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Social Media

Let’s feed them some tweets!

A provocative post from Marko giving the hard-bitten “PR professional”‘s view of what social media can mean to an Institution such as ours. So is that what we are? Discuss…

As I see it, 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 such as blogs and social networks and those that recognize Web 2.0 as yet another tool for managing and projecting the favourable image of the institution they work for.

When romantics enthuse about Facebook and Twitter ushering in a new era of participatory democracy, one should not merely smile.  Mistaking a pushing of the “like” button on Facebook for expression of political views or even political action can indeed be funny, but it’s also bad for the PR effort.

Mistaking a pushing of the “like” button on Facebook for expression of political views or even political action can indeed be funny, but it’s also bad for the PR effort.

Focus on allegedly emancipatory role of social media too hard, and you can lose sight of their potential as tools for ramming your message home.

As PR professionals we thrive on what the great American sociologist Paul F. Lazarsfeld called the narcotyzing dysfunction of the media – the latter 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 through various communication channels. Contemporary media landscape with new ways of communicating sprouting up everywhere thus offers a lot of opportunities for very efficient agenda-setting and brand management.

When people let their guard down, the last thing a PR professional should aim to do is to entice them to put it back again or, in other words, to emancipate the public, try to kick their critical faculties into action. This would amount to closing the window of opportunity. When the latter is wide open, courtesy of the media’s narcotyzing dysfunction, PR machinery should be focused on using all channels at its disposal to foster a favourable image and brand of the institution in the public arena.

In order to this in the most efficient way, any PR effort should aim for full-spectrum dominance; the choice of military metaphor is intentional.  It’s all about winning hearts and minds, on all fronts: press, TV, radio, the web. This is not to be confused with fostering democratic and pluralistic debate, although PR business is fraught with dangers of such collateral damage putting paid to even the most ingenious campaigns.

Come again? (from: http://skepticblog.org/wp-content/uploads/revolution-tweeted.jpg)

The European Parliament has recognized the importance of full-spectrum dominance by also focusing on web communications. In this way it cannot happen that its messages appearing in traditional media could be subverted on the web. The EP’s pages on the web, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace all project an image of the institution and its messages that are more or less consistent with those in the press. No PR professional in the Parliament wants a press article to start off a debate on whether the line taken by the EP is the right one; the same should hold for the EP’s activities on the web.


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  1. Every big institution (such as ours) has first the tendency to reject what’s new. Then, it accepts new communication tools and means but provided they aim this “full spectrum dominance” Marko speaks about, which is the traditional communication model in the web 1.0. And the last step is to bring them to accept, not only the new tools, but also the new opportunities these tools offer. That’s exactly what we try now in the European Parliament, and Facebook shows – in my views – that we’re slowly reaching our aim of creating a forum for debates on European issues. That’s just an adaptation to Web 2.0.

    In general, we shouldn’t forget that an institution is not as monolithic as it seems to be from the outside. There are different people struggling for their vision of communication, and that’s what makes the institutions move forward. We (the webcommunication unit) are one micro part of the institution, and I’m quite proud to try to make the whole Parliament moving to web 2.0. “Full spectrum dominance” is a good theory but it’s from the past…

    Posted by Florent | October 25, 2010, 7:32
  2. A truly disturbing post!

    I started on a comment, but it got a bit long, so it’s here:

    Posted by mathew | October 20, 2010, 8:03
  3. @Ralph To be seen, I guess, as a deliberately provocative and tongue-in-cheek polemic in the wake of Malcom Gladwell’s New Yorker article “The revolution will not be tweeted”, which, however much you may disagree with him, raises some important questions. For example on “slacktivism”: “Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.”

    Whole thing here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, no Juche here, I’m afraid. As you say, the idea is fanciful. But to have someone questioning our deepest motives, even fancifully, is not a bad thing – it makes us think again about why we do what we do. For me the answer is clearly “romantic”: it’s about providing new scope for engagement with and participation in the EP political process. Less romantically perhaps, I also happen to think these are things which will enhance the reputation of Parliament vis-à-vis the public, but as an outcome, not as a primary motive.

    Posted by Steve | October 19, 2010, 22:40
  4. A most interesting blog post, since it left me unsure if it seriously proposes the introduction of a European blend of Juche, or is intended as a test of our sense of humour.

    Anyway, full spectrum dominance over 501 million EU citizens could prove to be a hard nut to crack, even if there were no competing political parties, proportional representation or other features of the old liberal order in place.

    Please, illuminate.

    Posted by Ralf Grahn | October 19, 2010, 18:23
  5. “Full spectrum dominance”. Wow! Sometimes I wish we were the ultra-professional PR sharks this suggests we are…

    Not sure, though. I see a real attachment here to opening up debate, having people discuss what Parliament is doing and/or has decided. I do see pluralism and, OK, the beginnings of real online participation. These things are in the interest of Parliament, surely? Is there really an incompatibility?

    So I agree that the Parliament cannot afford not to be active on social media, but I’m not sure I agree with the reasoning on why. Call me romantic…

    Posted by Steve | October 19, 2010, 15:50

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