Monday, 15 March 2010

Social Media Envoy as New 'Online Celebrity' Endorsement

Last week the United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria announced a new initiative as part of their work to increase awareness of the disease and its simple means of prevention, which demonstrates a clever way of utilising social media. The Social Media Envoy for Malaria, which has gained the support of well-known social web and broadcast media figures, has been organised as a way to broadcast the UN’s mission of eliminating deaths caused by the disease by 2015 to as wide an online audience as possible.

Those who have signed up to the envoy have made a commitment to use their social media channels to publish at least one issue-relevant message per month in promotion of the cause. Big online names such as Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Mashable’s Pete Cashmere, Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post and Randi ‘Facebook’ Zuckerberg are to tweet, blog and publish other relevant online material as a means to inform their audiences on the issue and update them on any developments of the UN programme. The 25th of April, World Malaria day, see’s the start of this web campaign which will last a whole year.

On her involvement with the envoy, Huffington said: “Their plan to use social media to keep the spotlight on the goal of eradicating deaths from malaria by 2015 is smart, forward-thinking, and, given the growing reach of social platforms, very pragmatic. It’s consciousness-raising and movement building 2.0.”

Considering the global audience the envoys have access to, the potential reach of the campaign message is huge. Taking the more prominent names as an indicator of the possible audience, Arianna Huffington has just under 400,000 twitter followers aside from the Huffington Post’s readership,Randi has 150,000 facebook fans to communicate with and Biz Stone is followed by over 1 and a half million twitter users who it is hoped will be exposed to and subsequently become engaged with the malaria issue. In exploiting the potential reach and influence of these online opinion leaders the campaign is exploring a new type of ‘social web celebrity endorsement’ which I anticipate will provide the campaign with significant public reach.

Although the power of the world wide web is increasingly recognised and utilised in communication and PR campaigns I view the UN social media envoy as operating on a completely new level in comparison to other similar online campaigns (such as The Robin Hood Tax discussed below). In using these new media figureheads as spokespeople, who also have the best social media expertise alongside these huge public audiences, the campaign is operating from a particularly strong basis.

Hopefully the envoys will go beyond the minimum requirements of the commitment they made and use their 'online celebrity’ status to full potential for what is an obviously worthy cause.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Digital Democracy.

It is a fact that digital media is revolutionising the way people obtain information. The shift from a media audience who consume their news and information via the old, private media outlets to an increasingly tech-savy, net-addicted public is only becoming more evident. Perhaps the most exciting development resulting from the ‘digital revolution’, however, is the potential it holds for democratising communication. The internet offers great gifts of participation, inclusiveness and even control of the news agenda for anyone who wishes to utilise outlets such as blogs, discussion boards, comment pages, video and picture sharing sites and so on. The flow of information, once controlled by few in privileged and exclusive positions, has most definitely been disrupted; the rise of citizen journalism has allowed people to communicate their own stories to a global audience without the permission of the media middlemen. With the president of CNN last week describing facebook as the networks biggest current competition, without a mention of previous rival broadcasters FOX news, the power potential of your average joe blogger is really emphasised.

One great example of this rise of public communication power is a website I came across last week- Global Voices Online. In their own words the contributors describe their main goal as being to “readdress some of the inequities in media attention by leveraging the power of citizens’ media, at a time when international English-language media ignores many things that are important to large numbers of the world’s citizens.” Aiming to “aggravate, curate and amplify” debates and discussions on important issues from around the world, stories are published on the site that would often be left out of the mainstream media agenda, often from a firsthand perspective.

One article I read on the website was about the aftermath of the earthquake in Chile last month, which highlighted the lack of help given to many indigenous communities who were affected, alongside stressing the Chilean and global media’s overall ignorance of their situation. The reporter goes on to outline how communities such as Mapuche were, however, able to utilise social media to communicate their situations. In addition to this, people in the wider public who recognised the lack of reporting on large groups of the affected Chileans were able to use their own social media tools such as twitter as a way of obtaining information not readily supplied by the mainstream media. I feel that the website overall, and this particular article, are evidence of an exciting change happening in the dynamics of communication and news exchange, on a global scale.

The new digital democracy means anyone with access to the technology can become a journalist-or a public communicator or PR practitioner for that matter- with access to the cyber world stage, something we should all take advantage of and not feel threatened by Mr CNN!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Robin Hood and his Merry (online) Men

Last week I joined over 128, 600 other online followers and became a facebook fan of The Robin Hood Tax, a campaign aimed at lobbying the government to introduce a new deal between banks and society.

It is a current example of the many campaigns which have begun to utilise social media outlets such as facebook as a means to mobilise the public to support their cause. The facebook users amongst you will have undoubtedly been asked to join similar online ‘movements’, whether it be for serious political or social issues or rather more simple (but perhaps just as urgent?) causes such as to find out whether a sausage roll can receive more followers than Cheryl Cole. (pretty close but not yet!)

Initially being introduced to the campaign myself due to being linked through facebook and receiving the majority of subsequent information on the issue online, I think this is a good example of a campaign that is utilising digital media to full potential, demonstrating the powers of reaching the public through online communication.

In addition to a dedicated facebook page, the public can link to The Robin Hood Tax through twitter, youtube and flickr culminating to create a strong online presence for the cause. By encouraging followers to adorn their facebook and twitter avatars with green Robin Hood masks and fire twitter arrows at local MP’s the campaign is gaining online momentum, obtaining many new followers daily who can carry out these simple actions in order to show their support. Those who are particularly passionate about the cause are also encouraged to email their MPs, the responses of which have been posted by many on the facebook page. Through these online actions, public opinion can be easily demonstrated, providing pressure on the government at a key stage in proceedings with the initiatives early day motion currently being drawn up.

Alongside updating followers on recent developments, the twitter and facebook pages also enable discussion between both supporters and critics of the initiative. The capacity of online media to facilitate public dialogue is perhaps particularly important on issues such as this where public opinion appears to be split quite evenly. Those who are undecided on the issue can also access a range of opinions and debates through these online channels which will help them to shape an opinion on the topic.

Those who were previously unfamiliar with the initiative will hopefully not only agree that it is a good example of a fully digitalised communication campaign but also that it is a really simple and excellent idea and one worth supporting!