January 15, 2008

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Simon Collister in The death of spin has been greatly exaggerated:

  This is leads us to a potentially dangerous situation where the public (and worse the media) thinking political parties are giving the people a voice, when in fact they disenfranchising them by paying lip-service to participatory democracy.

  If this happens then traditional, hard political power hardens at the centre while the public play with digital toys that keep them entertained but no closer to (argubly even further away from) democratic engagement.

Right on.

In that post Simon sources this post by Wendy McAuliffe in Liberate Media. Among other things she says,

  …at the end of the day, you can’t place an algorithm on the way people communicate.

  Politics is one subject in particular that is becoming harder and harder to ‘control’, with so many opinions and arguments being voiced across social media networks.

  Despite the changes in media as we know it, the ability to engage with audiences effectively, and understand what grabs attention, is still the realm of PR professionals.

Some thoughts.

First, amen to the algorithm point. That’s a great clue that will help with my third point, below.

Second, politics has always been about control. So, in a different way, has democracy. Substitute democracy for politics in Wendy’s second point and I’ll agree with it.

Third, the online world has both social media and social habitats. They are different, even when they overlap. Twitter is a social medium. Facebook is a social habitat. Twitter is a new breed of Web site/service that grew out of blogging. Facebook is a walled garden: a place you have to go to be social in the ways it facilitates and permits. In this respect Facebook is AOL 2.0. By calling both “social media” we blur distinctions that are necessary for making sense of highly varied progress (or movement in less positive directions) in the online world. We need a Linnean taxonomy here. And we don’t have one. Yet. For those so inclined, that’s an assignment.

Fourth, the “audience” isn’t any more. And nobody needs to get over that fact more than PR, which wouldn’t exist without the demand for spin. What we wrote about PR in The Cluetrain Manifesto is barely less true today than it was in 1999. If PR wishes to remain relevant in an environment where networked markets get smarter faster than those that would spin them, the profession needs to define and satisfy a market for something other than spin. Good luck with that.