We’ve already talked about the many commercial uses for digital monitoring tools, how they are becoming increasingly valuable to public relations firms, marketing groups, customer service departments, product and brand management teams, CEOs, even investors. And we’ve only scratched the surface there, you we will have plenty of opportunities to dive a little deeper into those areas on this blog. The basic premise of every one of these discussions is that digital channels are simply sources of information. The more connected people are via these channels, and the more people publish information on these channels, the more we know what is going on in the world.

By “information,” we don’t mean people publishing photos of their sandwiches or their new shoes on Instagram. We aren’t talking about the infectious posting of political memes on Facebook, or pictures of super cars and outfit ideas on Pinterest, or sharing their current TV programming choice on GetGlue. All of those categories of publishing are great, they come in scales of value which we could discuss until we’re blue in the face, but what we mean by “information” is stuff that will become news within an hour, once news networks have looked into it and confirmed it.

One of the many game-changing aspects of digital media, especially social media, is that it has changed the way we find out about things. Being plugged into the digital hive puts us within earshot of a global grapevine. The result is that we can learn about events taking place in the world in real time, and in many cases faster than news networks themselves. If a 7.2 earthquake shakes a city in Turkey, we’ll know about it long before CNN reports it. If a SEAL team raids a terrorist compound close enough to a neighborhood in Pakistan, someone will tweet about hearing helicopters and explosions before the story ever breaks on TV. If a tornado touches down five miles from where a Texas resident lives, chances are that they will find out about it on Twitter before the emergency sirens ever go off. Whether you are a brand manager monitoring digital channels for signs of an impending PR crisis or a citizen monitoring digital channels for the latest piece of relevant news, having the power to control how and when information comes to you is becoming an expectation, a commodity, even. We all want and need fast, real-time notifications and information relating to pretty much anything that matters to us, professional and otherwise.

To get an idea of how social media – and Twitter in particular – have changed the information landscape in the last few years, let’s look at before and after snapshots of information velocity in regards to news creation and circulation:

 When we developed Tickr, our idea was to provide decision-makers and brand managers a tool that simplified monitoring and filled very specific functionality gaps in the monitoring solutions market. Whether an organization was still thinking about digital monitoring in terms of having a social media manager working with a couple of screens in a cubicle somewhere, or developing a state of the art dedicated mission control center with 10-15 giant screens and rows of workstations, we wanted Tickr to be the overwatch app, the one eyes fell on first. The one that would, in the blink of an eye, give you the most complete snapshot of what was going on in your world, good, bad and otherwise. We made it clear, we made it simple, we made it portable. What we hadn’t expected though is that people would start using Tickr for a lot of other types of monitoring, and not just to do brand management and business intelligence work.

We’ve seen everything from Amber Alert and Hurricane Alert Tickr pages to Zombie Apocalypse watch pages pop up in the last few months. We have also seen an increase in pages focused on keywords like terrorism, scandal, election, explosion, storm, even the word “breaking,” which is pretty clever. Someone shared an Iran Crisis Tickr page with us this week, even though there is no Iran crisis yet (and hopefully won’t be). When we asked the creator of that page why he built it, he told us that a lot of the Tickr pages he saves into his library are what he calls “what if” pages. He’s an online reputation management professional (which is to say he works in corporate crisis management), so that kind of forward thinking goes with the territory. He explained that he is also a news junkie, so his digital monitoring savvy bleeds into that part of his life as well.  Put Google alerts and Tickr side by side, and you have yourself a simple but very effective early warning system for just about anything you want. PR crisis, natural catastrophe, even missiles heading towards your house. And here, we come to the catalyst for this post: how Israel’s live-blogging of their missile strikes on Gaza might be a bit of a game-changer when it comes to the role social and digital media now plays in warfare, and how that affects both the role and importance of digital monitoring in 2013 and beyond.

This from All Things D‘s Mike Isaac:

The Israeli Defense Force, the official military arm of the state of Israel, has launched a full-scale combat campaign against Hamas, the Islamist party that governs the Gaza Strip area of the Middle East. But instead of holding an official press conference, as is protocol for events as major as these, the IDF took a different tack. It announced its campaign via Twitter.

[...]

It’s a fascinating case study into the realm of social media, and the ever-evolving role of the social channels in the political arena. Recently, Web-savvy political organizations wielded Facebook and Twitter as major strategic tools in the U.S. general-election campaigns. And during the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia in 2010, Twitter was methodically used to facilitate and organize demonstrations of civil resistance, ultimately playing a part in the toppling of multiple despotic regimes in the Arab region.

It seems, however, that the IDF is using social in a different way entirely. It is a veritable “Shock and Awe” online assault, with Israel live-relaying updates on the combat situation. Among the tweets are updates on the successful interception of enemy fire against Israeli troops, citations of Hamas-backed violence against Israel and briefs on sites inside the Gaza Strip which Israeli forces have attacked. Perhaps the most jarring of the IDF tweets came stapled to a single photo of a top Hamas leader; The IDF broadcasted the confirmed assassination of Ahmed Jabari (seen above), complete with Jabari’s headshot and a list of his alleged offenses.

If you are old enough to remember CNN’s live coverage from the first Gulf War in 1991, then you are old enough to remember that the world of news changed that day forever. In one night, CNN changed the news game forever. A decade from now, when we look back on this week’s live-blogging of Israel’s strikes on Gaza, we might think of it in a similar way. Whether it becomes a lesson about the wonders of real-time information or dangers of real-time digital propaganda remains to be seen, but the world is a little different today because of how the IDF used social platforms this week.

The lesson here is that media is evolving, and with it the velocity of information sharing. A hundred years ago, information came in the form of a newspaper or a magazine. Media was print. It took time. There were delays. Even with the telegraph and the development of the telephone, news traveled slowly. Seventy years ago, radio started to edge out newspapers in terms of the velocity of news. Then came television news, then 24-hour news channels, and the internet, then social, then mobile. Today, our portable devices ping us whenever we get an email or a text or a tweet or a breaking news item we care about. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing. If we want to, we can be notified of any kind of development anywhere in the world on our phone or tablet. All we need is the right technology and a little foresight to set up our very own customized alert protocols. To put this evolution in perspective, take a look at the next timeline/graph (see below).

In 2010 66% of media consumption was digital. By 2020, that number will jump up to 80%. Look at the acceleration in media consumption in the last hundred years. Look at the shifts in channels and technologies.

If you know what you’re doing, and you want to keep a competitive edge, however you were collecting information, data and intelligence a year ago won’t be the way you will be collecting it a year from now.

But with all of this, a word of caution, again from Mike Isaac:

 The IDF’s updates are coming fast and furious, but the information isn’t necessarily being verified in real time. It is possible that the IDF could be spreading misinformation strategically.

 There is a difference between a vetted journalism entity like CNN, the Associated Press or the BBC covering a news event in real time, and a non-neutral entity publishing its own information in real time.

This may be a good time to remind everyone that there is a very big difference between monitoring and analysis. Monitoring alone isn’t enough. Whether you are focusing on a PR crisis for a brand or following a developing news story, be aware that as social media becomes increasingly integrated into corporate, special interest and government communications programs, propaganda and misinformation will invariably become more prevalent there. So far, most efforts to publish disingenuous information in black hat campaigns on social platforms have been foiled. Fake bloggers posting fake updates are increasingly easy to spot. But through trial and error, social misinformation campaigns will become more sophisticated, and there isn’t a tool out there that can automate the process of determining real from fake information. You will still need to vet your sources, confirm statements, do your research. Organizations and individuals with the right tools for the job and the right best practices in place will have an advantage over everyone else, but it takes forethought, it takes diligence, and it takes a thorough understanding of what tools are needed for the job.

If an hour is an eternity in the digital age, even two minutes could make an enormous difference in the life of your organization or in your own. That’s the new reality of the digital age we live in. The advantage increasingly goes to those of us – corporate and not – with the fastest and most reliable monitoring and analysis practices.

Food for thought.

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And if you haven’t yet, start building Tickr pages right now. It’s simple and quick, and you can take them with you everywhere you go.