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advocacy 2.

consumer empowerment and representation on the new net

Robert Andrews Welsh Consumer Council 2008

Published by: Welsh Consumer Council 5th Floor, Longcross Court 47 Newport Road Cardiff CF24 0WL Price: 10.00 2008 ISBN 1 903826 59 4 Tel: 029 2025 5454 Fax: 029 2025 5464

Introduction 1 1. Evolution 3 2. The Phenomena of Change 5 3. Examples: Surveying the 2.0-scape 11 Advocating 2.0: New Tools for the Job 12 Consumer 2.0: Rise of the Empowered Citizen 20 Engagement 2.0: Listening & Empowerment 23 4. Where Are We Now? 27 5. Opportunities 31 6. Enthusiasm to Action 39

communicate + listen + amplify

The internet the web in particular has long tantalised with the promise of empowering citizens and consumers. Information, it is said, is power and we now have more ready access to more information from more parts of the world than ever before. But the internet is changing; the web has gone mainstream. What was once regarded as an information channel is now living up also to its capacity as a medium for production and socialisation. Information is no longer the sole power collective action, as increasingly manifested online, is amongst the challenges to disadvantage, to unfair markets and to lack of provision. It is a new vision for the internet that many call Web 2.0.

1. Evolution
Welcome the Web
When the internet exploded into popular consciousness in the mid 1990s, its potential as an information delivery medium was quickly recognised by a variety of interested parties. Whilst e-mail was a universal medium, the emergent web promised a richer visual experience and a sexier publishing paradigm more akin to magazines. This opened up new possibilities for advocates and others, and many of the most effective online campaigns managed to integrate both web and e-mail components. One of the earliest such examples of web-based advocacy occurred in 1996, where civil liberties advocates, objecting to early US Congress plans to regulate internet content, mounted an online campaign to overturn a portion of the proposed Communications Decency Act . The Coalition to Stop Net Censorships Paint The Web Black campaign successfully leveraged an estimated 4,000 worldwide websites in an effort to spread counter-argument, encouraging site owners to turn their pages backgrounds black in organised disgust for the 48 hours following President Clintons ratification of the bill.

Tools for the Job

Content production on the web has also evolved. The arrival of content management systems (CMS) and WYSIWYG* website production software (i.e. Dreamweaver, FrontPage etc) in the 1990s did for web publishing what desktop publishing applications did for newsletters and type-setting a decade earlier, introducing radically simpler tools with which to distribute content online. But their expense and their relative difficulty to use put them out of reach for ordinary users, many of whom despite the amazing and growing plurality of available content remained passive recipients of information. Despite the internets two-way infrastructure, the ascendant web had caused a power imbalance that left the large majority of participants as consumers of information. It is this that has fundamentally changed.

2. The Phenomena of Change

Todays internet is, as it always has been, the product of both technological and commercial change. Latterly, however, several factors have combined to make a web that is a culture-shift away from even accepted online communication norms.

Infrastructure & Accessibility

Until recently, the web might have been considered a minority sport, enjoyed by the few with the necessary technological literacy to persevere with frustratingly slow dial-up speeds. Finally, the web has become a mainstream medium. Thanks to intense competition in the telecoms marketplace and a plethora of broadband, telephony and Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) offerings, Britons are increasingly online and, increasingly, are sophisticated users of the network. Metcalfes Law states that a networks value increases in proportion to the number of participants in that network. Just as ubiquity has made the telephone system more valuable to callers and call recipients, the growing populace of the internet makes the web a more powerful communications tool. Spurred by the open-source ethos that led them to write the nets underlying software collaboratively, Web 2.0 developers are increasingly creating sites that are more intuitive, make better use of data and which depend on the contributions of people.

By 1997 , the term weblog had become an accepted term for often-updated sites that point to articles elsewhere on the web, often with comments, and to on-site articles . However, it took the roll-out of the Blogger and LiveJournal services to make writing on the web easy enough to become a popular activity. The number of online blogs has flourished, giving rise to the notions first of citizen journalism (any individual can document news events) and networked journalism (amateur individuals, connected to professional reporters with online media, can jointly tell better stories). But blogging is not merely marked out by writing. The power of weblogs is also characterised by the ability of every reader to comment in reply to a post and by their ability, through hyperlinks, to create a networked conversation from fragments of individual, internet-wide contributions.
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A wiki is a collection of web pages that anyone can edit. Popularised by the open-access encyclopaedia Wikipedia, wikis are predicated on an acceptance that readers of online information, as a group, may be more knowledgeable than the informations original producer. As such, they are free to cumulatively edit and refine, growing the body of content in an evolutionary manner.

Social Bookmarking
Historically, internet users have stored web locations in their browser applications favourites folder for repeat visits, but visibility of this trail has been limited privately to the web user herself. Now, social bookmarking web services like encourage users to keep their lists of favourite websites bookmarked in the public domain, for all to see. Interesting locations can be identified by the contribution of tags (descriptive keywords) by a user, upon which an ecosystem is developed that not only allows the user to organise and access that collection effectively but which also allows any user to take reciprocal value from the collective indexing actions of everyone else on the network. Services that utilise software designed to identify patterns in the material these users contribute can identify and publish an overarching, meaningful representation of the community as a whole, for example, includes a list of the most popular pages currently on the web, as derived from the collective bookmarking actions of that sites user base.

Ratings & Reviews

Web servers like ratings because numerical data from individual contributors can be crunched to provide aggregates and patterns representative of a whole. Product scores given by Amazon users provide median ratings, which peers can use to judge the quality of a book or CD; review spaces give customers the opportunity to expand on their numerical expression

The simple technology of submitted averages lets consumers become self-informing communities. Consumers are no longer reliant on individual reviews by magazines and critics but, when collected, have become a resource to inform themselves.

Falling prices of digital cameras and the growing availability of camera-enabled phones, which allow for immediate distribution of captured material, have fuelled the rise in photo-sharing websites that are the pictorial equivalents of weblogs. Users can post pictures and other material to the web direct from mobile phones.

Where camera phones and digicams have popularised photo sharing websites, webcams and low-cost editing software is making stars out of computer owners. Market leader YouTube is amongst the most popular of websites, generating some 100 million daily views for videos uploaded by its community of users. Almost a third of YouTube visitors are eschewing conventional media, watching less television .

Social Networking
Whilst blogs have ballooned, sites that let people publicise relationships between friends, and which encourage them to express elements of their own identity through online content, have flourished even more . Sites such as Myspace now boast over 100 million users. The Myspace service allows members to edit and customise their own page in ways that accurately reflect their own personality, ensuring a sizable proportion of todays web is the creation of its users themselves.

Syndicatability & Feeds

RSS (Really Simple Syndication), a standard for publishing sequential information, is revolutionising the transport and availability of content. RSS feeds let consumers subscribe to content sources, then sit back as subsequent updates are delivered automatically to a newsreader application in a way that is less intrusive than e-mail.

Because RSS is a common information format, however, the content it carries can be syndicated elsewhere. That is, headlines for stories published on Site A, if made available in RSS format, can also appear on Sites B, C and D, gaining wider distribution.

User-generated Content
The overarching trend unleashed by the combined forces of these new tools has become known as user-generated content. Underscoring the shift from a society in which only the powerful with access to a printing press or a broadcast network could distribute messages to an audience, the new ecosystem is marked by a profound shift of this power toward the consumer. Users of these new media, in many cases, cease to be passive consumers of content and become active producers of their own material, connect with their own friends and build online influence. According to recent counts, there were around 70 million weblogs , over 100 million MySpace profile pages and 65,000 videos uploaded to YouTube every day.

3. Examples: Surveying the 2.0-scape

It is impossible to regard the internet as a single medium. Any organisation considering approaches to online tools must acknowledge that the internet backbone is giving rise to multiple new media, as individual developers continue to innovate in different ways. Consequently, many opportunities have arisen to use new tools now at our disposal. While many organisations have tapped these opportunities to merely enhance their efforts, profound shifts associated with citizens new ability to produce, distribute and connect are revolutionising consumer culture.

Advocating 2.0: New Tools For The Job

Despite the more headline-grabbing prospects for engaging the former audience offered by these Web 2.0 phenomena, many organisations and institutions are retaining their conventional, critical authority as knowledge maker, as prime campaigner, using the new online media of the newly powerful amateur more modestly to better communicate and to win influence for their regular messages. In this section we look at how some of these Web 2.0 tools have been used to practical effect.

Communicating Disadvantage: Consumers Union

In the US, Consumers Union, a non-profit consumer advocacy organisation, exhibits a range of effective web features. Throughout, the website is geared not just to informing readers but toward enabling visitors to perform actions. According to its site: Consumers Union has nearly 400,000 [regular] online activists who help work to change legislation and the marketplace in favour of the consumer interest. As part of their strategy they utilise:

Focused campaigns - breaks down individual campaigns by

topic category (e.g. Health Care, Food, Phones & Media, Money and Product Safety), each of which are a subject container for corresponding campaigns (example: Prescription for Change ) and subject-related news. Each campaign, however, stands also in parallel as a separate entity with a unique web address (i.e., designed for easy recollection and for use in auxiliary materials like press releases or news coverage).

Weblogs Several campaign staff


at Consumers Union each write a journal on

their respective campaign field, generating ongoing commentary that creates thought leadership on respective fields. All posts from individual campaign blogs are aggregated at a central journal, the Consumer Scribbler . What is key to this mode of communication is that public writing can help frame a topical debate on the advocates own terms. The content of posts is not necessarily breaking news or conventional missives from within the organisation (i.e. formal press announcements) instead campaign staff take ownership for documenting the

outside developments affecting their particular fields. If campaign staffers provide value through insightful commentary, this kind of continual exposure can build their reputation in a particular area, gradually resulting in in-bound links from peers, followers and other bloggers looking to point to authoritative sources.

Action Alerts Visitors can sign up to receive issue-led information flashes ,

including a predefined e-mail message designed to be not just read but forwarded by readers. E-mails are hard-wired to target the appropriate legislator upon being sent, using a web form but visitors can only send campaigns pre-defined by Consumers Union staff, ensuring the organisation stays in control of the overall message.


Send to a friend Visitors who send these messages are asked to do more than
just distribute campaign e-mails direct to legislators; they are also invited to send the messages to five friends . In this way, awareness of issues is built on the ground, amongst multiple citizens (horizontally) as well as directly on Capitol Hill (vertically), ensuring reciprocal awareness is generated amongst other society members.

Contacts includes a feature allowing visitors to look up their

respective federal representatives, so as to lobby the elected on key issues, so that users can target decision makers without having to browse contact details elsewhere.

Harvesting experience - Exemplifying the organisations use of user-generated

content, in a conversation for this paper, Consumers Union internet advocacy manager Kathy Mitchell

said campaigns are most effective when they draw on the

experiences of the real people most affected by the groups key issues.

Weve had thousands of stories that come in, Mitchell said. We have people in
every state, and often in key legislative districts, who can talk effectively about their personal experience to the lawmakers who matter the most. The main channel by which Consumers Union engages consumers, however, is the simplest of all email. It is easily accessible to a range of users, no matter what technical specifications they use to access the net; hence the dependence on email for action alerts and redistributable, multiplier content. The use of email as the critical repeater of action alerts to legislators and between consumers maximises the receipt and recirculation of campaign messages.

Unleash Experts, Win Influence: Jupiter et al Get The Message Out

Although derided by many as narcissistic follies, weblogs have become a key communication tool for many individuals, groups, politicians and companies. One of the key features that they can offer to an individual or organisation is visibility. In practical terms, regular online writing in a blog or journal increases the prominence of that website in search indexes like Google because the search engine spiders which identify and interpret web pages prefer fresh, often-updated content. Many organisations seeking more visibility in search engines employ a range of search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques that includes ideal selection of keywords and effective use of metadata. A weblog provides individuals with a space in which to think publicly and write liberally, developing new ideas and connections and engaging with new audiences.

Influencing politics - Writings by the bloggers behind early A-list sites Instapundit
(Republican-leaning University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds) and Daily Kos


(Democrat supporter Markos Moulitsas Zuniga) attracted such a

following amongst US blog readers that, in 2004, the pair were hired as Presidential election columnists by The Guardian newspaper

Opinions on display - In pursuit of greater influence, many organisations have

since sought to expose the talent within. Jupiter Research, a technology and media business research firm, gives each of its analysts a weblog , a space in which to muse and write the latest news in their respective fields. The insight and information conveyed online builds a critical shop window for Jupiters commercial forecasts and reports. But it also establishes the expertise and disseminates the opinions of its staff in the public arena, marking individuals out as go-to contacts on key topics. Public writing by experts on topical issues attracts journalists seeking authoritative commentators, leading to secondary visibility amongst larger audiences of mainstream news media consumers.

Measured influence - Another research firm, web measurements benchmarker

Hitwise, like Jupiter, lets analysts use a weblog

to offer commentary that is merely

the tip of its commercial service offering iceberg.

While neither organisation is an advocacy group as such, their use of weblogs does illustrate how online attention can be garnered by any organisation that is prepared to give some of themselves away. Because the information and interpretation offered by Hitwise researcher Heather Hopkins , in particular, is considered so valuable, her Hitwise blog has built a considerable following, ensuring many professional journalists, amateur bloggers and regular readers alike deem subscribing to the site worthwhile if they are to stay abreast of the latest trends.

Connecting To Power: Great Western Ambulance Service

Weblogs provide an interesting focal point for campaign stakeholders to tell their own story, to push their own issues. A good example of how they can work practically could be seen when paramedics in Gloucester, Avon and Wiltshire learned of Great Western Ambulance Service NHS Trusts plans to consolidate provision by closing ambulance stations in smaller, rural areas in November 2006 - they did what so many disaffected stakeholders now do and started a blog. The Westcountry medics concentrated mainly on inviting supporting testimony from colleagues and members of the public. Concerned about the prospect of lengthier ambulance response times, citizens and staff alike were soon strongly drawn to the site, each adding their own comments in a public illustration of participation-through-expression in health policy debate. The weblog produced a record of citizen opinion that not only acted as public account and reference, which the protesters were able to update in real time it also brought influence to bear on policy debate through secondary circulation in the halls of power. In a March 27, 2007, evening debate in the House of Commons, Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper make direct reference to the blog posts as supporting evidence opinion whilst petitioning Public Health Minister Caroline Flint. Harper went on to cite four verbatim quotes from blog contributors as evidence of service failure, before adding his own concern and requesting the minister rectify the situation. To Minister Flint, the opinions are important. Responding to Harper , and effectively ordering the trust to improve the situation, she told the Commons:21 20

of stakeholder

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the comments on the
blog site. Clearly, it is important to listen and I hope that those who manage services are examining the site to ascertain whether their substantial engagement is being shared and understood by those who deliver the services.

YouTubing For Influence: Fort Lauderdale Residents

Concerned residents of Cordova Road in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, opposing plans to create a 15-storey boat storage facility on their doorstep, began a 2007 peoples online campaign that went one step further than the efforts of Great Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust. As well as creating a website

to link to news articles about their plight and to list contacts


and concerns, the residents also started a YouTube channel video website.

to publish online video pleas

to local planning commissioners and to press their case amongst viewers of the largest

Moblogs: Campaigning With Live Pictures

Where textually-minded organisations can adopt the writerly tool of the blogger to press their case, advocacy organisations which aim to raise awareness of their cause using a single dramatic event have turned to the moblog (mobile picture blogging, largely from camera-enabled phones) to communicate their cause and engage audiences. In November 2006, Greenpeace gave web users a birds eye view of its latest online campaign when it used a moblog

to capture an effort to shut down a coal-fired power

station in Oxfordshire. Having scaled a 600ft chimney, campaigners used their mobile phones to post images and video of the incursion to thousands of online visitors as simply as pressing send on a mobile phone.

Piggybacking For Charity, Advocacy As Parasite: Six Degrees et al

To many familiar with the Six Degrees of Separation theory (the notion that every citizen is, in a small world, connected to any other by a small number of nodes in a relationship network), the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game is an ironic homage the notion that the actor is infinitely related to every Hollywood star simply because he has appeared in so many movies. In 2007, however, with the rapid adoption social networking and other sites at which empowered users make online relationships with each other, Bacon exemplified the meme by bringing to life a self-titled advocacy and fundraising initiative.

Six Degrees


invites citizens to select a listed charity and create a corresponding badge

that be placed on their blog, MySpace profile or any other website with the intention of showcasing the cause to other visitors. Upon clicking the badge, those end visitors can read more about the cause and make a donation; carriage of the badge by some individuals multiplies its audience many times over. Such an approach leverages the new-found power of ordinary web users to easily create and edit their own pages. There are over 100 million users of MySpace alone, each of whom revels in customising their profile page with unique and individual content aligned with their personality., too, has taken this approach, making available a bloggers toolkit key slogans but also include links to the unions own, detailed pages on the topic.

comprising banners and images that, when worn by a participating website, not only display

Consumer 2.0: Rise Of The Empowered Citizen

However, advocacy and campaigning organisations shouldnt think that citizens are waiting for them to enter the fray. The empowering nature of Web 2.0 means that well organised individuals can now mount global campaigns, further demonstrating a potential resource implication for advocacy organisations.

Customer Complaint Communities: nthell:world

The nthell:world

web forum is one of the earliest examples of an independent effort

mobilised by consumers against the actions of a single company. Formed in 2000 by ntl customer Frank Whitestone, it is a consumer lobby community which set out to provide a public sounding board for customers disgruntled by the companys service. Having gathered over 25,000 members, nthell:world became an influential force because its focus concentrated, laser-like, on just one service provider offering a space for customers to vent, share and highlight poor-quality provision. Although the body of customer experience passing through the nthell:world represented bad publicity in high definition, recognising the positive contribution the sites users were having in improving its services, ntls CEO Simon Duffy in 2005 met the sites owners to discuss integrating

nthell:world into the companys own customer service offering ensuring

urgent problems highlighted through sharing in the forum were routed into the organisations existing infrastructure. Founder Whitestone later sold the site to ntl upon joining the company as staff.

Self-Advocacy and Redress: Thomas Hawk, Empowered Consumer

Pseudonymous San Francisco investment adviser and photography enthusiast Thomas Hawk

became a poster child of the new consumer movement when he unleashed an

arsenal of blogs, photo sharing websites and social bookmarking tools to expose the unscrupulous dealings of an online retailer. Hawk reprised his experience in a November 29, 2005 entry:"I will make sure you will never be able to place an order on the internet again." "I'm an attorney, I will sue you." "I will call the CEO of your company and play him the tape of this phone call." "I'm going to call your local police and have two officers come over and arrest you." "You'd better get this through your thick skull." "You have no idea who you are dealing with."

These are all direct threats that I received today from an individual who identified
himself as Steve Phillips, the manager of PriceRitePhoto in Brooklyn, New York when I called to inquire about my order with them. My crime? Telling him that I planned to write an article about my unfortunate experience with his company regarding the camera order I had placed with him yesterday.

Hawk had placed an order for a Canon EOS 5D but instead got several abusive phone calls during which company employees, fearful of the negative feedback and ratings Hawk threatened to supply, refused to ship the purchase, laid claim to Hawks money, threatened to charge him an extra $250 for every further negative review he published and vowed to publish his credit card number online. Hawk used his blog and his Flickr photo sharing pages to chronicle every exchange and every twist and turn in his dispute with the company. Within hours, with a growing number of aghast readers eager to shine further light on Hawks plight, posts on other blogs emerged with additional reports highlighting the episode. The account was reprised and linked to on the high-traffic blogs Slashdot , Boing Boing
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and MetaFilter


(which rank amongst the blogospheres busiest and are notorious for feeding mainstream news media with story ideas); Hawk posted a link to it on the user-submitted news aggregator Digg, where it quickly became the years most popular story (9,334 votes and 1,054 comments), as well as to the social bookmarks service , where it rose to that sites list of the weeks most popular web pages.

A couple of days later, the buzz had become so loud that New York newspapers, then international publications, ran stories slating the company. Yahoo!, PriceGrabber and operators of other web-based shopping gateways de-listed PriceRitePhoto from their on-ramp services, starving the online-only trader of shopfront exposure. Meanwhile, because search engines give higher prominence to pages with more incoming links, a search query for PriceRitePhoto returned not the companys own website but the conversation started by Hawk. Several days later, the retailers founder e-mailed the blogger a contrite apology, in which he said a manager had been terminated.

Engagement 2.0: Listening & Empowerment

If companies have been stung by the collective public action of disgruntled customers, they have also, finally, begun to do something about it. If only to prevent further public relations disasters, service providers are increasingly keen to engage with consumers and to hear their concerns. They have begun to harness the new mass social contributions from users of Web 2.0 media to refine their offerings and processes; just the same technology is available to advocates.

User-Submitted Reports: Responding With a Digg for Stakeholders

Responding to a sustained attack on its customer service from social media publishers, a 2005 episode entitled Dell Hell, computer maker Dells consumer engagement strategy now involves listening to and even amplifying its customers own concerns. Stung by criticism of its products and services written by bloggers that caused a drop in customer satisfaction, stock price and market share, Dell responded in part by monitoring the social media for customers complaints. English customer Ellee Seymour, after posting her own negative experience of a malfunctioning Dell laptop , later received a blog comment from a company representative
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offering a free repair.

But Dell did not stop there. In a February 2007 effort to make itself more transparent and permeable, the company launched IdeaStorm , a site that operates the Digg social news-and-voting paradigm but which invites product requests, not story links, from community members. Every visitor can see suggestions from each other and can vote each idea up or down, with the most voted-upon suggestions being considered by the computer maker. Alongside forums, a Direct2Dell blog and a site to which Dell customers can post their own videos, it is an exercise in radical transparency the company considers crucial if it is to listen to what its customers want. Under the tagline we are listening, we want to hear from you, Yahoo! has launched a similarly-modelled series of sites, called suggestion boards, for each of its core business areas to ensure users can feed in problems or suggestions, then vote on one anothers ideas.
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Separately, Yahoo! Answers, a question-and-answer site utilised by millions of mobilised inquirers and helpful respondents, is being used, in effect, to outsource customer service. While individual users can answer each others questions, search giant Yahoo! has also partnered with several companies including BT to place a customer representative inside the Yahoo! Answers forums that will respond to questions from the user base.

Listening To Patients: Word of Health China

In summer 2006, the healthcare team at Edelman, the worlds largest independent public relations firm, and CIC, a Chinese internet world-of-mouth research firm, partnered to mine online social media outlets for Chinese citizens views on state healthcare provision. CIC CEO Sam Flemming writes on his blog: With 43% of the 123 million internet users in China using BBS (online message boards), 24% using blogs, and 76 million using online video sharing sites, the spread and impact and need for monitoring of commercial related internet word-of mouth is unprecedented. In the Word of Health
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study (.pdf), researchers keen to learn Chinese attitudes to cancer

care provision used proprietary text-mining tools to collect 1,427,853 messages from 429 forums written by 176,373 different screen names, stating that the internet in China is home to a whole new world of stakeholder dialogue that healthcare and pharmaceutical companies cannot afford to ignore. Blogging, Flemming continues: It is clear from our findings that there is a thirst for information from alternative, but credible sources about healthcare. Consumers are talking to consumers, consumers to doctors, and doctors to doctors [on the web]. There is clearly great potential for mining blogs, forums and social networking spaces for opinions on issues. Indeed, many companies around the world are already now using such tracking tools not limited to CICs to monitor their corporate reputation and, as in this case, to obtain market research information. But what if these tools were put to use in the public or utilities sectors, too? The same technology can be applied to monitoring the energy, post or telecommunications sectors. Tracking tools may alert advocacy agencies to issues hitherto unknown new information to present to legislators.

Lawmakers could respond to growing unrest or to indications of disadvantage before they can develop into a major problem. Consumers are out there, putting their concerns in to the public domain, and monitoring tools exist to mine that information it would be prudent to listen.

4. Where Are We Now?

Web services innovation takes place against the backdrop of falling use of conventional media. Forty-three percent of Britons who watch internet video, correspondingly, watch less television . Newspaper readership is now falling month on month, congruent with continued uptake in use of the internet. What is clear is a migration of the audience to the new online media, where they write, photograph, distribute and share their own content, make connections and work collectively. Many conventional communication channels are being disintermediated and replaced the logical step for those with issues to communicate is to chase the audience.

People Have The Power

It is apparent that consumers are now acting through the use of blogs, user-submitted news tools, forums and other social media applications that enable and reward pooling of information for the greater good. The new social media tools allow people to quickly influence decision-makers and to publish accounts of unfair treatment at the hands of companies and utilities, and ultimately provide fertile ground for consumers to get it off their chest. Of course, bad consumer experience has never gone unnoticed by the individual unfortunate enough to experience it. But prior to the advent of Web 2.0, those individuals did not have such effective ways to collaboratively uncover widespread problems. Now, cheaper access to technology has given these consumers the ability to record those experiences, while the web has become a distribution and sharing platform for consumers everywhere to tell their tales to each other. The implication for companies, utilities and government is striking utter transparency means there is no place to hide from even a single instance of wrongdoing, let alone broad areas of company or public policy that are widely disadvantageous. Many online consumers have already mastered these tools, forcing companies and public officials to respond and react to complaints quicker than ever before. Yet to date, advocacy organisations have had little influence in this maelstrom. The private, ad-hoc ecosystem created by individual consumers owes little to such intermediary agencies. This fast-forward consumer action wins redress independently of such support bodies, without help from the very organisations previously established to help in their fights for change.

Which Way Now?

Countering a similar problem, politics in general has tended to develop grand electronic government initiatives, seizing the new media so beloved of MySpace inhabitants, Pop Idol viewers and YouTubers in the hope that they can be used to aide engagement. But James Crabtree, editor of openDemocracy and a senior policy analyst with

Washington-based 21st century progressive advocacy and political organisation NDN , suggests such large-scale, bespoke efforts in direct-to-centre representation are merely futile and cumbersome because the internet has already given individuals the tools to act co-operatively:-


E-democracy should not be primarily about representation, participation, or direct

access to decision makers. First and foremost, it should be about self-help.

The opportunity is the construction of a civic space in where citizens talk to each
other, rather than to the state. Gamers today will go to a gaming community online, and ask others for advice. They will almost always find someone willing to help them overcome the challenge. Other gamers will help for a variety of reasons but mostly they do it on the principle of reciprocity. What you definitely do not do when stuck in a computer game is e-mail the software designer and ask them to make the game easier or better. Yet this is precisely the current British governments strategy for e-democracy.

The best way to overcome [problems in life] is to find someone else who has done it
before, and get them to help you. And this is where the internet can really help.

Indeed, the fact that the internet, adhering to Metcalfes Law, is a growing network of nodes, each with his or her own specialist knowledge on some subject or other, has given rise to the theory of the wisdom of crowds the notion that the sum total of knowledge contributed by a group is greater than the individual expertise of even the most knowledgeable individual. The phenomenon is most commonly exemplified by the open-access encyclopaedia Wikipedia, in which every reader allowing for appropriate controls is a potential contributor to the growing body of human knowledge. Says Crabtree:

The people [representation and advocacy] should be connecting are not citizens
and parliamentarians, or voters and civil servants. It should be connecting ordinary people with other ordinary people.

Crabtree cites Meetup themselves.


and UpMyStreets


local conversations feature as examples of

other online tools that allow citizens to mobilise in the real world to cooperatively help

For media commentator Jon Katz, the change is not so much about old, centralised politics as it is self-mobilising citizens:-

The old political system is not just decrepit. It is, in many ways, dead. The offline
political culture was a desiccated world of C-SPAN talking heads, bland bureaucrats and pompous pundits. The public was not just alienated from the manner in which media and political parties presented our political process but utterly disconnected from it.

Against this backdrop is the breathtaking energy, community and commerce of what
I call the Digital Nation.

On the net, I have seen the love for liberty reborn. I have seen political discussion
thriving, rights fiercely articulated and ardently defended. I have seen a culture crowded with intelligent, educated, politically passionate people who line up to express their civic opinions and participate in issues debates. I have seen netizens learn new ways of political communications. I have seen the beginnings of a New Rationalism, made possible by the kinds of communities and communications that, more than any piece of machinery, are a miracle of the digital age. Forget politics as we have known it. The postpolitical ideology of the Digital Nation starts not with government but with community.

Consequently, noting the rise in user-generated content, Charles Leadbetter calls for a new paradigm of Public Service 2.0, in which service users become active, in-control participants. In Leadbetters model, they would use new web platforms that sound remarkably like TripAdvisor or eBay to rate and inform each other of necessary paths to take in public life; the permanent trail of responses would continue to inform new users and would serve as a public message to service providers:-

Co-created solutions emerge from interaction and conversation, not from a

professional delivering a solution. We need a new way to create public goods that take their lead from the culture of self-organisation and participation emerging from the web that forms a central part of modern culture, especially for young consumers

and future citizens. Increasingly the state cannot deliver collective solutions from on high: it is too cumbersome and distant. The state can help to create public goods by encouraging them to emerge from within society. A public sector that does not utilise the power of user-generated content will not just look old, outdated and tired. It will also be far less productive and effective in creating public goods.

5. Opportunities
We have seen how other organisations are using the new web tools to enhance their work. Broadly, we can say these new media can help organisations to communicate, listen to and amplify messages in order to achieve influence. In this chapter we run through the types of opportunities that the new web offers advocacy organisations by the effective use of the tools described in chapter 1.

Thought Leadership
Marked by the free and open supply of information with the aim of establishing online public visibility, the new web affords organisations an opportunity to be seen and heard.

Pundits - Continual public writing would begin to mark out an organisations people
as committed specialists in their field.

Media - The knowledge transmitted via a channel like a weblog would likely propel
authors into more widely consumed national news media because such authoritative output would attract reporters on the look-out for commentators.

Reputation - An online writing space would record a news and opinion trail that
would serve as a biographical repository of esteem.

Evidence - The permanence of published posts will likely bear fruit in advocacy
because, as seen in the case of Great Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust, posts constitute a readily available source of facts and opinions, quotable by staff, associates or other sympathetic advocates.

Conversation - Opening posts to comments would give organisations the

opportunity to hear user testimony, even to ask direct questions of readers. Hitherto undiscovered information may come to light that will enhance campaigns.

Growth - The opportunity to reach a new audience is vast. Although people revel in
the personal connections afforded by such media, they are still seeking authoritative sources within them.

Exposure - Valuable posts attract links, links attract attention. The opportunity is not
just to attract readers writers of weblogs tend to point to use links liberally for example, citing source material or highlighting interesting comments. According to research produced by Technorati and Edelman :49

23% of UK internet users have read blogs more than anywhere else in Europe.

The number one topic in the UK blogosphere is politics. Indeed, in the last two years, several bloggers including Guido Fawkes and Iain
Dale have risen to become not just the most popular political bloggers but amongst the most popular of all UK online journals, their writings bringing direct influence to bear on politics at several levels .

30% of UK blog readers have taken some kind of political action after reading a
weblog post (i.e. putting pressure on a corporation or lobbying a government) the most popular of actions being signing a petition and attending a public meeting.

According to the Financial Times: David Brain, President and Chief Executive of
Edelman Europe, said avid readers of blogs were more likely to be politically active, as many top blogs are political. He said the research suggested political parties, NGOs and other organisations should be looking to the blogosphere to get action.

Ubiquity of Message
Whether as blog posts or conventional news stories, the distribution of content in the RSS format offers several opportunities to advocacy organisations.

Opt-in - Stories in this syndication format can be subscribed to. Publishers make
content available as RSS feeds so that interested audience members can elect to automatically receive that new information in their RSS news reader software. As more and more people elect to receive information in this way, and check the numerous feeds in their newsreaders rather than take the time to make active website visits, the centre of their information world becomes one predicated on these subscribable feed sources.

Re-use - The ubiquity of the RSS format not only makes content distributable
directly to audience members; it also allows other publishers to re-circulate that content. Now that content made available in standardised formats makes material into easily transportable components, headlines from the organisations RSS feed, for example, can be embedded on any site that cares to carry them.

The new web is characterised by the radical supply of information by its former audience . Organisations should remember that, as the web moves from being an information service to a true communications tool, it offers the opportunity to tap into what is already being talked about and to gather information.

Every day, millions of people are publishing their opinions and experiences online. Frequently, as we have seen, whether through ratings or reviews or blog posts or comments, they write their experiences as consumers and citizens, then float that out on to the web. The web, in this context, becomes a giant research repository. The opportunity to listen to what people are saying is now very real. Away from such deliberate and structured spaces, private companies keen to know what people are saying about them online are increasingly employing social media monitoring strategies to respond to customer reports. Nestl monitors its online reputation as determined by the blogosphere; press release network PR Newswire lets readers see what bloggers are saying

about releases by linking to blog search index Technorati. The same

practice can be applied to the public advocacy space. Now that citizens publicise their views and experiences, the opportunity is presented to acquire a better understanding of the user experience landscape. When a customer complains that her postal service has been cut back in Carmarthenshire, when another grumbles that he cannot afford to migrate to digital television it is now likely that such experiences will be posted online, ready for harnessing in the name of advocacy. The opportunity here is distinct from the planned creation of separate spaces designed to attract consumer feedback - that tactic, deployed by Consumers Union and Virgin Media, depends on consumer awareness of that feedback space and, with it, some degree of marketing effort, in the first place. Social media monitoring, however, can be deployed to discover what consumers are saying in the vast majority of existing online spaces (i.e. weblogs, social networking profiles) already being used. In general, the opportunity has arisen to harvest existing sites for information to support a campaign.

Listening For Research

While social media monitoring can be executed casually, using simple web search tools, the resulting data is largely qualitative (e.g. Consumers Unions Share Your Story facilities). Private companies, particularly keen to track their reputation in the new Web 2.0 spaces, are increasingly taking advantage of the commercial-grade monitoring services provided by professional Web 2.0 indexing companies. These services offer many more options and

metrics for presenting opinion in quantitative ways. Monitors can be set up to track key terms, topics and sources, to cross-reference them against additional topics and sources and so on, in order to gain a detailed insight in to the prevalence of issues of particular interest. Data-driven social media monitoring tools provide an opportunity to undertake online user research, setting up complex discovery aims and returning detailed findings in ways truly congruent with conventional research-driven reports. It is possible, for example, to determine the number of complaints against particular service providers in a given list, returning quantitative data and evidential quotes from published posts or reviews that can support research papers. The proliferation of personal opinion online is undeniably a potential research resource. Pete Snyder, found of social media analysis company New Media Strategies says: "I see the internet as the world's largest focus group. company says:55 54

In client case studies for its services, the

Case: An influential advocacy coalition contacts us about a public education

campaign. How is the base responding to talking points? How does this impact other key constituencies? How can a communication strategy be altered to resonate better with targeted audiences? Results: NMS Online Public Affairs experts monitor, measure, and analyse trends in online discussion and online reactions by audiences to help campaigns sharpen message points and tactics mid-campaign.

Soliciting the Disaffected/Key Influencers

For any advocacy organisation whose stakeholders and client base are online, to not use the new media to listen to people, by whatever means available, would be to miss an opportunity. While social media monitoring activities can mine the worlds user-generated content for opinion and self-advocacy already being practised, organisations have an opportunity to invite submissions from those without awareness of tools that would enable this independent action. The opportunity exists to turn people from empathisers into active campaign nodes, spreading messages on the organisations behalf. Such an approach would appeal not to all stakeholders but rather the key disaffected folk who can best represent or take part in a campaign issue. In his book reprising the innovative Howard Dean US Democratic

Presidential nomination campaign of 2003, (which was driven by the social media contributions of millions of mobilised Americans), campaign manager Joe Trippi notes a seasoned political campaign tactic is to identify key people in any given constituency who, if absorbed in to the fold and each going on to spread the message, could create the most influence. Trippi likened the tactic to dropping stones in water and watching as concentric rings of action radiated outward until, soon, like-minded voters overlapped in the same district. It is exactly this which is supported by the new web.

Not all voters are created equal. Some people carry more influence. In his book
on consumer epidemics The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes, ... the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. Gladwell calls these influential people ... connectors. In the Dean campaign, we called them bloggers.

Turning visitors into carriers (mobilising)

The social media thrive on sharing on the discovery and communication of new information between peers. The opportunity exists to deploy features that would allow users to share messages. Invited actions may be to bookmark a piece of content, send it to a friend or submit it to gateways like Digg. Any such instance results in further distribution for messages as such, publishers are motivated to integrate these services with their published offerings directly in order to make residual dissemination more likely.

Being a Parasite (widgets)

The efficacy of efforts by Six Degrees to place charitable information blocks on websites and by Consumers Union to have supporters place ribbon links on their site is the new power of widgets. Widgets chunks of web content presented in neat blocks or components that can be easily included on other sites allow the new ranks of social networkers, bloggers and others to

adorn their pages with an easy and ready supply of content that aligns with their own identity or personality. Widgets present an excellent opportunity to enlist the millions of MySpace users or bloggers on the web to distribute messages on the organisations behalf.

Amplifying, Being The Platform

Having observed that many people are now achieving results through their own kind of online advocacy, there is an opportunity to embrace these occurrences wherever possible. Organisations could provide the authoritative umbrella for selected campaigns, amplifying appropriate citizen action, especially where congruent with their own campaigns. Support should be given in the form of links, blog coverage etc. Organisations could combine monitoring, experience gathering and mobilising activities by creating sites designed to take contributions from the disadvantaged. Testimony could be invited on a range of issues, not just those solicited for collection, and could form a vital part in informing the work of the organisation.

6. Enthusiasm To Action
Online advocacy will not be for all organisations, and even within those that do see a natural fit, it may not be suitable for their campaigns. However, for some it will, and many may want to re-examine their communications strategies in light of these possible new opportunities. In order to take advantage of the new technologies discussed in this paper and to engage with the online communities and action groups that already exist, organisations should consider the following:

1. Develop a Monitoring Strategy

The strategy should mine blogs, social networking profiles, forums, newsgroups (as many online spaces as possible) for opinions or experiences that may be used in the organisations work. Monitoring activity should be both: a) Inquisitive i.e. non-specific roaming sweeps for discovery of issues previously unknown to be significant. b) Specific i.e. in which the focus of evidential sweeps is set by the particular requirements of existing campaigns (predefined topics and keywords will look for particular conversations).

2. Become Bloggers
Staff should begin writing publicly on their specialist issues, using weblogs or similar, in order to gain visibility for the organisation and distribution for their messages.

3. Liberate the Content

Organisations should present their press releases, latest research and blog posts in standardised syndication formats like RSS to maximise the recipient audience for its messages. They should invite members of the public to redistribute their headlines and to re-use their messages in any way, in any space, desired so as to maximise distribution.

4. Go with the Flow

Congruent with an increase in on-site personal advocacy commentary, reduce the reliance on press releases as the sole distribution channel for new campaign information.

5. Make Content Sharable

Act on the new opportunity to mobilise people, turning observers into carriers of advocacy. Ensure that content is available in syndication formats so as to encourage re-distribution of material. Make sharing services like and Digg submission readily integrated into offerings so as to guarantee wider distribution of messages by stakeholders themselves. Widgets may be devised and offered to people keen to distribute such material on their own sites, ensuring wider proxy circulation.

6. Solicit Stories
To not use the new media to listen to people by whatever available means would be an opportunity missed.

7. Deploy a Submissions Platform

In order to listen, an organisation might want to roll out a service designed to attract submission of experiences from people. This should be presented as the way in which citizens submit their negative experiences for action.

Submitted experiences should be publicly viewable on the site prior awareness of a problem by someone else with a problem is more likely to result in further contribution to that issue than if it was previously unheard because the chances of resulting action from an additional submission are greater. Speaking on how 2008 US Presidential nominees are deploying social networks like MySpace and YouTube in their campaign arsenal, weblog contributor Andrew Rasiej of the US Personal Democracy Foundation says:

One of the most powerful tools that a candidate can use is empowering his
supporters to connect with each other, as opposed to just coming to their website and listening to their message. Actually encouraging lateral communication between voters themselves.

It is a classic Web 2.0 solution. The opportunity is to create a destination that performs each of the available functions (communicate, listen and amplify), attracting, showcasing and turning up the volume on peoples own gripes. But it is pitched at attracting those folk not already self-advocating in their own online spaces, so is not mutually exclusive to other opportunities either to a) actively monitor the social media people are already using or b) to push out an organisations own messages in to this realm through online public writing/ blogging. Such a platform should not be rolled out as the sole means of communicating in the Advocacy 2.0 world. We have seen many critics observations that grand, proprietary electronic government engagement platforms are largely cumbersome and unloved. By means of counterpoint, in a conversation for this paper, Martin Lewis, the consumer affairs journalist behind, who has used the internet to champion British consumer affairs including the fight against excessive bank charges, cautioned against re-inventing the wheel by developing expensive, little-used solutions:

Be very careful about getting involved in using the web to get consumers to do
[advocacy]. Its being done very well [already] theres a big conflict between our institutions doing it and allowing it to naturally happen. Watch whats going on, look at it, engage with it where its happening, but dont try and make it happen for yourselves.
1*What You See is What You Get