Over the last few weeks I’ve had several people ask me face-to-face (it’s still the best way to communicate), online and by email, what I think of Labour’s burgeoning new online presence in social media. The latest was a tweet (Twitter message) at the weekend from James Tutt in Microsoft UK’s PR team who asked ‘@stuartbruce as a Labour and Social Media guy, how do you rate Derek Draper’s foray into the medium?’
It’s hard to reply in 140 characters so my answer of ‘@jamestutt @derekdraper is new to this and on a very public learning curve, his intention is right (I’ve talked to him), and will get better’ didn’t really do the question justice.
Derek Draper’s initiative has come in for a lot of flack from bloggers across the political spectrum, including the A-list Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes (both of whom I’ve met and respect, despite our political differences). I’m not going to single out individuals to dissect and rebut their criticisms, but instead make some general points.
Yes, the Labour Party is very late to this party. But so what, so are most big companies and organisations? The very factors that make social media easy for individuals can create enormous challenges for private, public and voluntary sector enterprises.
It’s all very well for the social media evangelists and the blogging glitterati to get all hot under the collar about ‘this is the proper way to do social media’ and ‘you must respect the netiquette’, but that’s not how the real world works. Netiquette isn’t set in stone and is constantly changing and adapting to suit the needs of the majority. A good example of this is the number of Twitter early adopters who aren’t entirely happy about the general population invading their private playground and breaking the rules.
Today it’s essential that organisations incorporate social media and online digital communications into the core of their corporate communications strategy. However, that doesn’t mean ditching everything else in favour of the laissez-faire of ‘you can’t control the message’ blogosphere. It’s very easy to talk about how ‘markets are conversations’, but very different to actually change age-old structures to do something about it.
What we tell all of our clients is that the most important step is to acknowledge the need for change and then identify ways (however tiny) of achieving it. It’s not always possible for a brand (in this case the Labour Party) to ‘do’ social media perfectly. That doesn’t mean to say they shouldn’t do it.
That’s exactly what Derek Draper is doing with LabourList. It isn’t perfect and never will be, but it is and will continually improve, that’s the point. Many of those throwing out criticisms are doing so out of naivety, ignorance or prejudice. It’s ridiculous to think that the party of government can learn about, adapt and respond rapidly to the changes in society brought about by the online world. The new Obama administration has the advantage of being able to do this as part of an opposition campaign that has made the transition to government.
It’s also important to realise that LabourList isn’t intended just for hard-core political bloggers. Far more important is to engage with the far larger number of people online who care about how the country is run and want to see how public services such as health and education can be improved. They don’t care about many of the criticisms of the hard-core bloggers, they just want an opportunity to engage in lively debate with people who care about the same things they do.