Mathew Lowry

When is a blog not a blog?

Answer: when the blogger doesn’t publish comments or trackbacks. But why are so many of these Charade Blogs supposedly ‘blogs on European communications’? Are there too many freshly minted ‘social media experts’ in Brussels?

I’ve found that Eurosceptic-oriented blogs are generally very open environments – I had a comment blocked once on Devil’s Kitchen, but otherwise even the most rabidly loony eurosceptic bloggers have always published my comments. They may have done it because it gave them something to kick and bite, but at least the debate is out in the open, where it should be.

social media bandwagon image

Not true for some blogs professing a desire to have a Web2.0 conversation on EU policy – even EU communications policy. Just on this platform, there are a few blogs where comments never see the light of day – for example:

  • European Movement UK: while the Brussels end of the European Movement embraced crowdsourcing (contributions + comments + rating) to define 60 ideas for Europe for the Congress of Europe’s 60th anniversary two years ago, the UK branch doesn’t even publish comments, despite inviting people to ‘Join the debate and put your opinion forward!’. Oh dear.
  • iBlog: ‘You are what you share‘, apparently. But please don’t share your thoughts with me because I won’t publish them, despite the fact that you should ‘feel free to comment‘ …
  • EU Communication à la 2009: this ‘blog about the EU and its communication activities’ takes the Commission to task for not ‘creating a dialogue’, but is itself uninterested in having a dialogue with its own readers.
  • EU Media – Blogging about EU Media and Blogs: it’s all about ‘Commenting on EU Comments‘ … but no comments are allowed. Ouch!

These blogs, and the many others like them, are Charade Blogs. Comments and trackbacks are the online infrastructure for ideas – any blog which does not have them is just an El Cheapo Web1.0 site.

Onto the bandwagon

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, and I was finally prompted by the above illustration, used to illustrate a seminar, semi-spammed to me via a LinkedIn group a while back. At least the the image’s filename – social-media-bandwagon.jpg – is honest.

Charade Blogs are the product of people jumping on a bandwagon they don’t appear to understand. They are often the product of ‘Social Media Experts’.

Rant on: Social Media Experts

I have a problem with this concept.

I accept that there are communications experts, and even online communications experts. But social media experts?

Here I’m rehashing some comments posted elsewhere over the past few years (e.g., Edward Boche, Michelle Tripp, Steffen) on the emergence of this particular beast.

Whenever technology throws up a new medium, you get your early adopters and evangelists. They immerse themselves in it, become experts, build a career on it and write a book.

As they go out to hawk their book, agencies glimpse the bandwagon and hire them to impress their clients. They score work, so more agencies do the same.

This is when the number of “experts” explodes. Consider the conditions:

  • demand is high
  • real experts are rare
  • agencies can’t tell the difference between them and those bluffing and rehashing their way onto the bandwagon.

Hence the above BandWagon seminar.

Shortly after that the new media goes mainstream: everyone understands what the expert once alone knew, and noone calls themselves an expert in it anymore. The new media becomes just another tool in the toolbox. The “Dummies for …” edition hits the shelves.

By which time, of course, the original expert has either moved on to a new field or had kids, got a mortgage and become a manager.

Rant off

There are many tools in the communications toolkit. Social media is one, but it cannot be considered separately from the rest of any online communications strategy. And any online communications strategy must be part of a wider, fully integrated communications strategy, encompassing everything from dead tree books to events and PR.

Having a social media strategy separate from the rest of what you do is as pointless as having a blog and not allowing comments, or (as I said in a previous post) building a sportscar but forgetting the wheels. It’s not going anywhere.

Yet this is precisely the trap many organisations seem to be falling for, probably because they’re hiring social media experts who weren’t even doing communications before the emergence of Web2.0, and don’t see the wider picture.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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  1. Spot on Mathew, though some of your emphasis comes from the aging communicator syndrome from which I also suffer: irritation at people with little experience pre-Web2 getting more traction than they may deserve.
    Not sure this is entirely fair: I remember being offered a great opportunity mainly on account of having taught myself desktop publishing. This was of course 20 years ago when such things were cutting edge.
    However it does annoy me when bandwagoners exhibit not the slightest competence in or respect for the technical niceties or essential parameters of the medium from which they are profiting so merrily.

  2. @Hugh: I’m not so irritated by bandwagoners as concerned as the damage they will probably do (cf poisoning the well) to social media and EU affairs.

    Just ask Toyota Australia about their social media campaign disaster, implemented by no less than Saatchi & Saatchi (hat-tip: For Immediate Release).

    Plus, I just felt like venting my spleen. Go on, call me crotchety! 🙂

    @Brusselsblogger: you’re next in my sights … 😉 No, not really – have you seen how many months I can go without a post? People should blog as much or as little as they like. But they shouldn’t call it blogging if they ignore comments people submit.

  3. I’m computer clueless, so I don’t get any of the technical jargon here. However, I’ve tried getting involved in conversations with the various bloggers, and mostly comments seem to ‘await moderation’ for so long that we might as well communicate by (real) post. Even then, replies are rare.

    I’d identify myself as a Euro-sceptic, but it sounds feeble and watered down. Open Europe are Euro-sceptics, for heaven’s sake, so are the Conservative Party. I’m a nationalist, a souverainiste, and I’ve come here to argue my case against federalists.

    A site where most people agree with me on this, (as they tend to, on English language sites, you may have noticed), doesn’t meet the case. Perhaps you’d be kind enough to direct me to an alternative site where such things can happen.

  4. Thanks, Eurosocialiste and Paul, for the comments.

    @Paul, it’d be a mistake to see as a site. It’s a platform – a place where people create their own blogs. A collection of individual sites.

    The idea behind Blogactiv is that the blogs created on it all discuss the EU in some way, although that doesn’t always seem enforced. The reason to create a blog here, as opposed to, say,, is that Blogactiv’s mother company,, will provide some traffic and limited technical support. In return, Blogactiv sells advertising/sponsorship on the traffic.

    The biggest problem with online discussions is the groupthink/echo chamber effect, where likeminded people assemble to reinforce each others’ ideas, so I applaud your willingness to argue the ‘anti’-‘ case. However, how each blogger treats comments is purely up to them – noone can make them publish comments. Most do.

    When we launched blogactiv in 2007 I really wanted to avoid the echo chamber effect so eurosceptics were more than welcome. Unfortunately, they didn’t take kindly to Blogactiv’s launch. It was years before Open Europe started here, and even then they simply cross-post. Better than nothing.

    If you follow the first link, above, and then dig further, you may see why intelligent online debates about the actual existence of the EU are rare. Most people interested in discussing EU policy focus on shifting the EU in one direction or another. Some think the EU should do more in some areas, less in others, but they generally accept the principle that ‘EU added value’ can exist in some areas. The arguments are generally technical and the tone is reserved and professional, not passionate.

    Most eurosceptics online, on the other hand, shriek and foam at the mouth at the mere mention of the EU. They are also frequently crass, enjoy twisting words, don’t seem to spend any time reading the others’ point of view, will believe any Eurocr*p Rupert Murdoch tells them and seem to think that SHOUTING WINS ARGUMENTS.

    There’s not a lot of common ground there for an intelligent discussion!

    I, for one, am not blogging to defend or attack the EU – I’m more interested in Raising the level of the debate, because I like interesting problems.

    But the posts I’ve mentioned in this comment include some links you might like to check out. There’s also my blogroll, right. Happy hunting! 😉

  5. Thanks very much for your trouble, Matthew – I’ll try and work my way through your links.

    I’m probably one of the shriekers and foamers at the mouth that you mentioned, and I’ve certainly noticed the “groupthink/echo chamber effect”, having been to both the Guardian and Telegraph sites.

    If you bump into me on another site, shrieking at you, you’ve only yourself to blame.

    Thanks again,

  6. Paul, it’s a pleasure. I think by visiting a variety of sites you’re onto the best way to keep an open mind, whether you want one or not!

    Happy commenting. Let me know how you get on. Hope one day to see your own blog.

  7. Hi Mathew / Everyone,

    This has been an interesting thread and I thought I’d throw my hat in.

    I wish I could tell you for sure why some of our highest profile bloggers aren’t overly keen on comments. I can think of a number of our bloggers that mostly ignore them. You are right, it is a shame. I mean they can’t all be right all of the time can they???

    On a separate subject, a few weeks ago I was at an event where I was introduced to a young guy – possibly in his first job – and he was being employed by a Brussels based consultancy as a “Web 2.0 expert”. All good so far.

    However, over the course of the next 5 mins he asked me “What is twitter?” and then told me he was “thinking about starting a blog to try it out”. Thats the ‘expert’ opinion then…

    As has been noted in some of your other posts, having a facebook account and being under the age of 25 does not actually make you a Web 2.0 expert. Needless to say, he has been in touch with me several times. Essentially, he is hoping that I will answer his questions and teach him how to be a Web 2.0 expert.

    He seems like a nice and intelligent kid. But he isn’t an expert yet. Far from it.

    I have also had a guy cold call me trying to sell SEO services. Fine. I asked to see his site, took a look and then phoned him back. I provided a 5 minute assessment of why his SEO sucks and what his problems were. He proceeded to tell me that, “SEO is pretty hard isn’t it” and on a couple of occassions, “so how does that work then?”

    He was trying to pitch SEO services to work on It is a 60,000 or so page website – and yet the 7 pages of his site were not done well!!!

    Such experiences are leading me to believe that online communication is still 5 years away from being done properly by most here in Brussels.

    Best wishes,


  8. Stuart, why not having a “most commented this week” box on the BlogActiv frontpage?

    The same could be done for the BlogActiv newsletter.

    By the way, while we are talking about the frontpage: it would be nice if the “most active blogs” box would only show blogs that are really still active. Two of the the top 3 blogs have stopped blogging more a less a year ago.

  9. Hi Stuart, thanks for joining in.

    For a start, I agree with Brusselsblogger that a home page that gave greater visibility to comments would be a start, although if you’re thinking about a homepage revision I’d go much further and use the redesign to stimulate the development of a ‘culture and community of conversation’ via the ways stories are highlighted and presented.

    But that might not be enough – if a blogger just ignores comments, it’s because they’re treating their blog as a one-way broadcast – a web1.0 site for posting their thoughts. I just find it ironic that the ones I called out actually invite comments and/or position themselves as Web2.0 wunderkinder.

    Which brings me to the subject of your 23 year old hired by a “Brussels based consultancy as a Web 2.0 expert” when he has no knowledge or experience of the EU, of wider communications (off-line and on-line) or of social media.

    [If you want to ‘do’ social media in an EU context, you need all three.]

    His arrival in Brussels is exactly what I was posting about here and earlier – above, “This is when the number of “experts” explodes … agencies can’t tell the difference between them and those bluffing and rehashing their way onto the bandwagon.“.

    It says a lot about the standard of most Brussels-based consultancies that they’re so gullible and/or have no compunction about fooling their clients. The result is inevitable – 2010 will probably be the year when one of these wet-behind-the-ears experts poisons the well for EU and social media by unknowingly breaking the basic rules of social media on behalf of clients who wouldn’t know astroturfing from transparency.

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