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 LabourSpace.com

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.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://www.craig-mcgill.com Craig McGill

    Well said Stuart. At the end of the day – and as I said to a CIPR group the other night – nothing beats doing the legwork yourself instead of hitting databases.

  • http://wearesocial.net/ Robin Grant

    Here here…

    ;)

  • http://www.order-order.com Guido Fawkes

    I got sent that waste of disk space report. We may not agree on much but, it was rubbish.

    Incidentally I too was blogging back in March 2003 and before. Many right-wing bloggers started out on Samizdata, the grand-daddy of right-wing blogs.

    In fact I was pontificating online in the 90s on Compuserve at 14.4k dial-up speed.

    Over night success takes years.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/stuartbrucepr Stuart Bruce – Wolfstar

    @Guido Yep, you and me both I was a regular frequenter of Usenet and email lists back in the 90s when most of the folk who run things like Social Media Library were probably still in nappies. That's almost 15 years of learning how not to spam people.

  • http://www.socialmedialibrary.co.uk/ James Fitzgerald

    Hi Stuart, I've just dropped you a quick email in response to your blog post. Thanks for the feedback!

    James Fitzgerald
    Director
    Social Media Library/ Affairs

  • http://www.craig-mcgill.com Craig McGill

    James, given the comments are being made publicly about you, it's a good part of PR strategy to post your riposte publicly too. After all, as it stands, people will see Stuart's comments and what others have said – but nothing from you…

  • http://www.socialmedialibrary.co.uk/ James Fitzgerald

    Fair point Craig, I didn't want to be presumptuous as to Stuart being happy about us posting a lengthy response. However, as requested I'm happy to share.

    In short I mainly wanted to let Stuart know that we are in complete agreement with regards to social media engagement strategies and outreach etiquette. Prior to launching Social Media Library/ Affairs my business partner and I, Graham Lee, founded and sold the online PR agency, onlinefire, to the Eulogy! Group. onlinefire looks after the online PR and social media engagement for companies such as Panasonic, Virgin Mobile, Post Office, BBC Radio 5 Live and MTV, so it is an area we know well.

    As a matter of course all Social Media Library/ Affairs directory subscribers receive free best practise guidelines, as part of their welcome pack. We also offer subsided training for our clients to help them better understand how to engage social media effectively, either on behalf of their clients or their own brand. We go to great lengths to advise all of our clients not to spam bloggers or social media users as not only is it lazy but it quite simply won’t work. We launched Social Media Library in October/ November last year (always a good idea to launch a new business just as a global recession bites) and have seen few examples of our clients getting themselves into hot water, so I can only assume that they are taking our guidance to heart.

    I hope this sheds a bit more light on how we operate, more than happy to discuss further if anyone would like to contact me directly.

    Cheers,

    James
    James.fitzgerald@socialmedialibrary.co.uk