Cecilia Kang’s recent front page story in the Washington Post discussing efforts by those in the telecom / tech space to use social media to affect policy generated a lot of buzz over the weekend. Although I’m no longer in the trenches fighting those battles, I’ve been one of the early advocates for using social media in the public policy arena (this blog started in 2006). Accordingly, I have a few thoughts on the article.
Ms. Kang begins the article stating – “Why pay for a golf trip, dinner, or full-page ad when you can tweet for free”? It is a good question and is core to the overall conversation. However, citizen lobbying isn’t on equal footing yet. Fundraisers that provide the golf and dinner opportunities provide access to policymakers that are not quite analogous to twittering. If this was true, as highlighted in her Post Tech column, some companies wouldn’t be spending nearly $6 million (last quarter) in lobbying. Don’t get me wrong, utilizing social media is allowing citizen lobbyists to close the gap on the traditional influence game. However, we are not quite there yet.
Ms. Kang rightly draws attention to some folks in the industry who are being paid to create content and are not necessarily making it easy to discern who is sponsoring those efforts. John Taylor (with Sprint) picked up on this issue and pondered whether this would lead to companies not getting involved with social media because it wasn’t worth the trouble. The irony that I found with the discussion in the article, is it flies in the face of what social media and taking your message online is all about.
Authenticity and transparency are key to success online. The fact that some folks aren’t disclosing who funds their organization is only going to work against their online efforts.
The online space is different than it was a few years ago. In those days, you could engage with folks who truly wanted to debate and cared about the issues. The web is now starting to get dominated by marketers and individuals whose main interests are political or public relations related.
One is no longer an “alien” when blogging, twittering or utilizing social networks to discuss public policy. This is a wonderful thing and I’m loving this embrace of digital in the District of Communications. However, there are some companies that haven’t realized that quid pro quo doesn’t work online. Those that do it right, who are not looking for the quo, and are authentic and transparent will be able to play with the best that money can buy on K street.