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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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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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This is not enough...think before you post! (image by The Lobby)

Ars Technica yesterday ran a story about how a woman in Canada, suffering from severe depression, had her sick leave coverage pulled by her insurance company, Manulife, after seeing pictures of her at a party on facebook.

This kind of situation is nothing new; prospective employers today are known to look at facebook profiles ahead of interviewing candidates, so it is more than likely that insurance companies do the same. But this situation is very different – the lady in question, Nathalie Blanchard – posted pictures of her own birthday party on a private section of her facebook profile, i.e. only accessible to certain individuals. Her insurance company, according to the article, decided that “people diagnosed with depression are incapable of having fun for even short periods of time, because Manulife pulled Blanchard’s benefits with no notice. When she called to inquire about the checks, Manulife said she appeared to be “available to work” thanks to Facebook.”

The author of this post uses the same setup. Posted pictures are private, and only a handful of contacts can access them. So how did her insurance company, Manulife, get hold of these pictures? There are ways of accessing private pictures, even deleted pictures, but that’s another debate in itself. The worrying trend here is that companies, insurance companies in particular, are using social media to gather intelligence on its customers.

So, just to recap, as has been said and written over and over again – don’t upload pictures that you don’t want to be spread around. With reports of politicians, Commission officials, MEPs (and their assistants etc) using Twitter, facebook, and surely Flickr, there is a lesson to be learnt here. To use a term coined by the world’s number one spook agency, the ‘blowback’ that can result from pictures on social media networks can (will?) be much greater for a political figure compared to an ordinary citizen…

It’s simple really. Think before you post (and please, also, think before you tag).

Emil

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Egypt’s official language is Arabic†. China’s official language is Chinese*. OK fine, we knew that. But isn’t it a bit ironic that more than half of the world’s 1.6 billion internet users speak languages with non-Latin scripts, yet all internet domain names are written in Latin characters?

This is about to change, and it is already being hailed as the biggest change in the 40-year history of the internet. ICANN (see ‘Yes we can, says ICANN: new top-level domains coming in 2010‘) the body that regulates the internet, has announced plans to allow for so-called Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) by changing the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) in order to allow for website names to be written with non-Latin scripts such as Chinese, Cyrillic, and Arabic.

The Lobby thinks this sounds great – the more the merrier, but some have warned that this will only lead to fragmentation of the net…

The new IDNs will be introduced some time in 2010.

– Emil


† Standard Arabic

* Standard Mandarin (spoken) & simplified Chinese (written)

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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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Yesterday’s purchase of FriendFeed by Facebook may well have opened the first episode of a new war on internet search engines. How come?

Today, Google is known to be the premier search engine of the web. Whatever you may be looking for on the web, chances are that you will ‘google it’.Facebook acquires FriendFeed

The development of micro-blogging and other social media platforms, especially Twitter and Facebook, have given value to a new, non-conventional type of information which is produced on the spot by internet users. This ‘real-time information’ is shared instantly to the millions other users who are connected through the network of the platform.

Twitter has managed to sort the flow of information through a search engine which allows users to read instantly what is said on a specific issue. But FriendFeed goes one step further. It proposes a service which aggregates online feeds of content that the user and his friends have shared on other collaborative sites such as facebook, flickr, you tube, twitter, etc. FriendFeed’s search engine therefore looks for real-time information on all the networks on which users share content – basically it allows you to know what is happening right now on any given subject (the outcome of a vote in a parliamentary Committee for instance!)

And there seems to lie the bright and successful future. As Ben Parr, Associate Editor of the blog Mashable, comments: ‘with this acquisition, Facebook is gunning directly not only at Twitter, but at Google. This is a warning shot to those two companies’. Who will triumph in the war of the social platforms?

– Maxime

Social media platforms are dominating the headlines lately and are poised to start generating a lot of money. A US floral retailer (1-800-Flowers) has recently opened the first “facebook storefront” where users can buy and send flowers directly from facebook.

Instead of trying to drive traffic (i.e. consumers) from facebook toward the company website, 1-800-Flowers has decided to go seek out the customer where he or she prefers to spend time, i.e. on facebook rather than on a corporate website.

So far, businesses have mostly considered social media as an additional marketing tool, but this initiative indicates a possible way forward, namely the option of social platforms hosting online shopping sections and virtually (no pun intended!) transforming themselves into big online shopping malls as more and more businesses set up their own storefront and take advantage of this huge network to reach consumers.

Traditionally facebook has been dominated by young people, and it’s no secret that advertisers have long known about and targeted “tweens” (generally this is said to be children between 8 and 12 years old) for their staggering purchasing power. And just as the design of the basic facebook profile has evolved over time, so has its users. Facebook recently announced that it now boasts 250 million users, but what is perhaps more interesting is that the fastest growing demographic is 35+ year olds. Is this an indication that the techie crowd is approaching maturity? Take a moment to think about the purchasing power of 40-year olds.

Yes, exactly, that is some serious purchasing power. There is no doubt that companies, both offline and online, will put two and two together and realise the gargantuan opportunity offered up by applications such as facebook’s storefront (if they haven’t already!).

The UK internet watchdog, Ofcom, today released their annual report which indicates that, apart from food, Britons want to spend most of their money on technology such as mobiles, internet and TV. The report further states that some 19 million people in the UK, which represents 50% of internet users, visit facebook and spend on average six hours a month on the site, an increase of two hours per month compared to 2008. This means that the internet allows businesses to reach consumers with increasingly high purchasing power, even in the greatest recession since the 30s!

So the share of older people using facebook is growing massively, they have money to spend, and they want to stay wired-up even in times of economic hardship, and facebook has opened its door to  businesses – should the likes of Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com be worried? Is social trading the right term to describe these commercial activities?

Maxime & Emil

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According to a report published today by the European Commission, 56% of Europeans now regularly use the internet, and 80% of these have access to a high-speed connection (compared to only one third in 2004).  This makes Europe the “world leader in broadband internet”, so give yourselves all a pat on the back.  After all, you wouldn’t be reading this without it.

Leading the digital charge: Commissioner Reding

Leading the digital charge: EU Commissioner Reding

The digital economy is seen as a way out of the current financial crisis, and the Commission sees young people as the drivers that will get us there.  If the demographic of The Lobby’s Facebook fanpage is anything to go by, that means you folks reading this now, and you have a friend, in Information Society & Media Commissioner Viviane Reding: “These young people are intensive internet users and are also highly demanding consumers. To release the economic potential of these ‘digital natives’, we must make access to digital content an easy and fair game.”

Hurrah, cries the Lobby, about time too.  It’s nice to see decision-makers actually exploring the benefits of going digital and not, like Archbishop Vincent Nichols in the UK, wringing their hands in worry that the online networks are “transient” and could push certain people to commit suicide if such friendships turn out to be just that.

The Lobby of course feels differently.  Online networks open up a whole new area of networking opportunities – “friends” if you will – and it is all contributing to the world becoming a smaller place.  Notwithstanding the risks, which have been well-documented, the kids of today are growing up chatting to like-minded individuals from all over the world and are becoming more world-aware than our forebears as a result.  Cultural barriers are being deconstructed and mutual understanding is on the rise – not an insignificant development given world events in the last decade.

Whilst reporting on Archbishop Nichols’s remarks, the BBC interviewed an otherwise pleasant family, the parents of which forbid their children from accessing the internet because they preferred them to avoid these supposedly “transient” friendships.

Being glued to the computer is no way to live through one’s childhood, but at the same time one can’t help but wonder whether by effectively banning all forms of online communication this particular family is retreating to the dark ages.  Even decision-makers in their ivory towers are seeing the benefits of engaging 2.0-style with their electorates – just ask the current US President.  Hopefully today’s Commission’s report will provide some necessary and non-transient food for thought for Archbishop Nichols and his followers.

– Rob

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Next year the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plans to allow a spectacular increase in so called top-level internet domains (TLDs) according to the Financial Times.

Today, there are 268 top-level domain names including generic ones such as .com, .org, .net and country specific ones such as .uk, .fr and let’s not forget the rather successful .eu domain.

Some say the planned move by ICANN could spell chaos, while others argue that some of the proposed new TLDs will help save the environment. The Vatican raised the issue already in March of this year pointing out the “perils” of allowing new domain names such as .catholic, .islam, .buddhist etc, and warned of the “bitter disputes” religion-themed TLDs could cause.

What the new top-level domains will mean for the internet as a whole is very difficult to predict, but if one thing is for certain it is that it will lead to some mindboggling questions of ownership. Who gets the rights to, for instance, the .europe, or .football, or .publicaffairs, or .president top-level domains (I’m sure you can think of more thought-provoking examples!)? ICANN expects an initial wave of 500 new TLDs as early as the first quarter of 2010.

Keen to get your own TLD? Well, all you need to do is be patient, wait until they go on sale next year, and cough up the required $185,000…

– Emil

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