Some new stuff on social business

Apologies for the radio silence. If there's anyone still hanging on the edge of their seat for a new post, I've been busy working and PhD-ing. Sorry.

But I thought it was worth posting a couple of links to blog posts I've published over on the We Are Social blog, predominently about a new area of practice in which we've been doing a fair bit of thinking and doing.

Firstly, there's a piece about social customer service – what it is; how organisations can integrate it into their marketing and communictions activity – and hopefully how they can get it right!

Secondly, there's a post reflecting on the transition more and more clients are starting to make once they've launched and embedded social media marketing programs. More often we're seeing clients going from being a 'social brand' to becoming a 'social business'.

Enjoy – and hopefully I'll be back around these parts soon 🙂


Is McKinsey and Nielsen’s social media division a backwards step?

I saw this story earlier in the week and now Drew B's blogged about the announcement that the media metrics people Nielsen have teamed up with the management consultancy McKinsey to launch a social media division.

Drew's rather positive about the venture, called NM Incite, suggesting that it's "good to see [this] type of advisory coming from the bright sparks
at McKinsey
". I'm rather more skeptical and wonder whether they can offer the level of depth and understanding of the social space as social media and even communications consultancies. Of course, that may not be the primary motivation for McKinsey – rather the lure of lucrative contracts.

Without being able to comment in-depth on McKinsey's reputation at management consultancy I am  suspicious about management consultancies offering genuine communications consultancy. Only last month I was chatting with a senior PR consultant who was lamenting a 'brand strategy' put together by the client's management consultancy.

What I find particularly fascinating about this move is that NM Incite appears to be offering products *as well as* solutions. According to the 'Offerings' section on their website they can provide:

  • Customisable dashboards
  • APIs
  • Tracker reports and alerts

Interesting that as 'social media' becomes more about strategic business consultancy to socialise organisations, the traditional management consultancies are turning to selling widgets rather than knowledge.

It just goes to show that not even the bastions of the global business management empire are immune from disintermediation.

Labour’s iPhone app mobilising supporters

Mzl.edgauvsh.320x480-75 There’s a great blog post from Stuart Bruce about Labour’s iPhone app that serves as a timely reminder that new media and the Internet isn’t primarily about ‘social meeja’.

Stuart’s post come as uber-Tory blogger Iain Dale writes in the Telegraph that this so-called Internet election isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Of course, it was largely the media that set the standards for the ‘Internet election’ and Iain’s blog post seems to argue that because candidates aren’t blogging and Twitter is "useless as a campaigning tool" then the digital election is a failure. But let's not forget it's also meant to be the Mumsnet election as well but everyone seems to have forgotten that already.

As a timely rebuttal, Stuart observes that when it comes to creating virtual networks of activists, then the Internet is doing a great job, thank you very much.

In fact, many political activists I know argue that what really matters at an election is  feet on doorsteps, canvassing phonecalls and ultimately crosses on ballot papers.

And let’s face it, until we have some concrete evidence to prove otherwise it's widely accepted Twitter or Facebook aren’t necessarily going to deliver these – although that’s not to say they don't have other important roles to play too.

And this is the mistake the media and many others in the PR world seem to make. They look to Obama and say: "it’s social media wot won it" and make the logical progression that we aren’t seeing that campaign replicated in the UK in 2010.

Those in the know, however, are acutely aware that it wasn’t social media wot won it for Obama but rather email marketing. Obama’s team judiciously used huge volumes of targeted data to motivate voters ahead of polling day and mobilise them on polling stations.

Data protection laws differ in the US from the UK and while no UK political party yet seems able to replicate Obama’s email campaign, Stuart runs through some of the successes Labour has been having with it’s iPhone app in identifying and mobilizing voters.

The app has been designed and built using feedback form grassroots activists and is packed with functionality that empowers people to get out on the doorstep, make phone calls and attend events.

Specific features allow users to access the Labour manifesto in text or video format, use GPS to locate party campaigning events happening near them, read Labour Party tweets, call and canvas people using Labour's virtual Phonebank tool (crucially, it this works within the UK's data protection legislation – something the Tories failed to take into account recently).

In fact, the app is so good, even the acerbic Popbitch gives it the following praise:

“The ‘Inside the Campaign’ section is, surprisingly, not mind numbingly dull.”

Stuart tells us that Labour’s learning is: “if you want to mobilise large numbers of people in a network to do things for you then you need to involve them.”

And on that point he couldn’t be more right.

Talking charity campaigning with Arie Moyal

We Are Social hosted an event on social media and not-for-profits during the recent London Social Media Week.

I spoke about using social media to campaign and afterwards caught up with event organisers, Media140, for a chat.

You can catch it here…


MyDavidCameron: some post event analyses


With the buzz about the remixed Conservative Party election posters and Clifford Singer’s MyDavidCameron website a few days old I thought I’d reflect on the debate and offer up some analysis about what might be going on here and what it means for political parties ahead of the election.

But before I can do that I need to jump back to September last year when I discussed Manuel Castell’s theory of networked power and suggested how it could be applied to the UK’s political blogosphere.

In a nutshell, Castells argues that power in networks is fundamentally about the ability to establish and control particular networks.

This can be achieved by one of two ways:

  1. the ability to constitute network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of goals assigned to the network (largely by setting and controlling the way we perceive issues and information)
  2. the ability to connect and ensure cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and combining resources (i.e. identifying like-minded networks with which you can work to challenge the dominant program)

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

I argued that Conservative and right-wing blogs were successful because they had programmed the UK’s political network by a) adapting early and b) creating a broad anti-government debate which resonated with the media and wider public.

This meant that left and liberal bloggers had to find common issues and threads with each other and the public with which to try and switch the dominant power in the network away from anti-government/right-wing debate.

So what does this tell us about the MyDavidCameron success? Firstly, I think it supports my original hypothesis. That is, Labour have identified a wider – albeit smaller – network outside of the UK political blogosphere with a shared value (mocking David Cameron/the Conservatives and graphic design).

They are then co-opting this network, forming a strategic partnership but letting the idea and content go where it goes, as opposed to trying to centrally plan and control what happens with the David Cameron imagery.

In my opinion, a political party having the foresight and ability to spot an opportunity like this and use it to help try to ‘switch’ the dominant discourse in the political blogosphere is smart.

Yes, there may be those that say: “well, who wouldn’t jump on an opportunity if it arose?” But I’d argue that the traditional approach to this kind of online meme would be to try and own it: take it in-house.*

I think Labour have deliberately avoided doing this, having learnt the lesson from last summer’s #Welovethenhs grassroot campaign that which Labour co-opted, arguably tried to centralise and quickly destroyed the value in the network. Compare how they're currently using a Labour Party version of MyDavidCameron (i.e. becoming another node in the network) versus their mini-campaign site for #Welovethenhs which argubly tries to own the decentralised campaign network.

But thinking logically about the MyDavidCameron campaign: would Labour seeking to ‘own’ the network really kill it in the same way that it killed #Welovethenhs?

I’m not so sure for two reasons:

  1. Firstly, the #Welovethenhs campaign was not a pro-government campaign; nor was it an anti-tory campaign. It was a pro-public healthcare system campaign. It’s an issue that traditionally has a shared value for with liberal/left networks but not solely. Labour arguably killed this campaign as it tried to go further than switching and instead reprogram the networks’ values as pro-government/pro-Labour.
  2. Secondly, network alignment based on shared opposition to David Cameron and/or the Conservatives is one thing, but the reality is that only Labour can defeat the Conservatives at an election. Therefore, Labour trying to reprogram the goal of the networks driving the MyDavidCameron campaign to be pro-Labour is actually a smart move.

What this says to me is that now we’re entering the run up to an election, the political discourse is no longer split broadly between anti-government/right-wing ideology and pro-Government goals (that were largely indistinguishable form Labour policy).

Instead, Labour is starting to reprogram the UK’s political networks through creating a discourse of Conservatives vs Labour. It’s early days and the Conservatives still have the upper hand but I’d argue that the MyDavidCameron campaign plus the recent emergence of distinct left and Labour-aligned voices is starting to re-balance the pro-right-wing goals of the UK’s political networks.

* What this reveals is Labour’s ability to switch between a traditional command and control political party and a node in a fluid, participative network. Something Andrew Chadwick has defined as “organisational hybridity” – the internet driven phenomena that enables organisations and institutions to switch between being member-led hierarchical institutions, single-issue campaign groups or temporary, loosely joined networks of like-minded individuals. I believe this is what political parties of the future will look like: political parties in all but name, But that’s something for another post.

Pros and cons of peer production in a nutshell

It's been a bit quiet around here lately. My apologies.

I've just discovered a rather interesting looking publication [pdf] from RAND Europe on the Future of the Internet Economy (via Ian Brown) and although I haven't read it all yet I came across a rather nice meaty section that spells out some of the pros and cons of using commons-based peer production to co-create knowledge and other informational public goods.

I thought I'd save it here for future reference and sharing:

Governments may also find that opening up their processes, sharing public information, and actively engaging citizens to take an interest in the public (virtual and real) space leads to ownership and shared responsibilities.

An important value will be how responsibility is allocated and assumed, and how accountability is established in a time where processes become collective endeavours. Mass collaboration and voluntary agreements provide good approaches for innovative development processes, drawing on the knowledge and talent of many.

However they lack effective decision making capabilities, quality control and the endorsement (certification) of the outcomes, thus potentially leading to instability and uncertainty about the quality and value of the process outputs. Peer review, ranking, karma points and the like, are expected to fulfil some of this function but are easy to manipulate and are not evidence based.

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

Crowd-sourcing the future of media

One of the things I [heart] about the internet is its ability to totally democratise the production and distribution of knowledge and information.

Reading George Monbiot's (somewhat difficult to follow) analysis of the relationship between the media, editorial independence and advertising in a recent Guardian column, I thought: "Wow. Well, that's complicated. What's the solution?".

Well, it turns out the solution wasn't too far away. Several comments down in fact. By a man called Graham Wayne.

I won't try to summarise or precis his response. I'm just going to re-post.Lazy, you say? Well, it's too good not to. 


am moved by your candid argument to respond – and we should acknowledge
the Guardian for giving you the space – and yet for the first time in
many threads I am, frankly, quite perplexed by the commercial paradox
you identify.

There are some alternatives, but none of them are
entirely satisfactory or perhaps commercially practical. Some are not
consistent with the ethical requirements you describe and with which I
broadly agree. But in the first place, let us enjoy for a moment the
irony of taking money from the airlines, the automotive industry and
their ilk, in order to sponsor an MSN outlet that consistently
criticises them and pays for people like you to do so. It does sweeten
the pill a little, but perhaps not enough.

Some suggestions then
– not so much as things I think can be done, but as catalysts that
might lead to constructive discussion and better solutions than I can

1) Recent news suggests that some quality MSN websites
will attempt to institute subscriptions. If the Guardian moved in that
direction but limited advertising according to content that met
published ethical standards, it would make subscription more
meaningful. I would pay to support a news site that placed ethical
behaviour at the core of its business model, because that is exactly
what I find is virtually absent from commercial concerns, and much to
our detriment both as consumers and members of society.

2) Try
such a scheme as an alternative site and trial it for a reduced sub in
the first year. If it took off, move the enterprise in that direction
and reward those early supporters with a discount on the second year –
or something.

3) Ban only the ads that meet the ethical standard.
This is not a moral exercise but a commercial one, but where virtue is
rewarded. Ethical standards should be applied to products or services,
not companies per se, and when certain products enjoy more ad space
than their counterparts, their importance to the companies that produce
them shifts in their favour, simply because they sell more. Advertising
usually targets the consumer, attempting to modify their behaviour;
here advertising could target the companies and do the same. It is in
the boardroom that this message needs to be understood – the market is
changing and ethical behaviour will be rewarded by consumers. (And when
it's all hat and no cattle, you have new fodder for the column).

Develop more flexible price strategies and find more innovative ways to
deliver the adverts. Perhaps a rate card with weighted price bands
depending on gross revenue, where smaller and more ethical concerns can
also take some space in the paper or the site, thus increasing
opportunities for ad sales. I suggest this because I think taking the
ethical stance will cost the Guardian some revenue. Quite how much it
loses is in part dependant on the ad sales team, because there is also
a strong marketing advantage in the ethical stance, especially if the
Guardian is the first to adopt is. Very newsworthy, and worth
trumpeting in any ad campaign. It must also be true that properly
exploited, there may be some additional market share to be gained
through it, so it's not all downside.

5) Keep discussing the
option of going completely digital. I'm sure this is discussed and the
Guardian management understand this much better than I, but there are
important implications for the environment as well as the economics. It
must include a subscription, but that has benefits since it would
probably be annual or semi-annual, which is more reliable income than
variable sales of print copies. (I'd like to see the management's
thoughts on this. Things change, as the Guardian demonstrates with this
very site. Where are they now on this?)

Prudence would dictate
money will be lost, so the Guardian must ask the same question it does
over page 3 girls: what is it prepared to do in service of Mammon
rather than its founders like Scott? Tits are out of bounds, yet they
would bring in more money, as would the sex trade ads, but the Guardian
has taken a moral stance at the expense of profit. Morality cannot be
parcelled out or striated by expediency. Either the Guardian is wholly
responsible and doesn't want to assist in destroying civilisation, or
it may as well start looking for busty women and brainless men to leer
at them, since that readership will always put their hands in their
pockets – if you know what I mean.

Good isn't it? I hope the Guardian's Emily Bell sees this and takes some of Graham's points further.

Tags: Guardian, George Monbiot, future of the media, Emily Bell, advertising

Metropolitan Police’s turn to social media after G20 policing scandal likely to fail, IMHO

As an interesting footnote to my post below about the need for the Metropolitan Police to make significant changes to its organisational communications culture the force's Director of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, Dick Fedorcio, is interviewed in this week's PR Week.

From my reading and expert opinion form others Fedorcio's comments indicate that the Met is unable or unwilling to make the real changes necessary.

In a telling statement, Fedorcio, tells PR Week that he won't be looking to run a blogger engagement programme any time soon as:

"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.

This is a damning insight into the Met's current communications practice as it suggests that its media strategy is built on manipulation.

Commenting on the interview, Diffusion's Ivan Ristic, adds his expert comment that when an organisation has a "reputation of stonewalling" it "makes it difficult
in a social marketing context.
" Too true. You need to tell your story as openly as possible and engage and empower others to help tell your story.

However, while what Ivan says is correct I disagree with his reading of the situation. The Met does not have a reputation to stonewall – at least in the G20/Tomlinson context.

Here the Met/City police and IPCC were extremely proactive in issuing media releases and briefings to frame the story based on what has emerged as an untrue account of events.

Admitedly organisational change isn't easy and takes time and resources – something Fedorcio claims is currently lacking. But stepping into the social media space without evening considering what adaptions you need to make to your corporate communications strategy is setting yourself up to fail – or at least be burned very publicly before you get your strategy right.

I wonder if Dick or the Met will ever monitor this psot and respond? 🙂

Tags: Metropolitan Police, Dick Fedorcio, PR Week, blogger engagement, social media strategy

Organising in the age of Networked Movements

I posted last week about my decision to not renew my membership of the UK’s PR trade body, the CIPR for various reasons.

I'm currently re-considering (more to come on that one hopefully) my lapsed membership, but weighing up the pros and cons of why I didn’t renew my membership helped me crystallise a line of thought I’ve had for a few weeks.

This thought is thus: the primary problem with trade organisations such as the CIPR or NUJ is quite simply that they are organisations.

That is, they struggle (or appear to be struggling) to adapt to the challenges posed by a socially-enabled Internet precisely because their organisational structure is geared towards fulfilling a role in an industrial, non-networked world.

For example, I don’t need the CIPR to co-ordinate a venue, guestlist, speaker and refreshments in order to attend a networking vent because a network of 50 people connected via the Internet can achieve something similar – moreover, they can achieve something better by co-creating the event.

This idea is also relevant when thinking about the way political parties (in the UK) are adapting to social media. While the Labour Party is making great strides in freeing up debate and campaigning I stand by the argument that they are never going to really get social until they do one of two things.

The first, is to radically restructure the way the party organises itself. That is, turn the party from a top-down campaigning body to a purely bottom-up network of campaigners. The difference may appear subtle but the effect is radically different.

Secondly, they could do what Obama did with the Democrat Party in the 2008 Presidential Election campaign. Rather than restructure the party (although there were definitely some changes made to the way to party operates), the Obama team centralised a large part of the campaign organisation but significantly they devolved a lot of the on-the-ground ‘campaigning’ activity to its networks of supporters.

For example, quoting Micah Sifry in an excellent essay, Sarah Oates, notes “campaigns are designed to share tasks, but not authority”. Conversely “networks share authority but not tasks”. The real test, for the Obama team, Sifry notes, will come when his team looks how to carry forward the ‘shared authority’ created during the campaign into the White House. I suspect that the Obama movement will struggle to integrate its decentralised, networked, informal organisation into the traditionally top-down formality of government.

Of course, I may be wrong and we have already seen Obama’s programme initiate attempts to crowd-source policy making. But how successful this will be over the longer-term remains to be seen (and is the topic of another post!).

More significantly, this idea of sharing ‘authority’ vs sharing ‘activity’ (or tasks) illustrates that real political co-creation and networked campaigning appears – so far – to work best in opposition where parties and organisations are not fettered by the constraints of top-down government.

Having said that, I appreciate Obama is trying to change this and the UK government has a number of great social media thinkers and doers currently engaged in trying to make Government more networked. This is an interesting space and will continue to become curiouser and curioser. I plan to track progress in the UK and on the other side of the Atlantic and keep you posted on developments.

Technorati tags: Organisation, Barack Obama, CIPR, Micah Sifry, Paula Oates