The politics of blogging…

It’s internship time for us students here in Centennial College’s Corporate Communications & Public Relations program. Most of my colleagues have managed to secure a placement with an organization, agency, or not-for-profit, and the few remaining students who haven’t are in the process of tying up loose ends.

For myself, I have the privilege of working with the Town of Newmarket’s communications department. In fact, I have already begun writing up some materials for them, even though I technically don’t start my internship until March 25. (Even that’s early. Internships are supposed to start March 31, but I am a bit of a PR keener! 😉 )

Anyways, I’m pretty excited to be working with the Town of Newmarket. It’s a growing community with about 80,000 residents, close proximity to Toronto, and a reputation as an environmentally progressive municipality. So, I am sure there is going to be plenty for me to do as I wet my feet working in public relations.

In fact, one aspect I have already started to consider is the introduction of social media as part of Newmarket’s communications policy. It was one of the issues that I talked about in my interview. At that time, the communications team was interested in getting involved in social media, but a little concerned over the two-way aspect of online communications (having audiences be able to respond back on blogs and social networking sites.)

But I think social media is an excellent tool for local governments to use to get closer to their constituents. Blogs give municipalities a way to communicate policies, programs and initiatives to residents and get information and public response back in a timely manner. Furthermore, blogs are the great equalizer, giving residents who normally feel disenfranchised an opportunity to make their voices heard.

In fact, some minority political parties in other countries are already making use of social media. Greensblog is a blog created by the Australian Green Senators. It gives them an opportunity to discuss government issues in a forum where their voices are not quashed by government and opposition parties who outnumber them in parliamentary debates.

Closer to home, even Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama is making his views, and the view from his campaign trail, known through blogging. Rival Hillary Clinton also seems to have a blog in her name, though its credibility seems suspect.

But the fact that blogging is now a form of public relations for these candidates—or at least Obama—and for governments at large, is a huge indication that social media is a much more important element nowadays in public communication and interaction.

It’s a lesson it seems Canadian governments still need to learn. A recent post on Simon Dickson’s blog, I’m Simon Dickson, talks about the UK Foreign Office making a major jump into Web 2.0 with the launch of not one, but SIX blogs spanning all levels of the organization.

Over here, however, the only blog I found after several minutes of searching was by Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Well at least someone gets the idea of Web 2.0. But it’s a definite fact that social media should be taken more seriously by governments in Canada as a way to communicate with their audiences.

In fact, two Australian researchers, Barry Saunders and Jason Wilson, recently wrote in their online article, Consulting Bloggers as Citizens, about the importance of blogging for local governments.

“Blogging and other forms of participatory social media (such as wikis) are well suited to consultative policy development. They allow comments and feedback, and thus open up discussion to a range of voices. This in turn allows political debate to move beyond left-right political point-scoring to a more complex, nuanced, interactive process.”

Furthermore, governments, especially municipal ones who have a closer representative relationship with their constituents, can actually use blogs and social media to get accurate feedback and information when developing policies which affect their constituents.

“Blogging is about arguments and discussion – a robust conversation about healthcare reform might be informative, and would certainly gauge the depth of community feeling around the issue. Such an unfettered discussion might help defuse the electorate’s most common complaint about major party politics: “they just aren’t listening.”

Social media is now a tool governments can use to show they are not only listening to their constituents; but that they’re also involved in the discussion. And until governments here decide to get involved, they just don’t hear what we’re saying.

 

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Getting a FOOT in the door of social media…

I have a pretty smart, soon-to-be, brother-in-law. He’s a chiropodist who is willingly using the social media space to inform his patients, discuss his passion and market his business.

A recent graduate from The Michener Institute for Applied Sciences, he just started up his own clinic, set up a new web page and has now joined the blogosphere.

With all the flack we communicators get nowadays about making sure we know how to use and recommend social media to our clients, it’s refreshing to find someone, in a non-communications field, who is already aware of its presence and power to promote.

His blog is called FOOT-NOTES, a clever little play on words, where he writes about his experiences at work dealing with patients, new trends in healthcare, and up-to-date information for those interested in foot care. He’s already got his first post up and it’s a good one; so check it out if you’re interested.