Web2.0 for the Public Sector, Principles, Issues and Challenges
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
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?
Who’s listening to Social Media using tools like Radian6 or
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
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.
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
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
- 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
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
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
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-
[PRINCIPLE OF OPEN GOVERNMENT]
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
• Risk of guilt by association
How does that reflect on your organisation?
• 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
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
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
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
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
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.