He tipped me off that Labour has started planning for the online battle at the next general election by advertising two digital roles at party HQ:
Regardless of your politics these are undoubtably two very exciting roles which will no doubt take whoever secures the positions straight to the frontline of digital political campaigning in the UK.
You can access the full job ads and specs over at the econsultancy jobs
Rather than looking to embrace social media, listen, adapt and respond to the public and earn the reputation it deserves, comments made by the Met's Director of External Affairs, Dick Fedoricio, in a PR Week interview suggested otherwise:
"If I was seeking to manipulate people, it would raise a question about how that reduced our integrity. To be leaning on someone to say "give us a good blog" starts to raise some ethical issues."
I wanted to return to this issue for a couple of reasons. Primarily, I was shocked (but unsurprised) to see that according the Evening Standard, the Met has now requested that all imagery of its officers hiding or obscuring their badges be removed from photo libraries and image databases (hiding numbers means officers can't be (easily) identified and is an illegal tactic usually performed to allow police to act with impunity while committing - often violent - offences against the public).
While the Standard accuses the Met of trying to "re-write history", a member of the public gets it right in a comment posted on the story:
"If people start uploading such images to Facebook and Twitter, will they get their collars felt? We seem to be heading in that direction."
Leaving aside the jusdgement of which direction society is heading, the issue of whether material incriminating authorities published publicly in the social web can be removed remains - as does the question: what power do authorities have to, in DIck's words, "manipulate" or "lean on" someone to force removal?
Following the G20 the Met has signed up 6Consulting and Radian6 to run social media monitoring for the force so it's very likely that any 'offending' material will certainly be identified. That said, I return to the point I made originally which was that this approach reveals a traditional command and control communications culture at the Met which will not fit in the distributed, complex, networked world in which we now live.
I mentioned there were a couple of reasons I wanted to blog about this topic again. That's the first, the second is much more personal.
So how did he interact with me? Was it a comment left on my blog post examining the Met's approach to social media? Was it an email explaining the Met's decision not to interact with bloggers?
No. Instead Dick left me a voicemail on my work phone. Why he phoned me at work I don't know (especially given my blog states clearly it's a personal site and encourages contact via my personal email address).
Dick's voicemail was rather aggressive (I'm sure this was unintentional) and stated that he worked for Scotland Yard (again, this is confusing, but I'm sure he meant the Metropolitan Police).
He advised me, in a rather intimidating fashion, that if I planned on blogging about the Met againI should give him a call in advance.
Now I'm sure Dick meant only well by his inadvertently aggressive and intimidating phonecall advising I seek permission before blogging about the Met, but it seems clear to me that the Met are doing blogger engagement, despite what they tell PR Week.
Plus ca change...
There's an interesting post over at the Journalism.co.uk blog where they are trying to crowd source the perfect press release.
The post offers some great press release-writing tips for people new to the industry and even acts as a reminder to those more seasoned PR professionals about what journalists really want to know about a story.
But what's interesting about the results is the inclusion of social mediia elements which are being specifically requested by journalists.
Maybe I'm wrong to be surprised, but when journalists are asking for "a headline have crossed over into ... short enough for a Twitter update including a link." then it seems we really have gotten over the online vs offline; 'real media' vs social media divide.
The only thing is.... while journalists are adapting quickly to a new, more real-time media environment have PR professionals? I still see a lot of "no-one really reads blogs" or "Yes, but what's the reach of that Tweet?" from PROs.
So here's the real incentive: even if you want to ignore that the media landscape and infrastructure is changing around you..... the journalists you are pitching stories to already get it and if you don't adapt accordingly then you'll be less effective at doing your job. Simples!
I don’t think I can recall as many people putting out the call to become politically active before. But what’s the driver for this? Is it public disenfranchisement with the political status quo following recent political scandals?
Or is it something much broader – perhaps the trend that people are becoming more and empowered in everything from purchasing decisions to political choice?
There’s probably a bit of both at play and I believe (of coruse!) that this is being catalysed by the Internet. But while the Internet is perhaos galvanising these emotions, their roots lie deeper in the drive for accountability (thus transparency) and a fundamental desire for empowerment - both political (with a small 'p') and personal.
These thoughts were most recently crystallised in a presentation on the Internet and democracy I delivered in the Isle of Man, which - funnily enough - is the world’s oldest, continuous parliamentary democracy.
What follows is blog short-hand for many rambling, overlapping and unexplored ideas knocking around in my head so please excuse any non sequiturs!
To grossly précis and paraphrase the pair, Castell’s argues that networked organisation in society is greatly reducing the validity of the state, government and political parties; Benkler argues that the Internet is creating a new ‘commons’ enabling peer production of economic and cultural good and increasing democratic freedoms.
Put together we can plot major faultlines opening in the traditional role of institutions (state, government, political parties and even NGOs) to govern and conversely significant opportunities emerging for individuals and communities to self-govern.
Or rather not 'govern' as we traditional conceive of it as 'governing' implies a hierarchical organisation that uses power over others to achieve organisation.
I appreciate that non-hierarchical organisation is not as simple as this sentence implies (the Tyranny of Structurelessness' for starters - although I also believe the Internet can help overcome this** - see below if you're interested) but the idea of self-organisation has a much more deep-rooted basis than that espoused by Clay Shirky.
What we perceive as contemporary political democracy originates more or less in the Enlightenment and is best exemplified by Jurgen Habermas's vision of the 'public sphere' where civil society was created by consensus.
However, contemporary French philosopher, Jacques Ranciere, has ideated a vision of democracy that is rooted in dissensus, rather than consensus. For Ranciere, consensus is not true democracy, but rather compromise based on the way civil society is framed by its historical institutions e.g. the state, political parties, NGOs, etc.
This is what brings - eventually - back around to 'real' democracy and the Internet. Ranciere sees democracy as unmediated - direct connections between individuals or even loosely affiliated, affinity groups. Does the internet help people achieve this?
It was Jeff Jarvis who wrote (in The Guardian) back in early 2006 that:
Is this not dissensus-based politics? And is it not potentially driving a societal shift towards a world where people want political engagement and democracy to be on an individual level? Without party politics and ingrained corruption and unchecked power? I dunno. I'm only asking!
* T.I.A.A. - There is always an alternative: my interpretation of Thatcher's T.I.N.A.
** The Tyrany of Structurelessness (TToS) - For those interested I believe that the paradox inherent within (my reading) of TToS could potentially be (and, indeed, is) overcome by the Internet and self-organising, horizontal networks. The original issue in TToS was that attempts to create a structureless (i.e. non-hierarchical) organisation in the physical world became undone as groups spend there efforts at creating a structureless organisation, rather than achieving anything through that structurelessness.
However, as the Internet in instrumentally structureless, any organising done using the Internet is inherently structureless also. Therefore it removes the need to artificially create a structureless organisation allowing the group to organise non-hierarchically and achieve things.
I’m looking forward to having a read as both authors are smart guys: academics with solid practical backgrounds and experience.
I’ll be posting my thoughts here in due course. It’ll probably be done piecemeal as I go along, owing to a hectic work schedule.
I've have a fair few emails each month from people wanting to get experience working in a digital PR environment. I do what I can but it's not always feasible to give opportunities to everyone or or sign-post them on to other contacts.
However, word reaches me from friend and ex-Edelman colleague, Amy Clark, that help may be at hand if you are looking for a pretty cool digital opportunity. Amy heads up the digital activity over at Splendid Communications and is running a rather smart campaign with their client, Big Yellow Storage.
Big Yellow Self Storage is running a competition offering one determined and talented individual the chance to win a month’s paid internship in Splendid's digital team.
Highlighting the sort of creative digital work you can expect to experience first-hand if you win, Splendid are running the competition through a clever social media mechanic.
According to the official blurb:
Interested applicants can submit a video by heading over to the Big Yellow Storage campaign/12seconds website.
Another really nice feature of the competition (IMHO) is the way the outcome is socialiased. By that I mean that while there is (can only be - due to resources and time) only one paid internship they have committed to "showcasing all entries to the industry in the hope that other talented hopefuls will be snapped up by recruiters". It's a cliche but evryone could be a winner.... so why not spread the word!
The competition is open to anyone else providing you're over the age of 18 and are eligible to work in the UK. I've posted the full how to enter details below.
How to enter:
Candidates ready to rise to the challenge and enter the limelight need to speed over to 12seconds.tv and upload their video interview in five easy steps designed to test the entrant’s social media prowess.
The closing date for entries is May 30th 2009. The winner will be announced on June 15th 2009.
When it comes to social media causing cataclysmic changes in the UK we have recently witnessed two significant events which in one case has led to change. However, as far as I have seen, these changes have largely passed unnoticed among professional communicators despite having relevance to public and media institutions.
While they’re not exactly cut and dried case studies I thought I’d use a blog post to take a look at what happened, why, and how the Internet has changed the way the organisations in question operate – or not.
The first example at first sight looks like a fairly standard whistle-blower business story. Last month the Guardian published a story based on leaked documents that shone a light on Barclays’ investment division. The story, the Guardian claimed, was another piece of journalism damning the financial industry at a time when public abhorrence and anger for the wealth being accumulated (or not) by bankers was at its peak.
The Guardian broke the story overnight via its website which included scans of the leaked documents. These meant anyone could delve into Barclays’ gory tax avoidance details themselves. However, by the following morning edition of the Guardian newspaper Barclays’ lawyers had secured an injunction requiring the documents to be removed from the Guardian’s website. Job done, they thought.
However, in the couple of hours that the documents had been online users had saved copies of the documents and distributed them across the web, on sites including the wonderful Wikileaks.
Unfortunately, the injunction meant the Guardian couldn’t disclose or signpost its readers to the documents but that didn’t matter as people were discussing the story and linking to copies of the documents anyway – entirely by-passing the MSM and thus rendering the legal injunction all but worthless.
This has clear resonances with the Diebold case in the US back in 2004. I won’t go into the specifics (it’s on Wikipedia and has been examined in detail Yochai Benkler’s Wealth of Networks) but suffice to say that a large company, in this case Diebold, discovered it couldn’t use legislation to control or censor unpalatable information once it had been launched into the social web.
The second case is more recent – and more tragic. During the G20 protests the innocent newspaper salesman Ian Tomlinson was assaulted by a police officer who had disguised his identity by covering his face with a balaclava and illegally removing his identification number. Furthermore, the officer responsible didn't come forward until the video footage had been played out across the world. As a result of this violence there is a very strong likelihood that the injuries Tomlinson's sustained during the assault led to his death.
This version of events – widely accepted by the public and media as the most accurate - has been established using images, videos and first-hand testimonies from citizen journalists. However, the response by the police forces involved and IPCC was to issue media statements that contradicted this version of events. How can that be?
Writing in Monday’s Media Guardian Nick Davies asks the important question: “Why did it take six days and citizen journalism to shed light on Ian Tomlinson’s death.”
Davies - whose book last year, Flat Earth News, criticised cash and resource strapped newsrooms for being overly-reliant on the PR industry and PROs - goes as far as to suggest that the reason may be that the Met, City of London Police and IPCC were deliberately issuing misinformation.
Far be it for me to comment on that point but it places the role of the Internet at the heart of the media coverage, rather than the periphery.
Aside from Tomlinson’s death, the nearby peaceful Climate Camp was targeted by violent police action which would seem to have coincided with when the MSM cameras were turned off. Without citizen reporters capturing the camp clearance on phones, digital video and still cameras there would be no real record of the events that unfolded.
Ditto the police officer who updated his Facebook status: "Can't wait to bash some long haired hippys up @ the G20." As a result he is being investigated. And who knows what happened (if anything) to this guy who’s Twitter update landed in my inbox a few days after the event.
With all this reputational fallout for the police and sharp drop in public trust it is perhaps no surprise to see the relatively rapid announcement in PR Week that the Met is now “stepping up its online comms" to deal with the Internet as a communications channel.
While it’s certainly a step in the right direction, tactical changes will only be successful if supported by a change in organisational strategy too. With the web making organisations’ actions near-impossible to control or manage, traditional institutions and their approach to communications – and in this case, UK law a well – are being undone by the Internet.
Things are changing, but it seems to be only one crisis at a time.
OK. I'm back blogging again. Apologies for the haitus. Twas caused by busy, busy work and too much homelife going on.
So I have a few thoughts on s0me issues around public engagement and social media which I aim to write up soonest, in the meantime I wanted to float this idea:
Well, is there? I didn;t renew my membership earleir this year but after discussions with a good few digtial PR types was convinced that there are a number of areas where an organisation of social media and digital PR and communications types would be very useful, e.g. taking the marketing and ad agencies on through thought-leadership; developing and sharing best practice communally (a la Will McInnes' Measurement Camp); knwoeldge sharing, networking, drinking, etc.
But this thought led naturally to the next.... in a social/digital age do we need (a) formal organisation to organise? My opinion: no.
So I propose re-joining the CIPR and establishing a OpenCIPR grassroots version. This is something David Wilcox and others did with the RSA. And if they can do it with the RSA we can do it with the CIPR.
But I need to know a) that this isn't a stupid idea and b) others are willing to get involved.
Please leave your views in the comments. kthxbai
One of the first videos uploaded is a piece to camera by Lord Carter talking about his recently published Digital Britain report:
Pleasingly BERR have opened up the comment section to allow viewers to discuss and feedback on Lord Carter's report.
Unfortunately, no-one has contributed yet. See Joss's comment below. Looking again this morning it seems the comment option is now turned. I'm sure it wasn't yesterday when I looked... looks like BERR are trying to drive discussion to their own destination www.digitalbritainforum.org.uk which, in its own words, is a "discussion site ...created by the Secretariat for the
Digital Britain Steering Board, to provide a space for you to engage
with us directly in an online debate about Digital Britain." Wow! The "Secretariat for the
Digital Britain Steering Board" - how social is that :)
It's worth noting that there is already a huge volume of discussion of the report online. Just take a look at a Twitter search for the hashtag #digitalbritain. I'd recommend Lord Carter get online himself and started engaging in the discussions already happening.