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There’s been a lot of media-orientated political comment about over the last week. Firstly Whitehall last Thursday published a report by Ed Mayo, Chief Executive of the national consumer council and Tom Steinberg, founder and director of mySociety, recommending that the Government acknowledges the importance of, and utilises, existing internet-based communities.
The three specific recommendations were that the Government:
welcomes and engages with users and operators of user-generated sites in pursuit of common social and economic objectives;
supplies innovators that are re-using government-held information with the information they need, when they need it, in a way that maximises the long-term benefits for all citizens; and
protects the public interest by preparing citizens for a world of plentiful (and sometimes unavailable) information, and helps excluded groups take advantage
These sentiments were echoed by Tim Montgomerie – editor of ConservativeHome.com – in The Spectator’s Politics column last week where he suggested that the next general election will be remembered as “Britain’s first internet election”. He notes that “in this new world [of internet communities] the campaign staff of political parties and traditional media will have a much smaller share of power”; and points to the fact that “more Americans have watched Mr de Vellis’s advert [below] than have watched any official commercial”.
Such is the power of a searchable internet, populated by aggregations of communities with their own opinions, wants and behaviours. It’s a force that both politicians and brands must understand and engage with on the communities’ terms; Montgomerie notes that politicians “still see the web as a way of providing superior distribution channels for unchanged messages. They are in ‘send mode’ … the political parties that prosper in the internet age will embrace ‘receive mode’.
Try reading that last quote again replacing politicians with the word brands. There are parallels indeed.
The third element in all of this is the broadcast media; Montgomerie – in citing predictions that “most print newspapers will have closed by 2025” – takes a different position to Tony Blair, who waded in to the debate this week in a polemic against the print media. Blair believes that “there is a market in providing serous, balanced, news. There is a desire for impartiality. The way that people get their news may be changing; but the thirst for news being real is not”.
But deciding ‘what is real’ will no longer be the preserve of politicians and brands communicating through broadcast media. In both the advertising and political arenas, that will be for us all – as co-creators and consumers – to decide. There will be – as there has always been – two key questions; who owns the message and who owns the media? In creating content we all have the potential to own the message, something politicians and advertisers will have to come to terms with.
As for who owns the media – that remains to be seen… Different strategies will emerge. This week HMV appointed digital agency LBi to create a new social networking site to take on rivals facebook and YouTube. Good luck with that! Gideon Lask, e-commerce director of HMV said “The HMV social networking site will be an important element in our customer engagement strategy”. All admirable, but what’s wrong with utilising the networks already out there? His brand – like politics – is still in ‘send mode’, I’d suggest that the sooner ‘receive mode’ is engaged, the better.
‘The next general election will be won and lost on the internet’, a Spectator column by Tim Montgomerie
Blair’s Feral Media speech – full text as reported by the BBC here
‘HMV appoints LBi to create facebook rival’ as reported in Campaign