The latest PR Week Soap Box features this from myself on how social media is changing public affairs:
At the time of the 2010 general election, more adults had broadband than voted. By the 2015 election, on current trends*, there will be more adults using social networks than vote.
There will, no doubt, still be plenty of politicians – and those who seek to influence politicians – who continue to don a Luddite act, bemoaning how awful new technology is and how there is nothing wrong with carrier pigeons and manual typewriters. The smarter ones know that when millions of people are behaving differently, they need to too.
For public affairs practitioners, it means two changes in particular. First, an even greater move towards transparency. Already the lobbied and the lobbyers often exchange messages and cross swords in public through mediums such as Twitter. Add in the mass growth of social media to the regulatory pressures and far more will happen in the open. The old-style public affairs of address books full of private contact information and discrete chats faces increasing pressure from the more open and inclusive new style.
Second, there will be an even greater emphasis on long-term relationships and dialogue. A small minority use social media just to shout at others, only rarely successfully. The mainstream use it for conversations – and expect others to follow suit. The days when responding to letters in 28 days was standard good practice, and 14 days would impress, are long gone.
Yet despite appearances, the internet is actually a slow-moving medium – slow moving in that unless you are already an established super-star, online audiences and communities take time to build. Waiting until you have need of them is leaving it too late for most.
That is why smart public affairs practitioners are not leaving it until the next election to embrace the opportunities social media offers.
* Taking the annual Ofcom survey data and projecting current trends up to a 2015 general election.