivals should be all about the music, cynicism has often arisen around disconnected brand alignments and perceived fake sentiment which can leave a sour taste in consumers’ mouths. Finding a balance is important as brand overkill without a clear purpose, value or audience benefit just isn’t going to fit the bill. This is where I think technology brands have a unique advantage due to their potential to connect on a more emotional level with an audience compared to the average drinks brand, for instance, and provide greater value through a more integrated experience.

Orange, for example, has constantly built on its Chill ‘n’ Charge tent idea at Glastonbury ever since its launch in 2002. Each year it has given its constantly connected audience the power to stay in touch with friends by providing free mobile phone charging facilities, downloadable apps to locate your friends and tent and free broadband services to enable users to upload and share photos online. imageThis year it has boosted its green credentials, another issue close to the hearts of Generation Y, through the launch its eco-friendly mobile phone charging prototype – Orange Power Wellies. The brand has also continued to build on its music credentials outside festival season through its Orange Rock Corps initiative.

To avoid homogenisation and potential negative sentiment, brands need to think more creatively about audience engagement and steer away from strategies of brash visibility and quick wins. To make the most of the investment they should consider the potential of creating more long-term relationships with audiences and find new ways of connecting on another level which strikes an emotional cord too.

N.B. Although Orange is a client of Edelman, we do not work on the Chill ‘n’ Charge project mentioned above.

@LucyDesaDavies

In the social media bubbles which we all now populate, the quest to reach an online idyll of collaboration and sharing has long been alluded to. The empowerment the internet has provided has made the recommendations of friends and those in our networks a very strong currency. Yet there is a gap between how well this can actually be integrated beyond certain silos, but a gap which looks to have been closed somewhat by announcements this week from Facebook and Spotify.

Announced at the company’s f8 conference, the Open Graph from Facebook lets users ‘like’ something outside of the Facebook platform. This is then shared with a URL on their profile, whilst visitors to whichever website has taken your fancy will also flag which of their friends have liked certain content or any comments that have been left.

This is big news for brands in terms of cross promotion as it provides a simple way of harnessing the golden egg that is word of mouth marketing. Whilst any good company  is already on top of this, these changes will also expose any brands who aren’t on top of their social media profile. Facebook now has the capability to implement user recommendations and flag advocates in your network automatically rather than relying on users to proactively share, something which adds huge value to consumers in terms of integration and collaboration.

Spotify is looking to do the same with music with the unveiling of its upgraded services this week. The changes look for the first time to make music genuinely viral. Whilst the original service may have already changed the way we listen to music, it is now looking to push iTunes out of the way by doing everything it does and more by synching with Facebook to pull in your friends playlists and then allowing you all to swap, recommend, vilify…..

The video above explains it better than I will but all in all it strikes me as a very strong reason to make the move to the Premium version of the service and, like the Facebook development, takes out one of the processes between your friends recommendations and the content you are consuming.

No doubt this trend of simplifying the journey and process between our ‘networks’ and our ‘content’ is one which will continue with rapid pace -  there are the expected rumours that Apple is due to bringing out its own offering on the music sharing side of things, whilst as ever, it is only a matter of time before Google tries to assure us that it owns the internet, not Facebook.

@AJGriffiths