Niche Electronic Media: an introduction for business intelligence professionals

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Niche Electronic Media: an introduction for business intelligence professionals

Contributed by Society of Niche Electronic Media Professionals and the Central & East European Business Intelligence & Knowledge Management Community.

Contributed articles do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the ÆGIS e-journal.

A new class of media referred to as “Niche Electronic Media (NEM)” is emerging to fill the void between the existing media and the consultancy worlds, providing fast, legal, ethical, cost-effective, and simply smart solutions of great value to Business Intelligence (BI) / Competitive Intelligence (CI) professionals.

The Society of Niche Electronic Media Professionals, or SNEMP (http://www.snemp.org), a global, nonprofit organization formed in December of 1999, describes NEM as follows: “NEM refers to objective, noncommissioned sources of information and knowledge which publish content in electronic form and focus on the needs of particular niche audiences. NEM is a swiftly emerging, formidable competitor to Mass Print Media, Mass Broadcast Media, Mass Electronic Media, and Niche Print Media in the age of rapid advances in systems, software, networking, and communications technologies. NEM exists primarily to serve its audiences (consumers, customers) in a truly competitive, stimulating, and multi-source media environment, and to provide clearer views of the truth for increasingly intelligent information consumers who appreciate and value useful information upon which they can act.”

NEM sources are “noncommissioned” in that they do not provide 100% exclusive access to any content they produce — they are “multi-client” in nature. Otherwise, they would be referred to as “Niche Electronic Consultants,” which is a term that will probably not go over too well. NEM sources feature firsthand, original reporting, with various degrees of investigative reporting being deployed. “Investigative reporting” is a key element to the success of any NEM operating plan since lack of investigative reporting translates into data that is commonly available and low risk to acquire and manage, which will most certainly be hoarded and delivered by large electronic database operators, aggregators, and the like.

NEM is the missing, practical link in the open-source intelligence (OSINT) school of thought and is truly in tune with the needs of common citizens and business professionals who make up the lion’s share of the real world (“missing” not in that it hasn’t been recognized, but rather in that its potential value has not nearly been realized). NEM is the key to “distributed intelligence,” “intelligent masses,” “cyber civil defense,” and other great ideas presented by many top thinkers with government intelligence backgrounds who have yet met with little success in communicating anything that makes sense to people without such backgrounds. NEM is a direct-connection, close-to-home approach.

No advertising accepted = media coverage of greater value to BI professionals

While various NEM sources adopt the advertising-funded (low-price or free consumer access) model, others, as the focus gets sharper, increasingly adopt the paid-subscription and/or info-product model, in which community members (readers, viewers, subscribers) pay for useful information without being bothered by advertising and public relations articles. Such media titles claim to be sharply focused on objective revelation of the truth with much richer data; deployment and citation of multiple sources; “soft knowledge” / multimedia reporting elements; deep files on companies and persons; complete exploration of linkages, strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and opportunities; and insightful insider analysis.

A typical model for a non-advertising NEM provider is to offer one channel of coverage, featuring news, discussion, opinion, and analysis, on a yearly paid-subscription basis, and separate, more focused channels, or special reports, which are available on individually purchased “info-product” and a monthly up to yearly subscription basis.

The whole phenomenon of NEM refocuses media priorities toward reporting on what companies and persons are doing, and away from promoting companies and persons, and being paid for that purpose. As NEM develops, consumers are increasingly becoming BI-aware and paying for actionable intelligence that directly affects their bottom line, having no time to finger through glossy, colored magazine pages, search through aggregated databases of widely circulated trash, essentially waiting for the sharks of the competition to snarf them up while swimming in the sea of information overload.

In general, it can be said that the classical print and broadcast media are corrupt, are less than we, especially as BI professionals, would like them to be, due in part to the fact that they are largely funded by advertising. We all know it, but what do we do about it? Supply follows demand, right? It is well known that much of the media are quite poor in deploying investigative techniques, largely because they follow the advertising model, and are easily manipulated by advertisers and their PR agents.

Anonymous soft-tasking

Perhaps the question may arise: Is there enough focus, such as what I would get with a consultancy, to keep me spending more money on such NEM special reports? The answer lies in the concept of “anonymous soft-tasking,” in which the community members can anonymously inform the investigative reporters as to what topics and kinds of information they value most and the investigative reporters, who drive the entire NEM operation, refocus and adjust their reporting priorities accordingly. Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), in combination with well-thought-out and well-tested programming and procedures featuring anonymity, facilitate trust-building and bring interactively into the online world people who would otherwise have no place there.

Anonymous soft-tasking brings the media around to work on its biggest drawback — the ability to direct it (the first phase in the intelligence cycle).

EuroIntelliTech (http://www.eurointellitech.com/), for example, is a certified NEM source which features anonymous soft-tasking using a combination of PGP and SSL technology, digital money technology, anonymous soft-tasking service robot software, human anonymous soft- tasking service officer, Unix security features, and a collection of procedures to facilitate communications between its investigative reporters, its sales and administration personnel, and its membership community.

Multimedia reporting

Another important differentiator is NEM’s trend toward multimedia reporting. NEM believes in bringing reality to your eyes and ears through rigorous presentation of video, audio, and imagery. Do maps and aerial photography of company facilities and surrounding regions help? How about face-to-face interviews with company leaders and other personnel on video, complete with translated subtitles (if these people speak different languages than you do)? Your newspaper or magazine might feature a few images approved by the company’s PR agency, but how about tens or even hundreds of images, often grabbed from digital video to capture facial nuances (with thirty images in one second of video to choose from), associated with one story in printable, full-screen JPEG form? Would mystery shopping to evaluate customer service capabilities on video be of interest? Okay, you read the quote, how about actually hearing what is said, complete with vocal inflections and emphases? At a noisy conference so much was said, but how about stereo recording specially filtered to tune in to individual conversations of interest to you? When streaming video doesn’t give you the detail you want, how about a report in the form of an expertly produced video which arrives in the mail on tape? Might this all translate into a new media phenomenon that will indeed impact the BI profession?

Multimedia reporting is one thing that differentiates newsletters (a form of Niche Print Media) from NEM. (Note: Many newsletters are in the process of transforming themselves into NEM.)

NEM is motivated to become BI-aware and business-focused

In terms of coverage, NEM is increasingly becoming BI-aware and business- focused. NEM investigative reporters who are members of SNEMP strive to adhere to the high standard of ethics which this society has developed and published, and which are continually evolving. NEM investigative reporters are professional journalists and are typically members of various other media-oriented societies which have been discussing ethics on an ongoing basis for ages. NEM investigative reporters are also members of various other specialized societies. This author is an active member of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (http://www.scip.org/), and sees the BI professionals associated with such a society as some of the most understanding and appreciative consumers of the emerging class of media called NEM. All NEM professionals should also learn all they can about the BI profession, for the two professions have much in common.

NEM comprises media organizations focused on various niches — not only in the world of business, but also in the worlds of technology, science, education, entertainment, hobbies, sports, arts, human relationships, and more. However, due in part to the importance of specific, unique intelligence sought in business niches, often tied to geographical location, the most opportunities for NEM exist in business-focused niches.

NEM and consultants and other commissioned agents

Don’t be disillusioned: NEM is not intended to drive consultants and other commissioned sources out of business. EuroIntelliTech, for example, has at present many more consultants as community members than corporate practitioners. After all, NEM is media, is “noncommissioned” or “multi- client” in nature, and therefore there is always a need to go further and deeper with the assistance of commissioned, non-NEM sources. But don’t pay consultants much more to do what NEM can do much better! NEM is “the media” and can go places where, and do things that, consultants can only in their wildest dreams. Consultants would have to use pretexts and various forms of deception in many situations where NEM introduces itself as itself — the media. Consultants also increasingly face the prospect of bad publicity in the world of NEM as the result of their own blunders during collection attempts. One thing should be clear: thanks to NEM, consultants will be able to focus on “higher tasks” — those of direction and analysis.

But NEM itself is a great source of analysis, of analysis that facilitates further analysis. Data collection on the inside and analysis on the outside is a ridiculous proposal, especially when conducting BI operations in foreign territories. The heads of those on the inside are swimming in soft, insight- rich knowledge and are well-positioned to provide meaningful analysis. You can now talk to NEM investigative reporters and describe your special requirements at very low risk thanks to anonymous soft-tasking. While many of the early NEM sources start serving expert BI consultants, the proportion of community members consisting of corporate and small- and medium- sized enterprise (SME) practitioners is expected to increase steadily.

The exclusivity / value relationship

Perhaps you might ask the question: Is it of interest whether or not my most formidable competitor also a member of the community of the NEM source? While the NEM producer might not answer this question, your research may produce the answer of “no (not yet),” which can be very nice! If the answer is “yes,” then your community membership is still a must — or if you are not yet a member, you certainly should be.

As for who is buying the special reports, you need to do some advanced work and make assumptions as necessary regarding the involvement here. Some NEM sources may specify the subscriber count for a particular special report. You may find that you are the only one subscribed to the special report of interest, providing you with 100% exclusivity — for which you would pay much more with a consultant.

While this situation could give rise to a discussion of NEM ethics, perhaps the NEM source specifies that the first bidder who pays for the special report gets exclusivity for a six-month period. After six months, your competitor may also gain access to the report, but by then its value will have significantly diminished.

Media monitoring the smart way

Sitting at your command station back in the United States, you swim through media reports from newspapers and magazines all over Europe. A few of them were translated with a high degree of correctness, though most were not. Some of them may even give an editor’s or a reporter’s name, but generally they have been stripped of the actual names of local organizations so that your local sources won’t know what the hell you’re talking about when you e-mail them a query.

NEM active in particular European countries will very diligently follow all the media, including scores of regional newspapers that are not yet available in electronic form, and provide you will fully referenced, accurate translations and analysis. NEM reporters will talk to local media reporters in their languages and come up with important insights which the local media title dared not print. NEM treats these media reports as leads to contact as it conducts its own interviews. You can pay a consultant over US$100 per hour to do this work or you can tune in to NEM for a fraction of the cost.

Technology’s role

Yes, NEM has to admit it — the Internet phenomenon must take much credit for NEM’s own rise to power. The Internet especially facilitates the communication between NEM investigative reporters, sales, and administrative functions and the NEM sources and audiences: Interactive discussion groups, community member (audience) publishing capabilities, and public key infrastructure (PKI) enabling secure (encrypted) and anonymous (where appropriate) information exchange. Aside from the Internet, NEM taps a wide range of information, communication, and security technologies, including mobile telecommunications (voice, messaging, data communications, Web surfing); mobile computing/communication systems (wearable computers); photo, audio- and video-capture devices and processing software; etc.

Human source wizardry

NEM investigative reporters distinguish their NEM organizations from the competition by continually developing and mastering the human-source intelligence techniques that can be applied over again and again in the real world. The NEM investigative reporter learns from the start that there are much more intelligent paths than those of deception. NEM investigative reporters study, test, apply, and seek to master a wide range of approaches, what may be referred to as relationship-building, persuasion, effective listening, elicitation, and qualitative interviewing techniques. NEM takes special care not to go to bed with, or walk on, the backs of its sources.

Ownership

NEM is inclined to be operated by independent, hard-working, highly productive, hands-on managers, dream-driven entrepreneurs who wouldn’t thrive as the grease on the bearings of corporate wheels. NEM organizations, unlike the Amazon-like businesses of the Internet world, are often profitable practically from the start. NEM questions the logic of those who seek venture capital, IPOs, and the like. NEM, rather, sees truth in distributing its profits among its hard-working personnel, largely consisting of investigative reporters, instead of dishing it out to some snazzy investor types who spend their time sunning in the Bahamas while laughingly sifting through trashbags full of business plans from wannabee Internet entrepreneurs. Some NEM sources are commercial organizations (companies) while others are nonprofit organizations. Regardless, NEM tends to want to stay small, focused, nimble, quick, reactive, and trustworthy. With NEM, personality and integrity are very important. NEM is a very human phenomenon.

Legal and security issues

In Europe, new personal-data-protection laws are highly relevant to NEM organizations which, by the nature of their missions, collect significant information on business persons, often in small, nonpublic companies, in order to best report on them. Is this “ad hoc” collection or “systematic” collection? Do the media enjoy exceptions to the new laws? If “mass” media are an exception but “niche” media not, can putting some periodic content out “for the masses” turn a NEM organization into a “MEM” organization for the purposes of satisfying the exception to this new law?

In addition, because of their investigative nature NEM organizations will be increasingly targeted by persons and entities which object to negative exposure they receive or stand to receive thanks to NEM.

Therefore, NEM organizations must be both keenly aware of the applicable laws wherever they operate and also assured of their own protection against assaults of whatever kind. For these reasons they must budget considerable resources for professional legal and security services.

Education of the masses

It can be argued that as the general population, and the micro-communities that comprise it, become increasingly intelligent, so do entire societies and nations. No matter how humble or grand a NEM organization’s ambitions, it should take an active part in educating the public regarding the essential growth of the NEM phenomenon, what NEM is striving to be, its features and benefits, why it is an important, natural evolution of media in a changing world. One channel for such education is the Society of Niche Electronic Media Professionals (SNEMP), which has on its Web site (http://www.snemp.org/) materials for educating the public on the topic of NEM.

As the public becomes increasingly intelligent, thanks much to NEM, deceptive techniques used by many information seekers today will become more and more risky. NEM will expose illegal and unethical practices. Imagine a NEM reporter’s deploying a technical countersurveillance measures (TCSM) team before interviewing a confidential source. Imagine a NEM reporter’s exposing an agent’s attempt to discredit its client’s competitor by seeking out and leaking information regarding a personal affair.

Toward micro-communities, multiple-source environments

Investors are sinking millions of dollars into Internet sites that appeal to the general public, sites which claim thousands and millions of hits per day. But what advantage does the Internet offer to practical, busier-than-ever working people? Doesn’t it have something to do with getting something more valuable than the next guy quicker in life, perhaps (increasingly so) with assistance of an electronic pathway? If so, then common sense points us in the direction of micro-communities that know us, recognize our needs, treat us like humans (which will increasingly be appreciated), and help us advance in our own unique paths (no status quo!). Modern people don’t enjoy being herded like a bunch of cattle. Mass audiences are rapidly disintegrating in favor of micro-audiences, and investors are going to lose.

The NEM vision is not of a few, dominant media sources (a few, limited media choices) that appeal to mass audiences, each dishing out practically the same general-interest material. Rather, NEM describes a space with an unlimited number of focused sources and a belief that “there’s always another niche to conquer”!

Note: The author encourages open, online discussion of the contents of this article at http://www.egroups.com/group/bikm.

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