PSFK Conference Speaker Interview: Chris Riley

PSFK Conference Speaker Interview: Chris Riley

Apple's ex-Head of Planning previews his thoughts on the power of social media and the future of traditional media.

Amelia Riley Swan
  • 12 september 2011

Chris Riley will be one of the speakers at our upcoming PSFK CONFERENCE SF 2011. Chris, founder of Studioriley, was head of strategic planning at Wieden + Kennedy, the global ad agency known for its creative focus, between 1990 and 2005. After that, he moved on to be strategic planning director in Apple’s graphic design and marketing communication group until 2010. Between W+K and Apple, he established Studioriley as a place to develop innovative and culturally provocative communication strategies. In anticipation of his talk on the impact of social media at tge PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO, we bring you a few thoughts from Chris:

Do you think social media has the power to change the world? 

Of course. Every media evolution changes the world. Print changed the world, radio changed the world, television changed the world, now social media is changing the world. The big difference between these past evolutions and this one is the flatness of this media. Each previous medium was expensive and complex ultimately leading to it being controlled by the powerful, typically the financially powerful in democratic countries and governments in non democratic countries. Social media does not favor the powerful, it favors the powerless as we have seen in the Arab countries this last year. Of course powerful elites will move to control social media because it threatens their power, we saw this in Syria, Libya and even the UK as David Cameron moved to control social media in response to the London riots.

Television focused power in the hands of a few with a limited narrative range. Social media is in the hands of many with a far broader, possibly infinite, narrative range. This is good and bad news of course since lies and truth travel equally well in social media.

Then there is this interesting fact that social media is the first truly global media format. Nations were born in the age of print and the written word. Regions were created in the age of TV. Social media is both universal and specific. It connects on a global level but also reflects ultra local perspectives. This is new and, I think, exciting.

How do you think the role of traditional media will evolve?

Most media survives the new media that comes along after it. People still listen to radio and watch television. They still even read magazines. But those media become a little more focused on the core qualities of the media itself rather than being the dominant media defining a universal narrative. Great television is still a wonderful story telling format that elicits great emotions. It still does sports really well, its still has the power to wrap an entire nation up into an event such as American Idol. It does not break news as well but it still is great for editorial as we see with Fox News. I think the two media, broadcast and social, will coexist in a very fertile way.

And then how does business fit in with all this? 

All media is, ultimately, business. For years business has been economizing around scale. Today technology is enabling economies of small scale. So I think we will see many smaller businesses benefiting from social media’s ability to find customers and then help keep them. At the same time, social media holds the promise of enabling larger businesses to be more relevant than they were when restricted only to communications in print, radio and television. There seems to be more opportunity now. Social media is a new tool for communications, it enables greater interaction which is good for the most part. But at the same time it creates an illusion that people will be social about things that they were never social about before. I am a skeptic when it comes to the idea of creating communities, for example, around any product. Surely it only really works for products that we would like to have at the center of a social activity anyway. All this will, of course settle down, and social media will emerge as an important component of any good, well-considered and effective communication strategy.

What do brands do to be a positive element of this change?

Be truthful. The world has been through a period of spin doctoring. People are unhappy. People do not trust business or government. This is reflected in a paranoid economy grounded in fantasy rather than reality. I see this as a product of the age of television where we began to lead an inner life that was our own and an outer life defined by television fantasies. Social media has the power to bring reality to the fore. A product needs to perform well, not just have a good brand image in order to be recommended by friends. The hardest challenge facing marketers of brands and politics is to sell the truth. I am happy that the challenge is being brought out by social media.

Thanks, Chris!


Chris will be speaking at the PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO 2011. Come listen to like minds as they share their ideas to make things better on stage and off. Find out more about the full lineup of speakers at the PSFK CONFERENCE SF 2011 here.


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