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“Tomorrow’s internet revolution will be about...
Point of View

“Tomorrow’s internet revolution will be about content”

Tuesday, 29 August 2017
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Alex Ballmer
Social media specialist

“The passing of time is forever lost. ”

Quino

“Addicted to fine watchmaking.”

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7 min read

Forumamontres is one of the leading French-language watch forums. We talk to its founder and administrator Joël Duval, better known to readers as Zen.

Forumamontres was the first French-language watch forum. Where did the idea come from?

There were actually other French-speaking forums before Forumamontres. My idea was to liven things up, with an annotated round-up of what the press was saying, opinion pieces, and a mix of technical and historical topics. I read a lot of English-language forums before settling on what I believed could interest the French-speaking public and at the same time go beyond that particular audience. Previously, I’d moderated the WorldTempus forum which ran between 2002 and 2005. Xavier Gay, who managed the site and ran a documentation service for the watch industry in Geneva, encouraged me to set up an autonomous forum. Clearly this was good advice.

We've seen dozens of forums launch since then, not all as successfully as yours. What's the secret?

There’s no real secret. It’s more about a group of people who are all on the same wavelength, without any one individual acting as though this were their “thing”. Each contributor is part of the success. Of course, there is also a huge amount of work upstream, and hours spent administering the site. Everything has to be checked prior to publication, to ensure we never cross the line with text that could land its author in court. There’s also work to be done sourcing information, and writing fresh content. Passion isn’t just the motor, it’s the fuel that never runs dry. The desire to share views and knowledge is a form of renewable energy!

Considering how much there is to do, does the forum leave you time for other activities in the watch world?

I have many entry points into watchmaking, something I’m genuinely passionate about. Writing is one of the main ones. I enjoy researching a piece then putting what I find into a readable form that will tell the history of timepieces and watchmaking. There is a vast field of investigation that goes beyond the Swiss firms. French, English and American watchmaking all offer extraordinary fields for research. I write mainly for magazines, and have also published books.

Brands must regain control over the content of their communication. They must be creative, relevant and modern.
You recently contributed to our series on influencers, with an interview with IWC Girl. You also sounded off on the Business Montres website about the role given to bloggers. Is this really such a bad thing?

The problem lies not with the bloggers themselves but with the importance the big watch brands afford them without necessarily putting this so-called influence into perspective. Not a single brand carries out surveys to measure the real impact these bloggers have and, as is often the case online, bluff and bluster count for a lot. We’ve all heard of companies, even bots, whose job it is to boost social media accounts. And what does it mean anyway to have 15,000 followers or 150,000 followers when you’re writing about watches one day, make-up the following day, and fashion the day after that? I’m not denying that social media is a positive development in how we use the web, but does this mean journalism should now be using them as a source of information? Does Facebook worry about fake news? How much of what we read online is grounded in truth? How much fact-checking is there? When someone “likes” a photo, however artistic, does this automatically make them a watch enthusiast who is capable of judging whether the person who took the photo is a VIP? Tomorrow’s internet revolution will be about content, with on the one hand the people who produce content, and those who reproduce it on the other. If the former have no other source of inspiration than the latter, then content will wither and fade.

How do you see the future, if brands continue to communicate via these influencers?

Brands have used up almost all that’s available to them in terms of communication. They don’t want to be left behind, hence their eagerness to be omnipresent on social media, without really knowing what to do once they’re there. Sometimes with catastrophic results. Tweets that get fewer than ten, twenty or fifty responses in a week are totally counterproductive. They’re more likely to leave the reader wondering about the future of the brand or the point of the product. In that case, best propose something else.

Brands don’t always know what to say about their own products, whether they’re explaining the extent of an innovation or showing how a new watch fits with their history. In times of crisis, and we’re in one right now, consumers need to feel reassured about a product’s longevity. Internet has made cost a key criterion for a lot of users, who look for a price before looking for a watch. It’s time to give the product back its rightful place. Brands must regain control over the content of their communication. They must be creative, relevant and modern. And it must be them, and no-one else, that give their customers and fans exclusive information. Otherwise communication will be out of their hands, and in that case what will be the point of spending massive amounts on product launches?

Can brands gain some benefit from working with bloggers, nonetheless?

Yes, provided it stays within certain limits and that brands don’t find themselves at the mercy of communication they no longer control. They should also set aside areas for quality communication that keep the dream and the desirability alive. Fine Watchmaking cannot share the same type of communication as consumer goods that cost just a few euros.

Influencers, or those who claim to be so, often find themselves caught up in a form of interdependency with the brands.
Do you see yourself as an influencer?

That would mean defining what an influencer is. It’s a question I refuse to ask myself for as long as what I do is in a non-professional capacity. I don’t have anything to sell and I’m not paid for it. Were that to change, then I would have to be transparent. I rarely show the contemporary watches I own, specifically to avoid any such problem. If my research or writing sparks interest among readers, so much the better for the brands in question, but that isn’t what motivates me. Influencers, or those who claim to be so, often find themselves caught up in a form of interdependency with the brands.

To end on a lighter note, picture yourself replying to a comment on Forumamontres. Which watch would you be wearing?

A dashboard watch that won a pre-1925 timing competition.

For when you're driving and thinking about your next book?

Right now? No comment. My books cost a lot to produce, particularly because they’re so richly illustrated. I do have a brand in mind, but I haven’t informed them yet. The project will only be viable if they agree to buy a few copies.

If there could only be one?

Then it would have to be one that is close to my heart. A watch a loved one had given me, or which has a fabulous story behind it. Ask me again in a few weeks, when I’ve had time to think!

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