General Election online campaigning hots up with Lord Ashcroft’s purchase of ConservativeHome

Labour's Mark Hanson makes two astute observations about this week's purchase of ConservativeHome by Tory non-dom and arch-funder, Lord Ashcroftover at his Independent (newspaper) blog .

Firstly, he observes that while the big debate has been about the purchase and subsequent predicted editorial direction of ConservativeHome, Ashcroft has also bought access to the remains of online political TV channel, 18 Doughty Street. Mark suggests that will give Ashcroft and the Conservatives a fully-fledged capacity to develop and deliver high-quality multi-media content in the run-up to and during and election – free from Ofcom's and the Electoral Commission's restraints of course.

Marks puts it more directly, suggesting the Conservatives will have "basically everything you need to make the kind of attack ads the Americans are famous for and that Tim Montgomerie et al have already dabbled with."

Secondly, just as Google paid $1.85bn for YouTube's community of users, Mark argues that Ashcroft has also paid a huge sum (£1.3m) for ConservativeHome to access its userbase – a community of right-leaning individuals active online. Invaluable for swaying undecided voters, some might argue.

Both arguments remain unconfirmed or unproven. But it certainly adds more excitement and intrigue to the way the general election will play out online.

You can also read ConservativeHome editor, Tim Montgomerie's, own take on the sale here

Tags: ConservativeHome, Lord Ashcroft, Mark Hanson

Three quarters of people would switch to alternative free news if Rupert Murdoch has his way


Since Murdoch made his announcement about pushing for pay-walled content on his titles there's been a lot of discussion about how the future of online content is 'paid for'.

Well, frankly I don't buy it (literally) and thankfully PaidContent:UK has come up with some research that proves the wider public also don't want to buy it either.

According to a write up in the Guardian, PaidContent's research shows that

If … favourite news site begins charging for access to content, three quarters of people would simply switch to an alternative free news source…
  • Just 5% of those readers would choose to pay to continue reading the site.
  • 8% would continue reading the site's free headlines only.
  • 12% of respondents are not sure what they would do.

I really hope this is an accurate representation of how the battle for paid for vs free content plays out.

The risk, of course, is that several major news sources follow Murdoch into paid-for content limiting the offering of free content.

But then I suppose that's why Murdoch and his minions/family are targeting the BBC so vehemently. As long as the BBC continues to serve up quality news courtesy of the license fee then surely his paid-for business model fails.

But then thinking about it, even if Murdoch succeeds in getting the mainstream BBC locked up, what happens to BBC World Service. It's 100% funded by the British Government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office – so surely this outlet will continue to deliver quality, state-sponsored broadcasting?

Tags: paidcontent, Rupert Murdoch, BBC


Test post from me iPhone innit

Online monitoring and political behaviour: survey of UK political parties


I popped along to give the keynote speech at a symposium on measuring online political behaviour yesterday organised by Royal Holloway University’s New Political Communications Unit.

In keeping with true keynote style I only managed to get along to
the afternoon sessions at the event, but I still managed to catch a
couple of interesting presentations: one from Rob Pearson at the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office examining the evaluation of its G20 London Summit web presence; the second from Simon Bergman from strategic communications outfit, Information Options.

I was presenting findings from some research I’ve been conducting
into the use of online monitoring by the UK’s three main political
parties: The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats which is an area without any in-depth study to date.

I’ve embedded my presentation
above, but be warned – it’s text heavy (hey, it’s tricky articulating
research findings using fancy images) – but here are some of my main

  • All political parties report that they track online influencers qualitatively (e.g. Iain Dale, Guido, Political Betting, etc) but they also reported that they engage with these blogs to help set the national media-agenda (which nicely supports my earlier research).
    Equally, all online or influencer monitoring by parties is performed
    informally – that is, not using paid for or third party tracking tools.
  • One respondent told me that monitoring is about “a gut feeling about what’s going on
    and also the UK political blogosphere is small and well organised. In
    my opinion, using influencers this way suggests that parties are
    perhaps only scratching the surface of influencer engagement. In my day
    job I would advise clients to establish a conversational position
    within influencer networks and build trusted relationships.  This is
    key to developing successful long-term engagement programmes – arguably
    the only real way to change behaviour.
    • Parties do engage directly to a limited extent with individuals
      online, particularly at a local level. However, The Labour Party
      appears to be closest to participating in real-time within online
      networks by engaging non-political networks, e.g. marketing/PR and
      media networks to leverage news or content.


  • Interestingly Labour also use quantitative tracking to identify
    popular or trending issues and content on the Labour Party website and
    to identify ‘content gaps’ on the Labour website. This insight is used
    to create new content to meet demand.
  • The Liberal Democrats use qualitative monitoring in a different way
    altogether: as an internal communications or customer service tool. By
    reading and staying on top of what Lib Dem campaigners and activists
    are saying, thinking and doing, the party can help out or resolve any
    issues that are emerging at a grassroots level. Really interesting use
    of monitoring.

My presentation also tried to fit these findings into a critical framework based on the workManuel Castells has completed in mapping and analysing the Network Society.

I started from the position that political parties monitor online
networks to ensure they can engage effectively with the aim being to
exert influence influence in the network.

One of the most important measures of influence – or more accurately
– power in networks is defined by Castells as “networking-making power” – that is the ability to establish and control particular networks.

This ability is further categorised into two processes: programmers and switchers.

  1. Programmers have “the ability to constitute network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of goals assigned to the network”
  2. Switchers have “the ability to connect and ensure
    cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and combining
    resources, while fending off competition from other networks by setting
    up strategic cooperation”

Based on my findings I hypothesise that the Tories are Programmers while Labour are Switchers:

    • Conservatives – early political online networks in
      the UK were (and still are to an extent) right-wing or anti-Government.
      This meant that the Conservatives were able to program the network and
      assign goals that were largely identical to its own. This would
      potentially explain why the Conservatives focus online engagement with
      influential nodes in the network rather and not primarily engaging in
      wider debate around issues.


  • Labour – Labour are Switchers as they are seeking
    to cooperate with strategic partner networks through shared goals. For
    example, identifying media networks interested in specific issues and
    leveraging them by combining resources.

Anyway. Those are my main findings. Feel free to challenge, share,
agree with, etc. As always, they open up more questions for further
examination than they answer. But that’s the beauty of research.

Cross-posted to We Are Social.

Tags: online monitoring, politics, Labour Party, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Network Society, Manuel Castells

Behold! The Voicebot: bringng young people, democracy and technology together

I popped over to see Adil and Charlotte at Sidekick Studios on Tuesday and to check out the awesome power of the Voicebot.

The Voicebot is a project being developed by Sidekick and V, the youth volunteering organisation.
More importantly, it's an *actual* robot that allows young people to submit a message in 160 characters Twitter-stylee to the Voicebox website which is then written out by the robot. You can have a go here.

From October the aforementioned robot will be a central feature in the Houses of Parliament allowing young people to have their voice heard in the corridors of power.

In the spirit of community and sharing (and to prove your message is actually gets written) each message is photographed and submitted to a Flickr group.

I had a go and here's the result here's a link to the result (turns out it isn't *that* sharing – images are all rights reserved :( ).

And for the geeks in the house, here's a video of the Voicebot in action.

The Voicebot pt II from sidekick studios on Vimeo.

In addition to being awestruck at a robot I partook in some fantastic discussions with V's Adam Short as well as Sidekick's Adil which were continued on ther blog.

Great ideas; great work. Look forward to seeing where this project and the passion behind it ends up.

Tags: Voicebot, Sidekick Studios, democracy, young peoplet

The Obama administration and edemocracy in action

The good people at social consultation firm, Delib, have shared an interesting paper examining the development of US edemocracy following Obama's inauguration.

I'm as fed up as the next person hearing about how it was the internets what won it for Obama so Delib's analysis of online participation and engagement by Obama's government administration post-election makes interesting reading.

Key points include:

The full document is available for sharing and embedding.

  • dialogue: a crowd-sourcing process designed to tap the IT community for ideas for implementing
  • a web portal providing access to Federal government data sets

Obama's democracy 2.0

Tags: Barack Obama, edemocracy

Introducing my wife: the mummy blogger

Screen shot 2009-09-08 at 08.23.53

It had to happen, finally my wife has started blogging.

As a new mum returning to work she's decided to blog about her experiences and become a fully paid up Mummy blogger.

I think she's doing an amazing job so far (although I am biased) and it would be great if you wanted to stop by and have a read.

She's already received her first product to review, DermaH20's natural babywipes, courtesy of @fashionelf at 77PR.

I think Sarah's planning on reviewing them properly but here's my 2p worth:

The idea behind the DermaH20 wipes is that while you're advised to use cooled boiled water and cotton wool on babies it's very easy to get into the habit of using standard babywipes which are jam-packed full of horrible chemicals likely to cash rashes.

We started using water and cotton wool, but even the health visitors and community midwives gave me funny looks when I asked for some cotton wool at a newborn clinic. With this in mind, I am totally behind anything which makes it easier to wipe you baby down without exposing them to crap.

The drawback with the wipes is that they are flipping expensive, so it boils down to a choice between cheap and slightly annoying cleaning or hassle-free but expensive natural babywipes. You pays your money and takes your choice.

There's a Derma H2O blog too – but no comments enabled :(

Tags: Sarah Collister, mummy bloggers, DermaH20

I am Simon + We Are Social = Win

So this week’s edition of PR Week has probably hit desks and if you haven’t read it yet then you will have missed the awesome news that I’ve joined We Are Social. The news is awesome for a couple of reasons, both personal and professional.

First the professional: I’ve been watching We Are Social grow over the past year and a bit and have been impressed by both the clients they’re working with and the work they’re doing. Seriously. Now I’m on the inside I continue to be blown away by the briefs that come through the door and the work that goes out.

That may sound overly sycophantic but it’s a genuine response. The work that’s being planned and delivered at We Are Social is the kind that you don’t believe exists working on the PR agency side. Clearly brands and organisations want to understand social media and its impact on their reputation. But it seems they aren’t turning to their PR agency to deliver this work, instead looking to digital and social media specialists.

The funny thing is: I’ve long been blogging about how the PR industry is losing out to other industries and players in the digital space. It’s taken me joining We Are Social to realise just how far things have gone. But that’s a topic for another post.

On a personal level I’m really happy to be planning and delivering real, juicy, smart, social media campaigns, rather than bolting on digital tactics which was often the case (although not always) when working to a PR brief.

Add to that the fact that I’m tasked with growing the public sector, NGO and not-for-profit work that We Are Social does means I’m working with sectors with which I have a deep personal affinity (in case you aren’t overly familiar with my LinkedIn profile I started out in PR working for NGOs). Moreover, social media comes to the fore when empowering organisations and individuals to deliver issues-based campaigns and citizen engagement.

So that’s the news. I’ve joined We Are Social. I’m excited. You can see it in my tweets. I’m going to Twestival. I’ve started blogging again. I am, as Manuel Castells might say, back in the space of flows.

Tags: We Are Social, Weber Shandwick, employment

10 reasons why RSS is still the bedrock of the social web

I must admit I've been thinking occasionally about whether my RSS feeds were still useful to me, what with the advent of Twitter, FriendFeed and other real-time tools/platforms. it seems that this is something Sam Diaz at ZDNet has been thinking too.

In response Dave Winer has posted a great article unpicking Sam's post and in the process has restored my faith in RSS (if I ever lost it). Go read it for yourself here and then subscribe to Dave's RSS feed for more great content.

Two key points to take from Dave's post include:

  • "My newspaper doesn't tell me how many articles I haven't read going
    back to the date of my birth. I bet it would be in the millions. Why
    should I care. This was the worst idea ever in news readers."
    < —– totally agree. This actually encourages me not to read stuff: when I have a large backlog of unread content I simple 'Mark all as read'
  • "If all the RSS on the planet were all of a sudden to stop updating (key
    point) the news would stop flowing. Any news guy or gal who thinks they
    could get by without RSS — think this through a bit more. We all love
    the Internet, but don't shut off your gas and electric because your
    computer and router wouldn't work without electricity. Same with RSS
    and news. RSS is how the news flows, whether you see it or not. If not
    RSS, something exactly like RSS."

Tags: RSS, Dave Winer

Programmers and Switchers: Shaping power in networks

As mentioned in a previous post, I'm presenting a paper on online monitoring and UK political parties at a forthcoming event.

This post is sort of a work-in-progress/thinking out loud series of notes leading up to that paper. It draws on recent work by Manuel Castell's and seeks to clarify how power functions in networks. Alternatively, you could substitute the term 'influence' for 'power' – but fundamentally we're taking about power however it's dressed up.

If you're interested in politics or digital communications and networks then read on.

Based on earlier work by Geoff Mulgan, Castells argues that
the state has the capacity to exercise power “through the articulation of three
sources of power: violence, money and trust.”

Mulgan states:

“Of the three sources of power the most
important for sovereignty is the power over the thoughts that give rise to
trust. Violence can only be used negatively, money can only be used in two
dimensions, giving and taking away. But knowledge and thoughts can transform
things, move mountains and make ephemeral power appear permanent.”

Castells argues that the third power, trust, is critical to
the network society. He believes that while Mulgan’s perspective on state power
is broadly accurate it is traditional (i.e. industrial). In the networked
society the ability of individual actors to control communication and knowledge,
which leads to trust, is being changed.

According to Castells, the most crucial forms of power in
the networked society follow the logic of “network-making power” – that is, the
most important power within networks is the ability to establish and control
the particular network.

The ability to do this is based on two basic mechanisms:

the ability to constitute network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s)
in terms of goals assigned to the network

(2) the ability to connect and
ensure cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and combining
resources, while fending off competition from other networks by setting up
strategic cooperation”

Castells calls actors in the first mechanism ‘programmers’
and those in the second mechanism, ‘switchers’.

If we apply this to the example of political blogging
networks in the UK then the logic runs as follows:

Those that ‘program’ the network typically establish who
links to whom and what people blog about. The UK’s primary political blogging
network has arguably emerged from the early, influential bloggers, e.g. Guido
Fawkes, Iain Dale, Political Betting, etc. These bloggers have constituted the
network and thus are the programmers.

If you are a political party then this network is likely to
operate outside of your control. Coercion (i.e. legal or technical take-down) won’t
work as power is distributed among the network.

There are two options then that political parties could
explore to change the network-making power:

Establish their own network of political
bloggers in an attempt to reprogram the political blogging network. This has
been attempted by some political parties, e.g. LabourHome; Lib Dem Voice, but these
have seemingly not accrued enough influence/power in the network to re-program
it as of yet.

They could attempt to establish strategic
partnerships with key networks and attempt to ‘switch’ the flow of power.
Examples of this include providing bloggers with exclusive information or news
and inviting them party conferences etc.

With some luck I’ll be presenting some more conclusive
findings relating this theory to actual practice within UK political parties later this

Feedback welcome.

Tags: Manuel Castells, Networks, Power