Saturday, 26 February 2011

Leaders must engage social media, or be washed away by it

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David Cameron seeing his support collapse in the UK is turning to a mixture of both AlJazeera and YouTube to try and salvage his government


Leaders in the west have for some time seen they must engage social media or risk being washed away by it. But using social media is more than just throwing together some PR. Leaders also need to use television but as we have seen with Mubarak and Gaddafi the wrong use or lazy use of TV can do as much harm as good.

Certainly an AlJazeera interview on YouTube with real people asking real question sounds like a great use of social media. But that is the problem: "sounds like". The danger of PR stunts like these are they are PR stunts. Cameron has clearly made his mind up that UK public sector spending needs to be cut 20% in 4 years. Nothing anyone says on social networks would change that. For example a 10% cut in 4 years which would both reduce the deficit to levels lower than most nations in Europe and reduce front line services would be supported by the vast majority of British people as a compromise, but it is not on the table.

Certainly Cameron will be asked why the cuts are needed, and he will give his standard answer he gives in Parliament. He will say that because of Labours before him he is stuck with a situation and his policy is total necessity, end of subject. If you try to ask him to why his policy and his policy alone is the only possible course given the current crisis he would simply again say that the Labour government before him left a huge mess and this was all that he could do.

Even before the program has begun we know this is, from the Cameron side, going to be another Mubarak "I'm not leaving speech."

They question becomes, when states use media in such contained ways, will the program convince people that they are being engaged with or will it simply illustrate the distance between leaders and community?

The point is that when used in this way the nature of the media becomes unimportant. Cameron is not going to change his mind because of the output of social networks and crowd sourcing and he is not going to tell very much. Just because this is on YouTube covered by AlJazeera and the questions are being crowded sourced does not make it any less political rhetoric than a Gaddafi phone in to Libya TV.

The point is that it is not the technology, but how the technology is being used.
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