I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard about the ‘invasion’ of digital into public affairs. For Twitter’s champions, the non-adopters are dinosaurs, a decade out of date and a decade out of touch #IntellectualSnobz #BackroomDealers #ProbsSmokingCigars etc.
For traditionalists, people wasting their time with social media are children playing at being serious; unless we’re talking Schrödinger, dear boy, pictures of cats do not constitute matters of state (puff puff).
These sweeping commentaries are usually how I hear social media discussed.
But let’s be less radical for a moment: the simple fact is there is valid, straightforward, bread and butter public affairs to be done using social media.
Shelling Out in Scotland
This is not revolutionary and not difficult. It’s just here, waiting to be done, and adding a new dimension to your public affairs work day-to-day.
I should confess an interest up front – I am Head of Product at Yatterbox, a monitoring company that tracks politicians and journalists on social media, so yes I may be slightly biased, but I will try to constrain my observations to facts, albeit facts sourced from Yatterbox.
At the beginning of March, Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, spoke out about Scottish Independence and the UK’s relationship with Europe. He indicated that he felt Scotland should remain in the UK, and the UK in the EU: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-26461833.
Here are a few of the comments on Twitter from politicians around that time:
But it should be clear that this content forms a basic and usual part of public affairs work – and I am sure that Shell were monitoring these comments so that they can:
- Be aware of what key commentators are saying about their company, their CEO and a key legislative issue;
- Efficiently identify important or prolific commentators; and
- Contact a commentator if a response is required.
They can even look more broadly at comment from journalists, because it is clear looking at social media that digital content rapidly passes from political journalists to politicians and vice versa.
The visibility of these connections can help when it comes to aligning public affairs objectives with a corporate communications strategy – which seems to be an increasingly attractive proposition.
Forwarding Emails Backwards
It has been interesting to see how much of this commentary is now being picked-up by those agencies and organisations affected – or, conversely, how much they are missing. There are companies where everyone sees Twitter commentary just as a matter of course and others where this work is designated to one person or ignored entirely.
The last concerns me the most.
Unfortunately, turning a blind eye does not prevent these tweets from being definite and tangible. There is an ongoing commentary that is relevant and increasingly influential – ignore it at your own risk.
But even the single specialist approach now seems inefficient. I was in the position, briefly, where part of my job consisted of clicking ‘forward’ on my emails as the relevant alerts came through. I couldn’t help but feel that my role in that chain meant that content got where it needed to be slower and used up more resource along the way.
We need to get out of the mindset where we think of working with digital as being new or radical – something that should be discussed and debated with revolutionary zeal but ultimately consigned to a forgotten sideshow when it comes to the actual work we do.
If you care about what politicians are saying, you should care whether they say it in a speech, in an article or in a tweet. With over two thirds of politicians now on Twitter (ever-increasing as we head towards the 2015 elections) social media monitoring isn’t niche or radical, it’s an everyday staple.
Get with the programme; digital is the new normal.
Ben Carson is Head of Product at Yatterbox