5 technologies that aren’t dead (or even on life support)

Read enough digital media experts, and you’ll be convinced that any number of still-useful tools and channels aren’t worth your time, money, or effort. Usually the “{fill in the blank} is dead” meme is just hyperbole.

In general, new media don’t kill old media; old media adapts and often contracts, but doesn’t disappear and rarely is even marginalized. Based on their strengths, these channels and tools tend to find their new level.

I chose the five items listed here because over the last couple weeks, I’ve read items that reinforce the notion that their deaths have been greatly exaggerated.

Check-ins

Number of Google search results on phrase, the check-in is dead: About 601,000

Example: Writing for ReadWrite, Jon Mitchell says, “Most consumers don’t even know location apps exist, and only a tiny minority actually use them. Today’s apps focus on benefits for businesses, like being discovered by nearby shoppers, but they’ve failed to stir customers.” Mitchell delivers an autopsy on the check-in, offering a laundry list of reasons it died, concluding that “check-ins are just absurd.”

Why the check-in lives: The Foursquare check-in from a few years ago has certainly faded, but confining your thinking to that approach is short-sighted. As with most communication tools, tactics are the tools that breathe life into a strategy. Starting with tactics is ass-backward, and thinking, “People can check in here, what can I do with that?” won’t get you anywhere.

Denny’s, on the other hand, has had noteworthy success with check-ins. In its latest location-based campaign, the diner chain partnered with Atari to create a mobile game; playing the game, you could transform breakfast food into game objects. Using SessionM’s app network (which includes the likes of Crackle, TMZ and Dictionary.com), Denny’s ran a check-in campaign that delivered an ad including the game download link. According to an Adweek report, “Forty-two percent of consumers who checked in clicked through to download Denny’s app. And an additional 26% of people who checked in visited a Denny’s location that they had not visited in the past (9% of these users had never been to Denny’s before). Overall, check-ins to Denny’s restaurants increased 40% to 50% as a result of the campaign.”

Think Denny’s isn’t planning more check-in campaigns?

While we may be over Foursquare (though I do find myself using Swarm today more than I had used Foursquare in the past couple years, and using Foursquare instead of Yelp to find restaurants when I’m traveling), mobile and location are still heating up. If your business has physical locations customers visit, a check-in serve your marketing goals if you’re creative enough to come up with something that’ll drive action, like the Denny’s campaign did.

Takeaway: Check-ins won’t regain their luster of a few years ago—nobody duels to be the mayor of anything on Foursquare any more—but they’re not dead, either. For businesses with brick-and-mortar locations, keep them in mind for special campaigns, to support other promotional offerings, and as a means of generating interactions with current and potential customers.

QR codes

Number of Google search results on phrase, QR Codes are Dead: About 22,700

Example: Aaron Strout shared in a 2013 MarketingLand post “five reasons I see that prevented this fairly simple technology from living up to its promise.”

Why they live—They cost nothing. No, really. Nothing. Not one nickel, not one cent. They cost nothing to produce, since you can find QR code generators all over the web. Unless you’re producing a QR-centric campaign, they also cost nothing to print, since you’re printing something anyway.

My dishwasher died the other day. I couldn’t get rid of standing water and I tried all the fixes I could find that didn’t exceed my meager plumbing abilities. The replacement, an Amana, came with obligatory warranty registration card. There were three ways to register. I could fill out the card and pop it into the mailbox. I could call a toll-free number and respond to voice prompts. Or I could visit the website. The card included the URL and a QR code.

Why did I use the QR code? I was in the kitchen. I didn’t feel like stopping what I was doing to head into the home office to use the computer. My phone was in my pocket. And it was easier to scan the code and let the app do the work than it was to tap in the URL with my fat thumbs.

So why haven’t, as Aaron asks, QR codes lived up to their promise? Who says they haven’t? I’m not sure what people think that promise was, but it was never more than an alternative to tapping a URL into a mobile device. Considering the cost, adding an extra means of accessing a site that could reduce the friction of getting there for some users, why not? In early 2013, Pitney Bowes reported between 12% and 36% of US adults aged 25-34 have scanned a code. Thirty-six percent had scanned a code printed in a magazine ad or direct mail piece, 31% had scanned a code appearing on packaging, and 25% had scanned a code on a poster. The numbers are higher for Americans 18-24.

And that was a year and a half ago.

Packaging is a particularly natural place to print QR codes. Dole has gotten significant bang for its buck by adding QR codes to those stickers they stick to every banana. Part of Dole’s “Peel the Love” campaign, the QR codes appear after you peel the sticker, leading to “a wealth of recipe ideas online so that customers will always know what to do with their bunches,” according to a Smartbrief post by Britt Klontz. ” In this way, a QR code isn’t just about creating an interactive and meaningful experience; it’s a clever way to do all of this in very little space.”

But there’s also plenty of room for experimentation with QR codes, as with the test of a mobile app to expedite the process of entering the U.S. from another country. When you submit your app-based customs declaration form, you’ll get an electronic receipt with a QR code that expires four hours after it’s issued. A customs officer will scan the code to speed you along your way.

Takeaway: People are accustomed to seeing QR codes everywhere, and more people use them than you’d think. At the zero cost required, why not use them where they make sense to lower the barrier to some people getting to your content? And if you can do something creative and exciting, so much the better.

Radio

Number of Google search results on phrase Terrestrial Radio is Dead: About 217,000

Example: Writer/director/producer/MLB announcer Ken Levine declared that terrestrial radio sucks in a post in which he wrote, “Terrestrial Radio is the guy in an iron lung who’s smoking. Except the guy is smart enough to know he’s dying.” Like many of those who believe terrestrial radio’s days are over, Levine sees the competition—satellite radio, Internet radio, podcasts, the music-as-a-service options (Pandora, Spotify, Google Play Music, etc.), our own playlists on our mobile devices, and books on tape—as its killer.

Why terrestrial radio lives: This meme goes back years. Longtime tech journalist John C. Dvorak said it in 2006. It seems, however, to be an aspirational thought for those who envision a digital-only world. It’s just not borne out by the numbers. In a recent post, Digiday presented five charts that make the case that radio is very much alive.

Digiday reporter Shareen Pathak points to a Nielsen report released this week that found people listen to network radio at least weekly. (Hell, websites and social services determine how many active users they have based on monthly visits.) Network radio differs from local radio, which dishes up music, news, and other material mixed to attract people in local markets. Network radio is syndicated to AM and FM stations across the US.

A lot of people are listening to network radio digitally—but it’s still radio. That number will rise from the current 160 million monthly listeners to 183.4 million by 2018, Nielsen estimates. The commercials that air during these broadcasts reach 68% of all Americans across all age groups.

As for AM and FM radio, they’re still most people’s choice while driving. Only newer (and often pricier) cars come equipped for music-as-a-service options or XM-Sirius, and most people don’t deal with using their smartphones to pipe digital content through their car speakers. It’s easier to just turn on the radio and listen to NPR, a ball game, real-time news reports, or even music. (The fact that radio doesn’t play everything you already own was always a means of discovering new music, just like Pandora.) 

Then there are the mobile apps that let you connect with local radio stations, like TuneIn Radio, which has been downloaded 750,000 times in the Google Play store alone.

According to the Pew Research Center, 92% of Americans 12 or older listen to the radio at least weekly, virtually unchanged from a decade ago. What’s more, 20% of young adults listen to the news on the radio.

Takeaway: Pitching stories to local and national radio news outlets can result in your story being heard by a lot of people. Do you include radio in your pitches? Radio advertising could still be a sound investment, too, both in local markets and on network broadcasts.

RSS

Number of Google search results for the pharse, RSS is dead: About 69,100

Example: The rationale for RSS’s demise is captured in a TechCrunch piece from last year. “Thanks to Twitter, Flipboard and Facebook, I have more content than I can shake a stick at. I don’t want to read every single thing that WIRED writes, I want to read the things that people I know think are awesome,” the piece argues to justify why Google Reader was dying and RSS was “not so interesting.”

Why RSS lives—Better delivery tools have marginalized the old RSS news reader, aka the RSS aggregator. I still check my feeds from time to time using Flipboard’s FAQs, under How can I get my content promoted within Flipboard>, the answer begins, “The first step is to provide us with a Flipboard-optimized RSS feed.” That’s right: Flipboard gets much of its content via RSS. Flipboard is far from alone.

RSS is plumbing. It’s not a consumer technology, but consumers benefit from it all the time. Sites everywhere display content based on an RSS feed. RSS isn’t interesting the same way carburetors aren’t interesting to most people, but without one, your car is just going to sit in the driveway.

Truth is, even though its use as declined,

BuiltWith, and no other syndication method comes close.

The takeaway: You don’t need to check your RSS feeds in a news reader any more, but you definitely want to make sure an RSS feed for your content is available.

Blogs

Number of Google search results for the phrase Blogging is dead: About 216,000

Example: In 2012, Francine Hardaway wrote in FastCompany about the newer crop of publishing tools: “All of these are incredibly different from traditional blogs. They are much less text heavy, and they focus on quality of both content and design. God knows what they will do to journalism when they become mainstream—because they will. Many of the people entering the Internet now will never even see a PC or a laptop; they will read on mobile devices. So the format of content must rapidly change to meet them.”

Why blogs live: What Francine says is true, but that doesn’t mean traditional blogging is dead—especially for business. The number of blogs managed by the Fortune 500 has risen every year since 2008 and declined for the first time last year—but only by 3%, which could just be a temporary blip (according to an annual Dartmouth study. In the meantime, Hubspot’s massive study on the state of inbound marketing has shown that blogging is a key to producing ROI. “Companies that are prioritizing blogging are 13 times more likely to be increasing ROI year-over-year,” according to report author Joe Chernov.

Blogs serve other purposes in the business world, one of the most important of which is serving as a hub for content syndicated out to social sites. A blog is owned media in that it resides completely in the organization’s control. No matter what changes are implemented by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social sites, the original content remains in its original format on your blog for as long as you want it to.

Blogs are also evolving into some interesting configurations that are still, ultimately, blogs. Publishing to LinkedIn’s blog network can ensure your content will be seen by a targeted business audience, while getting a lot of views on Medium can elevate the reputation of your organization’s staff as subject matter experts and thought leaders. For example, take a look at 20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don’t Get, a Medium piece from Intuit.

Takeaway—Individuals may not need to blog any more, although they certainly don’t have control of what they publish directly to social networks. (This concern is driving some early adopters to the Indie Web and owned tools like Known, which promotes the POSSE philosophy: Publish on your Own Site and Syndicate Elsewhere.) But for businesses—even one-person shops like mine—blogging still matters, and it can pay huge dividends to take it seriously.