Mathew Lowry

Meanwhile, more provocation from the European Parliament’s lovely web team:

“there are two kinds of people working in the public relations management milieu of European institutions: the ones that entertain romantic notions about the emancipatory potential of new media … and those that recognize Web 2.0 as yet another tool for managing and projecting the favourable image of the institution they work for.”

– Writing for yEU | Let’s feed them some tweets”

I first tweeted this as ‘rather bipolar’ because I wasn’t sure whether to take the above opening paragraph – or indeed the entire post – seriously or not.

Outdated terms, outdated mindset

And I’m still not sure, particularly when I read how they believe they “thrive” on “the narcotyzing dysfunction of the media”, where the media “inundate the public with unwieldy amount of information, so that people have no choice but to sit back and consume what is fed to them…“.

Err, what? The media? That outdated term that used to be relevant when 90% of the content consumed was created by 10% of the population?

The public? That outdated term that used to be relevant when 90% of the population passively consumed that content?

Hasn’t anyone noticed that Web2.0 is about the mass amateurisation of content production? Or do people now think that we are all narcotysing each other? Been online recently? It’s not happening. People are enthusing each other. There’s a big difference.

How odd to be still using these terms at all, let alone in a blog post about web2.0.

The truth is in the usual place

Most of the people I know “working in the public relations management milieu of European institutions” don’t fall into either of the two camps described above, and I’ve been in this milieu for almost 20 years, working online for 15 of them.

The post is right that mistaking a Facebook ‘like’ for a vote is not only amusing, but dangerous – and some of the current generation of social media experts currently crawling out of the woodwork have seriously suggested it. They’ll grow out of it.

But the alternative – seeing Web 2.0 as merely another tool for managing and projecting a favourable image – is just as dangerous in its own way.

Yes, it is just another tool in that it should be an integrated part of a communication strategy, not a substitute for one. Social media experts forget this, if they ever knew it in the first place. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

But it is not just about projecting a favourable image, either – seeing Web2.0 as “PR as usual” will condemn you to failure. Treating social media as just another channel is the equivalent of going to a conference or cocktail party and talking to everyone as if you were a TV ad, and they your unwilling viewers. As I read recently somewhere:

If you spoke to people in real life the way advertisers talk to them, they’d punch you in the nose.

I know I would. Which is why I fast forward through ads while having conversations online.

Full spectrum what?

Just as dangerous is the post’s enthusiasm for “full spectrum dominance”, a military term it quite deliberately applies to PR. Apparently, despite all evidence to the contrary, the media’s narcotyzing dysfunction will keep the public’s guard down, allowing

“PR machinery … [to use] all channels at its disposal to foster a favourable image and brand of the institution … any PR effort should aim for full-spectrum dominance … winning hearts and minds, on all fronts: press, TV, radio, the web. This is not to be confused with fostering democratic and pluralistic debate”

Are we supposed to be taking this seriously? For a start, the whole point about today’s media landscape is that people are not “narcotised”. Moreover, their guard is up.

And nothing could be more guaranteed to piss them off more than treating them as the passive, uncritical morons this theory seems to think they are.

Apart from being impossible, full-spectrum dominance – being everywhere, all the time – is a huge turn-off. Jacob Nielsen, for example, showed how an overactive RSS stream leads to people unsubscribing, as you are filling up their Reader and crowding out their other friends and RSS feeds.

Destined to fail

If this is the European Parliament’s view of what they’re doing online, then I for one am worried. The framing is wrong right across the board.

Has noone at Place Luxembourg been told the importance of trust in online communications? Inhabitants of social media hate being talked at using advertisement language. Their guard is up and they don’t like being dominated, which is another way of saying attacked.

Moreover, they are perfectly able to attack right back. That’s the whole point – everyone is media now. Or have the lessons learnt by major corporations these last few years been completely missed by the Parliament’s web team?

Transparency and hypocrisy

I suspect not. This post is an aberration on what is one of the best blogs focusing on the use of social media by the EU.

It is also an excellent idea for the EP’s blog to explore different views: opening up internal debates to the outside world is Good Transparency, and generally helpful to the debate itself.

Ironically, however, the post itself warns against the publication of a plurality of views, declaring that total consistency across all media is essential to project “the message” consistently and so dominate.

By its own logic, therefore, it should not have been published unless it accurately reflects the EP’s policy towards communications.

Or maybe they’re just taking the piss.

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Comments

  1. Mathew, you have it in your last section: “It is also an excellent idea for the EP’s blog to explore different views.”

    The idea of the Writing for (y)EU blog is decidedly not to transmit the official position of the European Parliament (its says so at the top), not even any collective view of the web team. As a reader of the blog, you will have noticed that we encourage individual members of the team to express their thoughts and ideas on what they do. Some of these thoughts may be deliberately provocative, aimed at stirring things up a bit. I have to say that the military metaphor here is so over the top that I suspect Marko is having some fun at out expense.

    In any case, I believe that what we do and what we really believe about what we do is more than apparent from our social media activities themselves. The EP Facebook page is wide open and encourages people to say what they think. We want it to be the place where people discuss EU politics with each other and with MEPs. It has no ‘line” except an underlying belief that what the European Parliament does is worth talking about.

    I might also suggest that the publication of this post on our blog indicates that we are not the PR-driven control freaks it ostensibly portays us as, and that we are open to challenges to orthodox ideas (even from within) and discussion with people outside our team about those ideas.

  2. Actually, I think I had it in my last line! Go on, scroll up ;-).

    My post, of course, is precisely in the spirit of a transparent discussion on how the EU should – and should not – use social media. I’ve been taking part in that discussion for many years, and noone was happier when Writing for yEU showed up and joined in. And I’m not unfamiliar with the idea of being deliberately provocative to stir things up!

    As can be seen, I believe Marko’s post is wrong in many ways, but my last section shows that I know this is not “the line you take” and that you’re not control freaks. Even if the post itself says you should be.

    But is this just one person’s view, or does it represent a view shared by many inside the EP?

  3. Mathew,

    On your last question, my experience from all the meetings and discussions I have had on the use of social media in Parliament, with MEPs, fellow staff members and with communicators working in the political groups, is that there is a very positive attitude and a strong interest in finding out and doing more. I note for the record that the “official line” in Parliament can be found in the very clear instructions given by the political authorities to the administration on several occasions now actively to pursue a “web 2.0” communications policy, including engagement via social media.

    I have not come across the view (ostensibly) expressed in this post anywhere else, which is one reason I found it interesting and rather challenging.

    People who are actively involved in social media, perhaps unsurprisingly, tend to share the view that they hold great potential in terms of public engagement and participation.

    All this said, the most common attitude is probably still described as positive interest from a position of needing to know more. As I often say, social media remain a radically new form of communication (at least in our context) and all the implications have still to be understood, even by those most actively involved, let alone those who are not. These are pioneering days, which is one reason the job is such a good and exciting one, albeit also occasionally stressful!

  4. It’s all good. Glad to hear the post was not representing a widespread opinion! But I do look forward to seeing Marko defend it! 😉 But see below …

    I must say that I was mystified by the defensiveness of one of your colleagues (Thibault) to the post. I’ve always assumed – rightly, you confirm – that Writing for y(EU) doesn’t reflect official positions and that it’s all about having a debate. So I joined in the debate. That’s all.

    So where did Thibault’s “some people think we’re amateurs” meme suddenly spring from? After all, I did say that Writing for y(EU) “is one of the best blogs focusing on the use of social media by the EU“. Hardly amateur hour. I meant it – it’s why I often comment there, and really appreciate you coming here.

    The defensiveness, apart from being unnecessary, might actually ‘turn off’ some people from joining in the debate, stifling it somewhat.

  5. The original post remains contradictory. How can it be passionately held conviction and tongue in cheek at the same time?

    I agree with Mathew; Writing for (y)EU is a must read blog on social media in the EU institutions.

    Social media are, of course, only part of online media and communication, but what has happened in a few years is truly a revolution. It would not be possible to follow mainstream and social media, communication from public authorities, EU legislation etc. from a distance without these tools – or to participate – in almost real time.

    However, this does not mean that masses of people are going to migrate from personalities and events they find more enticing, such as Big Brother, football, Lady Gaga and others.

    (Perhaps the French tradition of jacqueries should be treated separately.)

  6. Dear Mathew,

    My “defensiveness” wasn’t specifically aimed at you (I read your blog post only after I posted my comment below Marko’s) but at a general perception of what unfamiliar readers of our blog could quickly conclude. True, I was on the defensive side just because we had new visitors lately and I wanted to make sure they were not jumping too fast to wrong conclusions.

    Les habitués like you, we know they understand why and what we publish and I am extremely glad you like our blog 😉

    Have a nice evning,
    T.

  7. Yeah, it can be hard to find a balance at the best of times, when any given blog post can be read by old-timers and newomers. In EU affairs, it can be downright impossible.

    The true lack of balance, of course, lies in the original blog post – as Ralf rightly reminds us, it was so unbalanced as requiring medical attention for schizophrenia. Will we ever hear from the now-famous Marko?

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