What do we want? Interaction, engagement and transparency

This is an article by Tess Lindholm.
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At some conferences, looking down at your phone is seen as bad manners. That is not the case here.

“Our speakers will almost be offended if they get too much eye contact – that means you’re not tweeting about them” said Philip Young (@mediations) as he opened the NEMO: New Media, Modern Democracy conference, in Helsingborg, Sweden.

NEMO (nemo.blogg.lu.se) is a three-year research project with 16 researchers from five different countries, based in the Department of Strategic Communication at Lund University Campus Helsingborg. It ‘aims to develop new knowledge and explore new ways of understanding the significance of social media and online communication for individuals and organisations in a thriving democratic society’.

Stephen Waddington in engaging form at #nemoconf13

Stephen Waddington in engaging form at #nemoconf13

The research project has four perspectives: the Public, Personal, Organizational and Knowledge perspective. It has done research on people like me, “Digital Naturals,” as Young called us, cyborgs with powers extended by our mobile phones – constantly online, connected, communicating with others.

The NEMO conference brought together leading PR practitioners from Sweden, the UK and USA, people who see, and can help others to see the possibilities of social media, what it can bring to everyday life, and not least to democracy.

Philip Young is one of the organising researchers and the conference is the second of its kind where different practitioners presented their input on the subject. It somehow feels like a step towards solving the problem expressed by Stephen Waddington (@wadds), that “PR practice is shit at connecting with PR academia.”

The continuing gap between politicians and citizens was also highlighted. Despite the new possibilities to easily communicate with one another, “Politicians are not good at using Twitter” said Deborah Mattinson (@debmattinson) of Britain Thinks. “Instead it “reinforces the ‘otherness’ of politicians”.

I do understand what she is getting at. Quite often politicians use social media as a tool to communicate to, rather than communicate with, citizens and voters. This is something that I, and others like me, think is odd, since we see social interaction as a natural part of the way things are.

Tess Lindholm

Tess Lindholm

“Don’t bolt on social, build it in” said Philip Sheldrake (@Sheldrake), and he showed pictures of how we have migrated our analogue reality to a digital reality without actually taking advantage off all the infinite possibilities that have emerged with the new digital tools. We do things as we have always done, but with an extra digital layer. Our desk has changed from an analogue pile of files and documents, to a digital desktop with files and documents in it.

Sheldrake explained that “a social business is not a business that uses social media to help it do what it has always done”. Perhaps this is connected to Deborah Mattinson’s point, since this is the most common mistake that politicians make – they use social media as yet another channel for broadcasting. They use the digital possibilities to do the things they have always done, talking and not listening. And we, the Digital Naturals, expect more.

For Young, Digital Naturals are “Individuals who are comfortable in an online environment, equipped through experience and exposure to the both its cultural norms and the technological competencies required to operate effectively”.

We require interaction, engagement and transparency. And when he talks about what a Digital Natural is, he brings up the criteria “have an outsourced memory”. At this point I’m laughing a bit – I note that I’m currently tweeting what he is saying and that I haven’t put a single word on the block of paper that was given to me in the welcome pack.

My notes are the tweets of those things I find interesting and relevant during the conference.

When I send the tweet I realise that it is perhaps not that inconceivable that “ninety percent of all data in the world has been created during 2011-2012” as  @Sheldrake pointed out. But also that “It’s very easy to create a frenzy online, it’s almost too easy, it’s much harder to make a real change”. And I have to agree, I have seen people complaining and spreading things, but seldom being willing to take any other form of action.

So the question is where to begin, how do you let a conference as NEMO not merely end up in a bunch of tweets under the hashtag #nemoconf13. What does this all mean for our future?


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    What do we want? Interaction, engagement and transparency

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