Web2.0 for the Public Sector, Principles, Issues and Challenges


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A talk I gave at The Gate's seminar on Web2.0 for the public sector in Scotland.

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Web2.0 for the Public Sector, Principles, Issues and Challenges

  1. 1. Pete Martin, The Gate Worldwide [ Web 2.0: Principles, Issues and Challenges for the Public ] Hello everybody. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to come to this Web2-0 Seminar. I’m going to talk about the Principle of Web 2.0 for public organisations – along with some of the issues and challenges. I’m going to do that – not as someone who’s a specialist in Web2.0 – but as someone who’s been in the communication business on both sides of the Atlantic for over 25 years and handled a wide range of sensitive public issues… …with the view that we are standing on the verge of a precipitous change in the way that people create and consume communication. And I’m using the word communication in the sense that these utterances are intended to persuade and motivate; to change people’s minds or encourage them to do certain things. Before I do that I’d like to get a sense of how involved we are as a group with various aspects of Social Media. [Might ditch this if it’s come out already.] Who here has a Facebook page? Who’s on Linkedin? Who runs a blog? How many of us are using Wordpress? Who’s on Flickr, Youtube or VImeo? Any of us have a group on Ning? Anybody use StumbleUpon? Anybody use TripAdvisor, or Yelp or Qype? Who’s using Twitter? Power Twitter? Who’s on WeFollow.com?
  2. 2. Who’s listening to Social Media using tools like Radian6 or Scoutlabs? I’d like to take a couple of minutes to set a bit of context for playing devil’s advocate on 3 points. Firstly, how Social Media fits into a rapidly changing pattern of media consumption. Secondly, how Social Media providers – the technology developers and platforms seem likely to develop their business models – and the impacts that might have. And finally, some observations on potential issues and challenges for public sector bodies in leverage Social Media. [ BANG ] First question – BANG – Are we really witnessing a sudden media revolution? Has the world changed as much as those immersed in Web2.0 would have you believe? Or is it just some special pleading and hype from a small-ish group of people whom change would benefit? Let’s pause for a moment to consider the wider media picture. Traditional media – TV, newspapers – is in dire straits. But falling audiences are only part of the picture: media proliferation, audience fragmentation and an advertising recession have as much to do with it as the rise of online. Yes, the link-up of TV and the web thru iPlayer etc. means we are getting closer to media convergence – but it’s nowhere near complete. As sci-fi author William Gibson said: the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed. For example, only 60% of homes currently have broadband. By 2015, it will still only be 80%. And less than 20% of the workforce work in offices – so it’s easy for us teched-up desk jockeys to assume that the rest of the population is feeling the same intense change in media that we are. For the public sector, this also has obvious implications for social inclusion policy – the digitally disenfranchised, socially-excluded will no doubt end up being important but hard-to-reach audiences.
  3. 3. Looking back at BARB’s TV viewing data for the past few years or even the past 20 years, the numbers are holding up. It’s not obvious at all that total TV viewing is going down. But I would say that subjectively you feel the public’s relationship with media is changing – and not just in terms of consumption but in reaction. When Tivo and personal TV was ‘the next big thing’ I made a number of predictions most of which proved to be bollox – but I did say that it was the beginning of the end for communication that pays to intrude unasked and often unwelcomed into another activity. Now, is intrusion dead? Not in outdoor, cinema, direct mail, brand theatre, you’d think. But you do get the sense that the public’s responsiveness to paid-for placement is changing. I feel there are 3 different factors at work: - the 90s style of communication of image over substance wore out. Like the wrapper on a Quality Street toffee, it was all shiny, but you know – all that glisters is not gold. - The client’s reaction to that reality has created a period of Badvertising – stuff that’s so dull it breaks Bill Bernbach’s first rule: if advertising doesn’t get attention, everything else is academic. And this is breaking the emotional bonds with brands. - And thirdly, yes, we’ve simply got other more trusted, for the moment, sources of information. The second question is the development of Social Media itself. It will soon be the most competitive communication channel the world has ever seen. If it isn’t already. Currently, just about everything is free. Some services depend on old-style advertising with a bit of targeting; some on affiliate-style commissions… and some, like Twitter, are simply scratching their heads wondering how to turn their sudden fame into fortunes. The difficulty is that the demand for free services is potentially infinite.
  4. 4. Today, Wordpress informed me that 45 million words had been posted…. today. From 150,000 bloggers. About 1% of the blogosphere they tell me. It shows the double-edged sword that the democratisation of content-production and publishing has become. Anyone can run a campaign. The analogy I use is that of the invention of the motor-car. Once only the rich could afford to run one – it was an event. You had an ad agency walk along in front of this big noisy expensive thing, waving a red flag, going “Look we’re running a campaign.” Now, anyone can do it. It’s cheap and the information highway is choked with all kinds of vehicles. And being information rich makes us attention poor. It’s something David Allen of “Getting Things Done” fame has talked about: the ability to focus is essential to success, so distraction is the enemy. It makes me think that Web 2.0 will develop in a couple of different directions. Currently there is an assumption that popularity and peer recommendation will filter the noise. I hope so. But it’s a method that assumes Britney Spears is almost as important as Barack Obama – and that trust can be maintained when money starts to change hands. Endorsement as a marketing tool is nothing new. And in the era of the micro-celebrity, I’m sure the old fashioned problems associated with it will re-surface. Now, honest peer review is obviously better than the paid-for misdirection which the current search model depends on, and ‘compare-the-market’ affiliate models – which seem to attract charlatans like the old direct marketing industry did. My own feeling is that premium paid-for services will develop which give the user status and honestly help you edit your options: perhaps aggregating sentiment in an objective way. Equally, I’m sure the emotive appeal of brands as an online experience will re- emerge. [PRINCIPLE OF OPEN GOVERNMENT]
  5. 5. So, finally, where does that leave the Public Sector and Web2-0? Well, it leaves you with the principles of open government – which means your organisation can’t ignore it. • An essential part of open democratic government and responsive public services • Publishes information proactively wherever possible • Creates and shares information thoughtfully Clearly, as Jim, Nicola and Alan have shown there is also an opportunity to target and engage with interest groups. Equally, with free tools like socialmention.com or paid-for analysis from Radian6 or Scoutlabs, you can identify, track, trend and respond to customer views – positive or negative – because they are going to find a platform anyway. [THE GREAT & POWERFUL WOZ] And that’s the big secret: the secret is out. You can say what you like, but people can now see behind the curtain. This can make both public and private sector organisations nervous for a variety of real and imagined reasons. [CHALLENGES TO FACE] • Loss of control / reduced ‘authority’ When you enter into a dialogue, you can’t control what the other person is going to say. Some of them may say things that are not ‘on-message’. Some of them may disagree with you. Some of them may contradict you – and quite lucidly. • Non-expert comment On the other hand, some of them may not know what they are talking about – and say things that are just plain wrong, factually or ethically. • Risk of guilt by association How does that reflect on your organisation?
  6. 6. • Provide a platform for ‘complainers’ Do you risk getting sucked into soul-sapping, energy-wasting, resource-devouring discussion with a pressure group who have an agenda or the tiny minority who always feel hard done by. • Risk management – reputation, legal and worst-case-scenario These are all generally about risk management – and are often more imagined than real. However, it would be foolish to think that all organisations have the same risk profiles – plainly, there are areas where the chances of something going wrong might be small but the repercussions could be big; there are some policy areas that attract more controversy than others; and these would probably require greater sensitivity than, for example, something like leisure and recreation or cultural services. • Impact on ‘real world’ roles / bricks and mortar services • Copyright issues / loss of revenue Then perhaps the next couple of points cover self-interest or perhaps even self-preservation. It’s worthwhile bearing in mind that people usually consider change in terms of how it affects them personally. They might worry that a change in the status quo might change their role – why do you need a local expert when there’s an obsessed hobbyist giving it away for free on the web? And heck, if the communication is ‘unmanaged’ you might not need communication managers! Then there’s control of your content. If you put it out there… people will use it. And they won’t pay for it either. Sometimes you might be giving away something that you used to charge for. You’ve invented a cost, and lost an income. • Social exclusion As Jim said at the start, in any revolution there are winners and losers. Some people simply will not get on the bandwagon. In the long, long run, the problem will probably go away – as Web3.0, 4.0, 5.0 becomes as ubiquitous as the TV and the mobile phone. Yet, as public servants, we’ll still need a strategy to deal with excluded groups. Especially if the market develops a dual-layered approach with fast, smart, premium services for the haves and slower, second-rate free services for the have-nots. • ‘Selling in’ the concept to senior stakeholders
  7. 7. Hands up who here works for an organisation where the IT team like to block sites… it’s so prevalent. But it’s just weird. It’s not that they think you’d be surfing for smut, it’s that they think you’d be wasting your time! You know, like talking to people, and finding stuff out… It shows how endemic ‘command and control’ attitudes can be – and it’s hard to let go. • ‘It’s all FREE!’ These final three points are all linked. And while the first seems like a total positive, it can be a bit of a honeytrap. Let’s say you’ve got a garden and in previous years you’ve usually hired in a bunch of professional gardeners to lay it out the way you like it, take care of weeds, look after it for you. Then one Spring in the year 2009, someone comes round and offers you all these free gardening tools – and some of them are really cool and productive. You go ‘Great, I could do this all myself – or maybe I could just leave the tools out and all the neighbours could come in and you know, do a bit of digging.’ And then two things strike you – actually, even with free tools, there’s a lot of spadework to be done – and if you let the neighbours in, you might not get the garden the way you like it… • Relative perception of value Traditional media costs a lot of money. And in the old days, you used to have a rule of thumb that 10% of the budget would be spent on production. So, if the budget as £1 million, you’d put £900,000 into media placement and £100,000 into production. And when basic production was expensive, you didn’t mind paying a premium to get something good. But what do you do when the medium is free – and basic production is free? And when internal time also seems free? When you can have something standard for free – how do you judge the value of investing in something special? • Underestimate the cost in time, talent, resources (which equals money) And finally, there is the insatiable ‘treadmill’ that web2-0 can become. You’re blogging, tweeting, responding, uploading… It’s a full-time job – and will become a recognised role in most
  8. 8. organisations pretty soon. So, how does your organisation plan and resource for the kind of cost-benefit you might expect? I’d like to park these thoughts with you over lunch – and we’ll return to them in more detail in the interactive and strategy sessions this afternoon. There’s one final idea I’d like to share – that the future and the past are not always that different. [GENIUS IS BORN – NOT PAID] The invention of the ballpoint pen did not fill the world with Oscar Wilde’s. Yes, users can also create content. But hype is not that easy to generate. That can depend on the kind of communication risk-taking that is difficult for public sector organisations. With the caveat that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and there are some people you can’t please at all. As happened in Germany, there may even develop a class of professional complainers… But the one big observation I would make is that while most of the tools are currently free, do not be misled into thinking that Web 2-0 is some kind of communications nirvana in which campaigns are free and easy. What you save in cash can easily be swallowed up in time, talent and effort. The old mass media allowed organisations to avoid labour- intensive, one-to-one, door-to-door selling. The danger is getting sucked into an arena that depends on high levels of personal engagement and ingenuity – a form of one-to-one, digital-to-digital salesmanship that could demand big human resources. [WEB 2.0 IS EARNED – NOT PAID] In the old world, you paid for your media. In the new world of Web 2.0, you need to earn it. pete.martin@thegateworldwide.com www.twitter.com/smuji