October 20, 2010
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.”
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Outdated terms, outdated mindset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 That outdated term that used to be relevant when 90% of the content consumed was created by 10% of the population?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 That outdated term that used to be relevant when 90% of the population passively consumed that content?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.Mathew Lowry