Awareness or Consensus?

Awareness is not the same thing as establishing a new consensus. The celebrity-free, crowd-driven campaigns still seem to focus mainly on issues with a strong online or technological focus.

Gaurav Mishra supplies a useful model of social media (via Global Voices Advocacy).   His “4Cs” are

  • Content
  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Collective Action

… each stage being progressively harder to achieve than the last.  He suggests measuring any given ‘social media’ campaign against this framework.

I am reminded of an event run by the think tank Demos a few months ago, How To Make News And Influence People, chaired by Charlie Leadbeater.  I had refrained from writing up my thoughts until now, because I had hoped a podcast of the event would emerge.  No such luck.

The discussion centred almost entirely around using the web and other technologies for PR purposes.  We saw a fascinating presentation on how the photographs of James Nachtwey, winner of the 2007 TED Prize, were used to promote awareness of a new and extreme form of Tuberculosis, and the campaign to eradicate it at XDRTB.org.  My question (which I had vainly hoped, and hoped in vain, would be on a podcast) drew the distinction between raising awareness amongst the generally sympathetic public (is there anyone against TB?) and establishing a consensus on a political issue, where there wasn’t one before (gay marriage, and the legalisation of marijuana are two issues that spring to mind).  The multi-platform techniques described in the event seemed to be perfect for the former, but did not (to use Mishra’s analysis) harness a significant colelctive intelligence.

What was also noteworthy about the XDRTB campaign in particular, and about advocacy campaigns in general, is how they still rely on the mainstream media for traction.  Immigration Minister Phil Woolas gave into the demands of the ghurka campaign when it received significant celebrity-focussed media coverage.  My work at PEN has a large element of this too, where we arrange for our more famous members to speak out in favour of our campaign.  This has always been the way of traditional PR campaigns (c.f The Onion classic Rare Disease Nabs Big-Time Celebrity Spokesman).  This is entirely different from the highly connected campaigns such as #amazonfail and this week’s #fixreplies Twitter clusterfuck.  The celebrity-free, crowd-driven campaigns still seem to focus mainly on issues with a strong online or technological focus.

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