Twenty years ago, businesses, restaurants, day cares, shopping centres and every other part of society that ticked was run on image. If something wasn’t what it was cracked up to be, you wouldn’t know until after it let you down.
Then, as the internet rolled around, we were exposed to online publications that reviewed and analysed every part of our lives. These came in the form of online newspapers, blogs, reviews and opinion pieces.
We had hit the jackpot. No longer did we have to believe glossy marketing hype, we had professionals reviewing everyday life experiences from cafes to hotels, allowing us to make informed choices.
Throughout the mid-2000s, it was as if everyone blogged or reviewed something. The information providers and critics were pulled off their soapboxes and were leapfrogged by anyone and everyone who wanted a say.
Pick a topic, someone blogged about it. This constant peer reviewing strengthened the consumer to be armed with the bold facts and opinions about various products. Industries changed and were forced to adapt. A few bad reviews could and did send businesses under.
Businesses now have to be more accountable, qualified and responsive to those asking questions. If you saw five bad reviews in a row on Airbnb or Trip Advisor, would you continue booking a hotel or place to stay? These businesses are founded on trust. Consumers trust consumers and the business that ignores us will perish.
At the height of last week’s Melbourne Cup, the TAB stated that it garnished 2000 bets a second, many of those from mobiles. We were part of the race through our smartphones, tablets or desktops and the increasing reliance on these devices is a testament to the shift from betting at your local pub.
Encompassing the online chat is the emergence of the 2013 Twitter Cup, in which your tweets were compiled and the horse with the most mentions won the race (in Twitter-land). Fiorente won with 2665 tweet mentions, and while the direct purpose of this (according to the TAB) is to showcase the community of racing fans, it must be noted the BET NOW buttons were oh so inconspicuous.
The evolution doesn’t stop there. The Twitter Cup is a great example of the revenue being driven from social media, with the community rallying around their favourite horses and spreading the word. It ultimately will rally the TAB to continue to grow its profits. Originally, social media was just a voice, now it’s a tool for business to capitalise on that voice, by pretending your voice is the point of their campaigns.
In the 20 or so years since everyday use of the internet became a common thing, travel has epitomised everything positive we use it for. Initial fears of hotel websites popping up in the early days with Photoshop masters eliciting doctored hotel images have been completely rendered by community discussion and reviews.
It raises the question, will we continue to search for new destinations or will we be chosen (so to speak) by our past trips and tastes? We share our opinions and photos online; my last three trips (England, Europe and LA) were all based on TripAdvisor, accompanied by free breakfast deals scooped up from Wotif.com.
For most of us, we experience travel through those that have been and seen, fantasising about our next trip. Most of this is done through social media. I can be travelling at any time if I so choose, thanks to posts by travel editors, Facebook friends, Instagram followers and critics alike.
I can see the fountains of the Bellagio, relics of the Incas, the pyramids in Egypt and the mighty Sydney coat-hanger itself. Funnily enough, I enjoy scrolling through Instagram looking at travel photos as much as I do planning a trip. The wholesome moments of the world’s icons captured in a photo.
While innovation in any industry comes at a cost, there has been an alarming influx of trolls and anonymous bashing over the recent years. Gone are the days whereby if you had an issue you might speak to the maître d’ or an editor from the Telegraph. Careers have been ruined, businesses have been destroyed and reputations have been pulverised at the hand of anonymous keyboard warriors.
Last week’s news headlines include Campbell Newman and his wife having their phone numbers and addresses pasted over the internet by the Anonymous group.
However, much as the dark side of the internet abuses and torments us, the silver lining is the thought leadership and inspiration we receive from our peers.
Reading a Neil Perry article in the QANTAS magazine, it was warming to know one of Australia’s leading chefs looks to others for inspiration. Neil spoke about eating with his eyes in the best restaurants around the world: experiments that might happen in Rene Redzepi’s Noma kitchen on a Saturday night, to the tomatoes that will inspire Thomas Keller’s latest dish. He goes on to mention how he used social media to solely promote his business, the beauty is, it has become so much more.
While a concept like Bitcoin may seem foreign to some, it’s important to recognise social media and collaborative technologies shift from a disruptive technology, to an all-encompassing, all-embracing tool for our future. With the recent release of the PayPal Wallet, the sky is the limit for innovation and continued development in the digital sphere.
Only yesterday did I test the PayPal wallet, which basically stores your credit cards to pay for things, at the local pizzeria. The transaction was smooth and PayPal also requires the user to upload an image (note: selfie) so the vendor knows who you are. Only time will tell if anything can replace the trusty swipe to pay for goods at an EFTPOS terminal; however, it’s nice to know that one day our lives will be compressed into a smartphone.
What are your reflections of our virtual voice?
Fi Bendall is the managing director of Bendalls Group, a team of highly trained digital specialists, i-media subject matter experts and developers.