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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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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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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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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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Social media defy non-democratic authorities, but they are also changing the way we assess truth and reality. In Iran and in China, social media platforms such as Youtube and Twitter have allowed insiders to widely diffuse snapshot views of critical situations, providing the rest of the world with more diverse and personal portrayals of reality than any traditional (most likely censored) media.

Tweets and Youtube movies on the recent events in Iran or in China demonstrate that the assessment of truth and reality is increasingly driven by the diversity of personal views, whether they be timely, contradictory, or emotional. It is precisely this diversity which is valued, and is why social networks are so significant today. “Everything is miscellaneous” writes the American internet commentator David Weinberger, “no matter who is right – there is more truth in differences than in any fact taken individually”.

– Maxime

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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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Great wall of China

Great Wall of China

The Lobby has learnt that in the last few hours China has blocked access to content sharing platforms such as YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, or Tumblr, most probably using their Golden Shield Project firewall. Blogs hosted by WordPress or Blogger have also been blocked. According to several journalists on the web, Chinese authorities want to pre-empt any attempts to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident.

It is a sad example of government censorship but acutely highlights another dimension of social media, namely that it poses a real threat to dictatorial regimes around the world and in many countries serves a purpose greater than mere social interaction.

– Maxime

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It was no brilliant prophecy to predict that the internet and social media tools would play a major role in this year’s European elections. Content sharing platforms have indeed become surrogate battle fields where political parties and candidates from all countries square off. And video clips are their preferred Weapon of Mass Communication.

The EU video campaign is essentially a war of emotional creativity, with a final objective common to all parties – to get the video going ‘viral’ and spread it as much as possible through the web. Fraternity feelings, political controversy, fun, and coolness are key rating criteria.

Viral campaigning videos have sparked all sorts of controversies throughout the different Member States, potentially initiating debates on Europe (the last one was spread by the European Commission’s spot “20 Years of Liberty” which features a series of historical inaccuracies about Poland) but also on the increasing importance of understanding and using internet media.

– Maxime

See Commission clip “20 Years of Liberty”

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How will you vote in the upcoming European elections? Platforms such as EU Profiler can help you figure out where you stand on the liberal-conservative and Euro-enthusiastic or Euro-sceptic scale, but there’s more to it than that, right?

A recent study conducted by the GfK Polonia research institute in Poland suggests that voting behaviour is still largely dominated by charismatic and well-known personalities. The degree to which candidates employ creative and original campaign methods seem to matter more than the actual details of the party programmes.

We all know that Obama was very talented at this game. He used social media tools to their full potential and managed to extend his personal network of “fans” even further than any showbiz star (except, of course, Ashton Kutcher on Twitter). Many campaigners in Europe are now playing catch-up and the methods are proving to be working quite well – though better for some than others.

Libertas, with its controversial rhetoric, uses the full spectrum of social media tools to its advantage and has managed to create a platform ungoverned by rules on speaking-time and where self-censorship is timid at best. Their webpage is full of 2.0 gadgets and widgets pointing to their Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts (also see Libertas Strikes Back). Yesterday, they claimed to have the most visited webpage of all European parties. But as any geek knows, hits do not equal unique visits, and unique visits do not necessarily equal votes on the big day…

– Agnieszka

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