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Pulling the plug on social media? (Ethernet Cable by Petr Kratochvil, via publicdomainpictures.net)

In the wake of the fact that more and more Swedish communes are using Facebook and Twitter for ‘citizen communication’, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) today published a set of guidelines (in Swedish) for the use of social media.

The guidelines stem from a judicial inquiry, which has given the ‘all clear’ for Swedish communes, local authorities and regions to use social media. Given that over 60 communes in Sweden already use twitter, including local politicians and public servants, it was just a matter of time before guidelines were published.

But will this spread to Brussels?

When our friends over at Fleishman-Hillard looked into how MEPs use the internet, including social media, they found that 21% of MEPs use Twitter, among others. Couple that with the amount of Commissioners who run their own blog, MEP assistants and Commission officials active (and visible) on Facebook, etc, and you could almost be surprised that there are no official guidelines for how elected officials (and EU civil servants) are to tweet and blog!

Will there be guidelines for the Brussels-based politician and civil servant? Should there be…?

- Emil

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Twitter is expanding at a meteoric rate. Not having a Facebook account is highly unusual today among under 30s (and above). Corporate business cards include Skype usernames. Recruitment happens on LinkedIn. Digital ad infinitum….

But what about actually speaking to colleagues, friends and family, face-to-face? Now that’s a novel idea.

This afternoon I ‘spoke’ to a colleague in the US by LinkedIn inMail. I ‘informed’ a group of journalists regarding a digital initiative by sending them a Facebook group message. My inbox welcomed close to 300 emails during the course of the day. I sent a friend an MMS. I ‘discussed’ the content of an email to a client with my Bulgarian colleague on Skype chat…she sits next to me, about one metre and a half away.

'Speaking' to my colleague

That’s when it hit me, just as Stephen Hawking thinks it perfectly rational to believe in aliens (yet he thinks we should not reach out to to them, apparently things could turn sour!), I find it completely irrational that the more technology we invite into our daily lives, the less we seem to actually speak to each other.

Is technology stripping us of good old fashioned human interaction, do we lend it too much credence? I say –  try meeting up with friends, skip the conference call and have lunch instead, have breakfast, share a coffee etc. Trust me, it’s worth it.

- Emil

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Let's do better than this, shall we?

Since Ivy Lee’s famous press release in 1906, media communication has evolved. Some would argue the pinnacle of this development is the social media press release. It’s nothing revolutionary in The Lobby’s opinion, but it does hit the nail on the head in one sense – in keeping with the times.

Digital is here to stay, whether you like it or not, which to a certain degree means that tools, plied for whatever trade, that keep up with the changing face of internet technology are probably more likely to survive, thrive, and get the job done.

Here are some mind boggling statistics to reinforce this point:

  • In 1995 there were 45.1 million internet users, at the end of September 2009, that same figure had risen to 1.73 billion.
  • On average 247 billion emails are sent every day.
  • There are over 234 million websites and 128 million blogs today.
  • 27.3 million tweets are sent on Twitter every day.
  • Facebook serves 260 billion page views per month, or 37.4 trillion page views a year.

Now then, back to the social media press release. The basics are straightforward and well established, especially for public relations professionals. It’s a digital news release that contains multimedia elements such as MP3 files or links to podcasts, graphics, video, RSS-feeds, Technorati tags and ‘add/share’ buttons for popular sharing platforms such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon etc. Here you can see two examples of social media releases from Cisco and Symantec.

So what about the position paper, the staple food of the ever-so-non-digital Brussels public affairs scene? At the risk of upsetting our peers in Brussels, it seems the most avant-garde move that that public affairs professionals have done on this front is to turn a Word document into a PDF, ideal for – yes – printing. OK that’s not quite true, but you get the gist.

Where is the digital position paper? The tool that in the future will form the means to communicate with stakeholders (when we’ve finally evolved into a paperless society and when digital paper has taken off in a big way), the tool that will be read by Commission, Council and Parliament officials on Android powered pads. We’re not there yet, but the tools to create such a position paper are most definitely here or in the pipeline at the very least.

Imagine opening up a truly interactive and visual position paper. The key messages are there sure, but, for instance, the manufacturing process is displayed in crystal clear video, statistics and key figures come to life when clicked, diagrams and charts are smoothly plotted across your screen, the CEO of the company gives you a quick tour of the company’s upcoming priorities etc.

This vision might seem to be a simple attempt at daring to be bold, but, it could still be rather more effective when it comes to communicating with stakeholders in Brussels, than the traditional two-pager in black and white with a few logos in the header…

We’re curious to know what people think, both inside and outside of the institutions. Is the digital position paper part of the missing link? Could it improve communication in Brussels (and D.C. for that matter)?

- Emil

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Mr Buzek tweeting (probably) during a plenary (image ©European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari)

Jerzy Buzek, the Polish President of the European Parliament, has had a Twitter account for a week and has so far been delivering his daily tweet. The President and his communications team have strongly committed themselves to digital openness, with Mr Buzek already having a facebook account and his presidential website.The Lobby warmly welcomes Mr Buzek to the world of social media, but what are you doing here Mr President?

Luckily Mr Buzek himself gives the answer in a press release: “It is a pleasure and a need to use all forms of communication.  The European Parliament is increasingly influential and must be increasingly present.  Modern technology including social media gives people the opportunity to interact and have their say.”

Mr Buzek is right. Outside Brussels people might know the name of the President of the Commission and will likely become more and more familiar with the President of the European Council, but – seriously – who knows Mr Buzek? So in this new battle for attention, any means of communication has to be used.

But the message can’t only be the medium. Content is also needed, and the President of the Parliament, whatever his communication means, he will have to stand up for key issues and take strong positions in negotiations with the Commission and the Council if he is to become one of the main EU personalities. It sounds like mission impossible in the consensual and crowded Brussels, but that’s no reason not to try, is it?

- Talander

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It was yesterday announced that LinkedIn, termed by some as the ‘professional version’ of facebook, has teamed up with Twitter – allowing users of both social networks to cross-post their status updates.

Both companies argue this is a good thing, as you can see in the video below, but is it? Personally, when facebook introduced its ‘stream’ for instance it really turned into an information overload platform.

The solution to make sense of all the tweets/feeds/streams is perhaps better real-time search. Come on Google, chop chop…

- Emil


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The British press criticised the Cabinet Office yesterday claiming it would waste public money by hiring a “twittercrat”, or a Deputy Director of Digital Engagement.

Not at all, Downing Street replied, the job advert in question is for a “Deputy Director of Digital Communications”. The Cabinet Office goes on to claim it is not a waste of money since the use of social media by the government, such as the Prime Minister’s Twitter Blog, is very much based on public demand.

The Lobby did not demand, however, but despite the personal interests behind politicans’ use of social media, it considers any effort to get closer to the people, or rather sectors of the population, very welcome.

Getting closer to the citizens is also something of an obsession in Brussels! The tweets are starting to come thick and fast from everywhere; the Parliament, the Commission’s DGs, the Presidency

It’s difficult to say how effective this will be in “connecting” with the European citizens, but at least it will give a comforting feeling to those who tweet that they did something which went beyond their ivory tower.

- Talander

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Apparently, US electronics retailer, Best Buy, posted a job ad in July for a Senior Manager for Emerging Media Marketing with the usual requirements for such a position. However, they also required applicants to have at least 250 followers on Twitter in what according to The Telegraph might be a ‘global first’.

So will this move by Best Buy set a precedent for other employers in the US? Perhaps on this side of the Atlantic too? Will future MEP assistants be required by (certain) MEPs to have a solid Twitter following, have blogging experience, and be on LinkedIn and Xing?

Despite what people on both sides of the argument say about the most hyped emerging media in the world, it will be interesting to see if employers will choose to measure their potential candidates partly on how connected they are.

- Emil

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On Saturday Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times published an article that has made the rounds of the blogosphere in quite some fashion (a Google blog search for the article generates just over 14,900 hits). The article “Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley” is a well-researched and timely piece about how public relations (PR) execs in Silicon Valley propel new tech start-ups not by issuing press releases and calling up journalists – rather they court Web gurus, influential bloggers, and Twitter users.

The article mentions a few interesting examples, for instance, Brew Media Relations, the firm that began representing the popular photo-sharing site Flickr in 2004, never issued a press release for it, even when it was acquired by Yahoo. Ms Hammerling of Brew Media Relations explains “Flickr would publish news on its company blog, a few more blogs would pick it up, and two days later Business Week would call”.

But the piece does not tell the full story of the fundamental revolution PR is presently undergoing, as Brian Solis of FutureWorks aptly points out on his blog PR2.0. Solis explains how PR, particularly in Silicon Valley, is “much more potent than most entrepreneurs, investors, and executives realize”. He also stresses the degree to which PR today is under-appreciated and misunderstood. PR is not about ‘pushing’ news, rather it is about creating relationships “with the greater communities of influencers and users who can help extend a story, intentions, value, and sentiment as a means of driving awareness, building communities, and empowering advocates over time”.

Granted, Silicon Valley is more conducive to ‘new’ PR strategies, tools, and approaches, than say Brussels, for instance, but this should not stand in the way of PR innovation in a more ‘traditional’ arena such as the EU heartland. While there are excellent initiatives and a clear momentum towards true recognition of new PR (for example, in this year’s European Public Affairs Awards there is a new category for best Web 2.0 campaign), Brussels’ agencies are seriously lagging behind their US and continental competitors and partners. Yes, there are agencies that feature polished blogs (see Fleishman Hillard’s Public Affairs 2.0, ZN’s HyperThinker or our very own The Lobby) and there are trade associations that are successfully using Twitter or facebook (see Enviro.aero or Pesticide Information) but that’s about it. Brussels agencies are keen and the tools are all around us, but it remains to be seen whether Brussels and its opaque institutions are ready for them.

I challenge you to name a single senior Brussels PR executive who has 6 influential bloggers and 4 prolific Twitter users on speed-dial rather than 10 members of the Brusssels press corps (and who is willing to take his or her story to them rather than to the press)?

- Emil

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Yesterday Geerdi Verbeet, President of the Dutch lower house of parliament, told off Members for twittering during parliamentary debates. According to Dutch media agency ANP, Verbeet has spoken to certain MPs and asked them, out of courtesy, to focus on the debates rather than posting messages on social media platforms.

While the debate on whether it is bad manners to check emails during meetings on Blackberries, iPhones and other portable devices rages on, Twitter usage is growing exponentially among teens and politicians alike (apparently Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen is also on Twitter). Another case in point is the recently launched Swedish Presidency website featuring a small group of staffers that tweet under the heading of ‘Voices from the Swedish Presidency’. One of the Swedish micro-bloggers Gunnar Caperius (Twitter username: G_Caperius) clearly tweets during lunches and meetings, if not, at least in-between meetings.

Is this so bad? Personally the Lobby likes it as we get a feel for how Gunnar works, where’s he’s going to/from, how discussions on a specific topic are progressing, and we are even kept up to date when he is having to wait for the President of Mexico. Just as checking emails during meetings has now become commonplace, so will twittering (it basically is already).

The Lobby say go with it! Capitalise on what digital solutions can do for your business, your political campaign, your relationships with far flung friends and for keeping in touch with tomorrow’s talent – the kids are all doing it after all.

- Emil and Bilyana

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As news and speculation about the election fallout (and deadly protests) in Iran is spreading across the ether, there is another story well worth noting.

According to the LA Times, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said in a blog post yesterday that the Twitter website’s scheduled maintenance would be delayed from overnight Pacific time (daytime in Iran) to afternoon Pacific time (in the middle of the night in Iran).

Twitter’s service is based on communication networks run by NTT America, and Stone noted in his post that NTT America “recognise the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran” and that they were taking a “huge risk not just for Twitter but also the other services they provide worldwide”.

As mentioned previously on The Lobby (see The Great Firewall of China blocks the blogosphere) social media platforms, Twitter in particular, is defying censorship all over the world while investors and analysts are debating how the 140-character text service is going to generate money.

The very latest on Twitter (at the time of writing) is that Iran’s top legislative body, the Guardian Council, is ready to re-count specific presidential election ballot boxes. The re-count may apparently lead to a change in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tally.

Memories of 1979 are already coming to mind…

- Emil

(UPDATE 17/06/09: The New York Times reports that the delayed maintenance stemmed from a US State Department request, addressed to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey)

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