September 9, 2009
Julien Frisch blogged about a very thoughtful post on writing for (y)EU by Steve, a web editor from the EP, who sounds distressingly like me (white, British, 40s and sceptical about the Generation Y definition of ‘friend’ despite having many) and seems to be coming down from a post-holiday Web2.0 overdose.
The key paragraph, highlighted by Julien, is where Steve asks himself whether the EP does too much Web2.0, thus leaving the vast majority of internet users behind. Is another digital divide, this time between digital natives and the rest of us online, emerging just as the original divide (between digital haves and have-nots) begins to close?
Of course, there will always be early adopters and laggards when it comes to the Posterous v. Twitter debate. But this is an important point when it comes to public access to information and services. He’s right to ask not only whether the EP’s pre-election experiments were a good idea, but also whether EU institutions (and governments in general, I guess) should live anywhere near the cutting edge, for fear of favouring early adopters and leaving behind everyone else.
This reminds me of a few posts I tagged elsewhere for later consumption. In Social Media Experts Are Scary, for example, Michelle Trip observes:
this whole “social media expert” thing is getting really out of hand. And not just because every other person with a Facebook account, a plane ticket to Austin, and a Twitter badge is claiming to be one … Social media experts scare me (because) by definition they’re not marketing experts. For all the flashing lights and shooting stars, social media is simply a tool.
I was reminded of this when reading Steffen’s blog, where he wrote of a dilemma: communicators don’t get it and online consultants who aren’t communicators. I had some issues here (which we worked out amicably enough) – not with the dilemma, which exists sure enough, but with the solution, which was to hire:
young PR or marketing professionals who have grown up using the web and are very comfortable with technology. They get the content and message side and also get the web, but they see it as an end rather than a means.
He clarified what he meant in the comments. I personally think Michelle’s right. Social media is just an evolution of the Web. Others are on the way. But radio didn’t replace theatre, and TV didn’t replace radio, so you have to integrate these successive waves of innovation into your entire communication strategy – not just your existing online strategy.
This is particularly the case with Web2.0, and particularly when communicating a massively complicated and misunderstood subject as the EU to non-specialists. Here, a Web2.0 strategy – no matter how well it’s implemented – without a good Web1.0 presence in support is like building a sportscar but forgetting the wheels. It’s not going anywhere.
Reflecting on Steffen’s prescriptions, here are two things I think you need when integrating Web2.0 into an EU communications strategy:
- first and foremost, overall communications strategy experience. Coming at EU communications with a hammer labeled ‘Web2.0’ is only going to end up hurting your thumb. It has to be integrated. And the web is a means, not an end.
- secondly, a deep understanding of the EU context. There are a lot of social media experts who can quote chapter and verse from Dell’s and IBM’s experiences. And there’s a lot to learn from them. I do, and I hope to post a lot over the coming weeks on this. But these lessons have to be refracted through the unique prism which is the EU. The EU doesn’t sell soap powder. It pools sovereignty. In 23 languages.
The EP obviously get the importance of an integrated online strategy:
As we found during the election campaign, different online and traditional media are not sealed off from each other, but feed off each other constantly.
But resources are tight, they can’t be everywhere, so just wanting an integrated communication strategy doesn’t in itself doesn’t answer how far down the road to Web2.0 hipdom a public organisation like them should go:
People still organise themselves into their own little worlds. One of our jobs is not to limit ourselves to yet another little world of our own.
This is of course at odds with the Web2.0-induced trend of micropersuasion, but they’re right.
Against the danger of a web2-based digital divide, however, must be balanced the massive advantages of seeing European Institutions truly engage via social media, which has enormous potential to open up the ‘little world’ the EU policy community is. So I think the EP was right to experiment – you have to ‘just try it’, despite the risks – but I feel they’re let down by a Web1.0 site (EUROPA) which doesn’t support the long-term engagement that’s needed.
Which brings me to the oft-repeated observation that the one thing the EP does need to do is keep doing it. If all we get is another 6-month burst of activity in 4 years time, I doubt the result will be much different.
Scrolling upwards, I realise this is not my most coherent post. I apologise. I’m still figuring things out. So all comments are gratefully received.Mathew Lowry