Blog Wars: the Social Media Library

Star Wars logoA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

… A NEW HOPE entered the blogosphere…

… well actually no at first it was the forces of light on the left that dominated the political blogosphere, it was only later that the evil Galactic Empire created the Death Star.

In fact two of the first political bloggers in the UK were Tom Watson and myself. Tom’s first post was on March 24, 2003 while mine came a month later on April 24, 2003. But credit where credit is due neither of us two Labour bloggers can claim to have been the first elected politicians in the UK to blog. That honour goes to ex-Liberal Democrat MP Richard Allen who started on February 20, 2003. What’s interesting is that the Tories didn’t set the pace in this space. For all their high profile and readership figures both Iain Dale (December 16, 2003) and Guido Fawkes were pretty late to the party (September, 2004).

For all Labour’s early successes online, today the popular perception is that the right now dominate the blogosphere. The latest is a New Statesman article based on a report published by Social Media Affairs. If you believe the article it’s pretty scary stuff for those of us on the centre left. Until you read the report that is.

At Wolfstar we’ve been pitched by an outfit called the Social Media Library, and Politics Online 2009 is just the latest piece of rubbish research it has published. It posted me a copy of its last one Social Media Insight 2009, suffice to say it provided less insight than I’d expect from one of Wolfstar’s interns (although admittedly they are usually quite good which is why they end up working for us full time!)

My real worry is that gullible PR and public affairs companies will buy into this database and end up spamming British bloggers in much the same way that some PRs already spam journalists using commercial media databases. It’s not acceptable to spam journalists, but at least they are doing it as a job, so it sort of comes with the territory. It’s totally wrong to spam bloggers as most of them aren’t doing it professionally and shouldn’t be subject to abuse by spam. If the quality of the ‘library’ is as dire as the two reports I’ve seen then UK bloggers do have something to worry about.

In his introduction to Politics Online 2009 Social Media Library’s chief executive Graham Lee says: ‘Social media can at first seem a bamboozling topic. I hope this report helps clarify the role it is currently playing in politics online.’ Having read it I can confidently say that like the last report it doesn’t clarify anything. Its grasp on politics is so weak that it can’t even figure out the difference between what’s party political and what is government. On its page for Labour it says ‘The Government has also advertised a six figure internet manager role.’ That would be Andrew Stott then, the new Director of Digital Engagement in the Cabinet Office, and nothing to do with the Labour Party at all!

Bizarrely it cites LabourList as an example of Labour being an ‘early adopter’. So that would be the LabourList that started February 12, 2009. Really early eh? But it makes no mention of all of Labour’s genuine breakthroughs online such as inviting bloggers to press conferences and its Virtual Phonebank which actually enables activists to get out and campaign (without even leaving the comfort of their armchairs!) It makes no mention of

Perhaps most importantly (as an example of how worthless the underlying data is) it doesn’t even mention all of the really exciting innovations that are coming from the Labour grassroots such as Blackburn Labour and Stella Creasy in Walthamstow.

My advice for any PR or public affairs professional who thinks subscribing to a social media database will help them ‘get’ social media is don’t because it won’t. What’s more it’s positively dangerous as it encourages you to ‘dabble’ with potentially serious consequences for your reputation and that of your clients.

UPDATE: Appears that I’m not the only one not to be impressed by Social Media Library / Social Media Affairs and its reports:

And if you read the comments you’ll see that even Guido Fawkes agrees with me.