Here are all of the posts tagged ‘Manuel Castells’.
With the buzz about the remixed Conservative Party election posters and Clifford Singer’s MyDavidCameron website a few days old I thought I’d reflect on the debate and offer up some analysis about what might be going on here and what it means for political parties ahead of the election.
But before I can do that I need to jump back to September last year when I discussed Manuel Castell’s theory of networked power and suggested how it could be applied to the UK’s political blogosphere.
In a nutshell, Castells argues that power in networks is fundamentally about the ability to establish and control particular networks.
This can be achieved by one of two ways:
- the ability to constitute network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of goals assigned to the network (largely by setting and controlling the way we perceive issues and information)
- the ability to connect and ensure cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and combining resources (i.e. identifying like-minded networks with which you can work to challenge the dominant program)
Castells calls actors in the first mechanism ‘programmers’ and those in the second mechanism, ‘switchers’.
I argued that Conservative and right-wing blogs were successful because they had programmed the UK’s political network by a) adapting early and b) creating a broad anti-government debate which resonated with the media and wider public.
This meant that left and liberal bloggers had to find common issues and threads with each other and the public with which to try and switch the dominant power in the network away from anti-government/right-wing debate.
So what does this tell us about the MyDavidCameron success? Firstly, I think it supports my original hypothesis. That is, Labour have identified a wider – albeit smaller – network outside of the UK political blogosphere with a shared value (mocking David Cameron/the Conservatives and graphic design).
They are then co-opting this network, forming a strategic partnership but letting the idea and content go where it goes, as opposed to trying to centrally plan and control what happens with the David Cameron imagery.
In my opinion, a political party having the foresight and ability to spot an opportunity like this and use it to help try to ‘switch’ the dominant discourse in the political blogosphere is smart.
Yes, there may be those that say: “well, who wouldn’t jump on an opportunity if it arose?” But I’d argue that the traditional approach to this kind of online meme would be to try and own it: take it in-house.*
I think Labour have deliberately avoided doing this, having learnt the lesson from last summer’s #Welovethenhs grassroot campaign that which Labour co-opted, arguably tried to centralise and quickly destroyed the value in the network. Compare how they’re currently using a Labour Party version of MyDavidCameron (i.e. becoming another node in the network) versus their mini-campaign site for #Welovethenhs which argubly tries to own the decentralised campaign network.
But thinking logically about the MyDavidCameron campaign: would Labour seeking to ‘own’ the network really kill it in the same way that it killed #Welovethenhs?
I’m not so sure for two reasons:
- Firstly, the #Welovethenhs campaign was not a pro-government campaign; nor was it an anti-tory campaign. It was a pro-public healthcare system campaign. It’s an issue that traditionally has a shared value for with liberal/left networks but not solely. Labour arguably killed this campaign as it tried to go further than switching and instead reprogram the networks’ values as pro-government/pro-Labour.
- Secondly, network alignment based on shared opposition to David Cameron and/or the Conservatives is one thing, but the reality is that only Labour can defeat the Conservatives at an election. Therefore, Labour trying to reprogram the goal of the networks driving the MyDavidCameron campaign to be pro-Labour is actually a smart move.
What this says to me is that now we’re entering the run up to an election, the political discourse is no longer split broadly between anti-government/right-wing ideology and pro-Government goals (that were largely indistinguishable form Labour policy).
Instead, Labour is starting to reprogram the UK’s political networks through creating a discourse of Conservatives vs Labour. It’s early days and the Conservatives still have the upper hand but I’d argue that the MyDavidCameron campaign plus the recent emergence of distinct left and Labour-aligned voices is starting to re-balance the pro-right-wing goals of the UK’s political networks.
* What this reveals is Labour’s ability to switch between a traditional command and control political party and a node in a fluid, participative network. Something Andrew Chadwick has defined as “organisational hybridity” – the internet driven phenomena that enables organisations and institutions to switch between being member-led hierarchical institutions, single-issue campaign groups or temporary, loosely joined networks of like-minded individuals. I believe this is what political parties of the future will look like: political parties in all but name, But that’s something for another post.
I popped along to give the keynote speech at a symposium on measuring online political behaviour yesterday organised by Royal Holloway University‘s New Political Communications Unit.
In keeping with true keynote style I only managed to get along to the afternoon sessions at the event, but I still managed to catch a couple of interesting presentations: one from Rob Pearson at the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office examining the evaluation of its G20 London Summit web presence; the second from Simon Bergman from strategic communications outfit, Information Options.
I was presenting findings from some research I’ve been conducting into the use of online monitoring by the UK’s three main political parties: The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats which is an area without any in-depth study to date.
I’ve embedded my presentation above, but be warned – it’s text heavy (hey, it’s tricky articulating research findings using fancy images) – but here are some of my main findings:
- All political parties report that they track online influencers qualitatively (e.g. Iain Dale, Guido, Political Betting, etc) but they also reported that they engage with these blogs to help set the national media-agenda (which nicely supports my earlier research). Equally, all online or influencer monitoring by parties is performed informally – that is, not using paid for or third party tracking tools.
- One respondent told me that monitoring is about “a gut feeling about what’s going on” and also the UK political blogosphere is small and well organised. In my opinion, using influencers this way suggests that parties are perhaps only scratching the surface of influencer engagement. In my day job I would advise clients to establish a conversational position within influencer networks and build trusted relationships. This is key to developing successful long-term engagement programmes – arguably the only real way to change behaviour.
- Parties do engage directly to a limited extent with individuals online, particularly at a local level. However, The Labour Party appears to be closest to participating in real-time within online networks by engaging non-political networks, e.g. marketing/PR and media networks to leverage news or content.
- Interestingly Labour also use quantitative tracking to identify popular or trending issues and content on the Labour Party website and to identify ‘content gaps’ on the Labour website. This insight is used to create new content to meet demand.
- The Liberal Democrats use qualitative monitoring in a different way altogether: as an internal communications or customer service tool. By reading and staying on top of what Lib Dem campaigners and activists are saying, thinking and doing, the party can help out or resolve any issues that are emerging at a grassroots level. Really interesting use of monitoring.
I started from the position that political parties monitor online networks to ensure they can engage effectively with the aim being to exert influence influence in the network.
One of the most important measures of influence – or more accurately – power in networks is defined by Castells as “networking-making power” = that is the ability to establish and control particular networks.
This ability is further categorised into two processes: programmers and switchers.
- Programmers have “the ability to constitute network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of goals assigned to the network”
- Switchers have “the ability to connect and ensure cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and combining resources, while fending off competition from other networks by setting up strategic cooperation”
Based on my findings I hypothesise that the Tories are Programmers while Labour are Switchers:
- Conservatives – early political online networks in the UK were (and still are to an extent) right-wing or anti-Government. This meant that the Conservatives were able to program the network and assign goals that were largely identical to its own. This would potentially explain why the Conservatives focus online engagement with influential nodes in the network rather and not primarily engaging in wider debate around issues.
- Labour – Labour are Switchers as they are seeking to cooperate with strategic partner networks through shared goals. For example, identifying media networks interested in specific issues and leveraging them by combining resources.
Anyway. Those are my main findings. Feel free to challenge, share, agree with, etc. As always, they open up more questions for further examination than they answer. But that’s the beauty of research.
So this week’s edition of PR Week has hit desks and if you haven’t read it yet then you will have missed the news that I’ve joined We Are Social. The news is awesome for a couple of reasons, both personal and professional.
First the professional: I’ve been watching We Are Social grow over the past year and a bit and have been impressed by both the clients they’re working with and the work they’re doing. Seriously. Now I’m on the inside I continue to be blown away by the briefs that come through the door and the work that goes out.
That may sound overly sycophantic but it’s a genuine response. The work that’s being planned and delivered at We Are Social is the kind that you don’t believe exists working on the PR agency side. Clearly brands and organisations want to understand social media and its impact on their reputation. But it seems they aren’t turning to their PR agency to deliver this work, instead seeking out a team of people that live and breathe social media every day. Which on reflection, is no surprise
On a personal level I’m really happy to be planning and delivering real, juicy, smart, social media campaigns, rather than bolting on digital tactics which was often the case when working to a PR brief.
Add to that the fact that I’m tasked with growing the public sector, NGO and not-for-profit work that We Are Social does means I’m working with sectors with which I have a deep personal affinity (in case you aren’t overly familiar with my LinkedIn profile I started out in PR working for NGOs). Moreover, social media comes to the fore when empowering organisations and individuals to deliver issues-based campaigns and citizen engagement.
So that’s the news. I’ve joined We Are Social. I’m excited. You can see it in my tweets. I’m going to Twestival. I’ve started blogging again. I am, as Manuel Castells might say, back in the space of flows.