The Friendly Chat: Pierre-Antoine Rousseau, IE-Lobbying

The following is cross-posted on a new blog called PNeo. Watch out for more cross-posts as well as insights, observations and analysis from the digital team at Porter Novelli, my employer. 

Pierre-Antoine Rousseau is Online Marketing Manager at EurActiv, the independent media portal fully dedicated to EU affairs. He runs his blog at http://www.ie-lobbying.blogspot.com

What are the top three things you’d ask people to consider before they start a blog?

Never forget: blogging is not only about writing, it’s also about being read, and let’s not forget influence, visibility and networking. So, make sure you’ve got a real plan behind what you’re doing, ideally matched to a PR strategy.

With this in mind:

  • At a technical level, think about the blogging platform you are going to choose. Benchmark the available options, not forgetting you can often do this for free. Of course, this part also depends on your “geekiness”…
  • At an editorial level, think about your positioning. What are you going to write about? What will be your audience? Prepare some articles before launching the blog. And don’t forget that strategy.
  • At a community level, think about your environment. Map the webosphere and blogosphere so that you have an idea of who you’re trying to influence. Identify friends and foe and prepare to interact!

What is your favourite social media tool/site/technology?

I like StumbleUpon. It’s an online social bookmarking tool which complements Google PageRank in a much more efficient way than usual Digg-alikes.

Which blogger do you most admire?

Jean Quatremer, a journalist on Libération who blogs at Les coulisses de Bruxelles on European and Belgium affairs. Launched in December 2005, Jean Quatremer’s blog won the Louise Weiss in the category “European Journalism” in May 2006.

Why did you set up your own blog?

In France, there are a lot of preconceived ideas about lobbying. My first objective was to demonstrate that lobbying is not undemocratic and I thought a blog would be a good way to start spreading this message as blogs are themselves a very democratic, open medium.

What benefits has it given you professionally (for example, did it lead to your current job)?

Yes, it helped me to develop my professional network. I’ve been conducting a lot of interviews recently and meeting other lobbyists, and the community aspect of blogging was really useful. Setting up a blog – if it’s well done – can be an advantage in the very competitive public affairs job market. And indeed, it did help me to find my current job.

Is there a large lobbying blogging community across Europe? Which countries are most active?

My blog is about lobbying. This is different from a “lobby blog” which would be a PR tool to artificially complement a lobbying campaign. It’s not difficult to find them. However, I recently came across an interesting example of another political blog, this time maintained by a PR company (the Fleishman-Hillard team in Brussels). Its name is PA 2.0 and it carries quite a lot of interesting political content.

Can blogging really influence policy?

Blogs are much influential in the US than in Europe. However, I think blogs are starting to have an increasing influence on European politics. This is one of the reasons we launched Blogactiv – a blogging platform dedicated to European affairs developed by EurActiv which aims at becoming the premier platform for opinions, discussions and views on EU policies.

Do you see an important role for social media generally in European policy making?

Not yet, even if social media is growing in terms of influence. But certainly, there could be a role eventually. Social media could support the development of e-democracy platforms.

What is the most effective social media for lobbying?

Blogs are very useful in terms of communication. However, fake web portals – “neutral” websites launched by a lobby to influence the debate – are very efficient in terms of e-lobbying. For example, companies launch web portals to put across their biased arguments in seemingly neutral terms, without any explicit links to the parent companies.

Do you see cultural differences across Europe in approaches to blogging?

The big difference is between the US and Europe. In particular, the political blogosphere is much more influential in the US. This cool map of the US political blogosphere, made by the company LinkFluence, shows the political affiliations between sites in the US.

From the patterns you’ve seen emerging, how do you see blogging developing throughout Europe over the next year?

The EU blogosphere – European blogs focused on the EU – is already very active. Since 2005 – which coincided with the rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon by France – there has been an explosion of EU political blogs. In particular, you can read this excellent article on Nosemonkey which makes an interesting profile of the EU blogosphere.

Why did you decide to set up a wiki?

In France, there is not a lot of information available about lobbying. The main reason I decided to set it up was to create a free online database on lobbying. We have resources such as News, an Agenda, Jobs and Internships, Directories, etc. We are also running monthly interviews and editing a monthly newsletter.

How active is it?

Concerning our readership, it is constantly increasing. From May 2007 to May 2008, we multiplied our audience by 10. A dozen people help me to run this collaborative portal. By the way, we are looking for English-native speakers to help the translation of the Website. If anyone is interested, email me at info AT ie-lobbying DOT info.

Metrica Numbers go crunch!

Metrica, the analysis and measurement company, has issued its PR industry benchmark report called Metrica Numbers, and it’s a serious piece of work.

My initial reaction is that it’s gold dust, which Metrica are graciously liberally sprinkling all over the PR blogosphere. To wit:

“This report consolidates media analysis meta-data from more than three million press articles featuring 700 organisations over the last decade to enable industry trends to be identified. As well as top line findings, it looks at key breakdowns by media type, sector and specific media titles.”

I have a copy and while I don’t have time to go through it carefully – I’m about to go on holiday but this popped up and I wanted to flag it – Metrica has, of course, already done this for you. It presents its key findings on its ‘Measurement Matters’ blog and I recommend you go and take a look. You can also download the full report in exchange for contact details.

I love measurement. In fact, I don’t see how you can do anything without it – the old adage about measurement to manage is so true, especially in PR and social media. Whenever I go through my Google Reader stats I find that KD Paine is up there, simply because she writes about stuff I like. Something tells me I’m going to be doing the same with Metrica posts from now on…

Holiday

I know I haven’t been particularly active on this blog recently, but just to account for my silence over the next week and a half: I’m going to a place that has no radio, TV, mobile or web. Bliss.

I’m kind of hoping that when I get back I’ll have lots of fresh new ideas in my head, mostly inspirational rather than controversial.

A life unwired is just weird

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Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone?

Earlier this week, for the first time in eight years, my web connection went down.

Unfortunately, it happened at exactly the wrong time. I was scheduled to do some work abroad, and so I needed to make some last-minute checks of my emails and, not least, check my flight status given that Mother Nature had seen fit to dump 3 inches of snow on London in April.

So I got around the problem by trogging off to Starbucks. And, for the record, although the BA site said my flight wasn’t cancelled, two hours later, it was.

But that’s another story. When I finally made it to my destination, I was unable to connect to the web there too. Nothing to do with failings on anyone’s part, it was just that my laptop and the company’s network didn’t seem to like each other much. Fortunately I’d done enough prep to do without it and, at first, everything was fine.

But increasingly I found I needed to jump online, and it became more frustrating that I couldn’t. And I don’t mean I wanted to waste time. I neither hunger for blogs nor thirst for Twitter. I mean, the work I was doing – good old fashioned copywriting – really benefited from online access.

I kept wanting to:

  • Find inspiration for words and terms. I wanted to jump onto Thesaurus.com or Dictionary.com. I suppose I could have lugged two large reference volumes in my laptop holder but I don’t make a habit of it. Virtual is definitely lighter.
  • Check facts. Was it 1.5 billion widgets, or 1.15? I could have verified this instantly if I were online, but instead found I kept having to put placeholders everywhere – TBC.
  • Find inspiration generally. Especially when writing, if I’m up against an obstacle I use the many and varied connections within the web to get around it. My brain is sometimes (often, actually) simply not big enough.
  • Fire off quick emails (not Tweets, my Twitter-fu is still weak) to get opinions or comments or ideas from colleagues.
  • Check my blog, and those of bloggers I read. Often I knew – I just knew – that I’d already written something relevant, or someone else had. If only I could get online and find out!

So, it was a strange and revealing situation. There I was, all alone on a desert island, knowing that the great and bountiful Land of Web was just beyond the horizon.

Imagine walking into an office now without the web. You’d soon go bananas. Similarly, imagine walking into a job say, ten, fifteen years ago and expecting to have all these resources in place. You’d probably be called a time-waster because you apparently spent more time online than you did off it.

But no. It was all productive, and I really missed it.

And what this also tells me is that the next generation of workers will expect to use social media to the same end. As importantly, so will their clients. They will find good, new, productive ways in which to connect and do a good job better.

There now. Much more positive than talking about ghost blogging, right?

I hate the permanent beta

So, the WordPress.com blog interface has changed. It’s been given a facelift. A rearrange. A bit of a dust-over.

I have nothing against this. I can testify that it looks a lot cleaner, and it has nice big fonts, and I’m sure the changes are in response to a lot of comments from other WordPress.com users.

Other users. Not me. The Others. Those strange people with no brains who wander around in the night, bouncing off walls and stumbling into gutters. Those strange people with magnificent plumage who parade themselves about the village square, pecking and clucking. Those strange people in Escher drawings who walk up walls, across ceilings, and continue to spiral ever upwards.

Those people. Not me.

So, it would seem that, having become accustomed to a perfectly serviceable interface for quite some time, I have suddenly just approved 25 comments when I thought I was approving 10.

God knows what I just approved. The Bouncy A-Go-Go Club? Ticklers-R-Us? The ‘People Who Are Interested In Monkeys In A Non-Sex Way (Forum for gentlemen with a leaning towards simian interests)’ Facebook group (by invitation only)?*

Who knows. I’m sure there are now spangly comments all over my blog with slightly dodgy entries. Probably lots of links in them. Probably some choice words from a thesaurus or two, I imagine.

My point is: why change when things were going so well? The old WordPress interface and me, we had a thing going. OK, so I couldn’t find where to switch the wysiwyg interface on – several times. OK, so I found the Options menu a bit confusing. But I knew what I was doing.

And I wasn’t given a choice, was I? In this world of the permanent beta I just have to accept that certain choices have been made on my behalf, and that, no matter how I try, I won’t be able to go back to what I was comfortable with. Hence the 20+ comments I just approved by accident.

I’m sure the world around me is improving. But sometimes I just wish – I wish – I were given the opportunity to decide whether or not that’s so before committing. You know?

* This group exists. I accepted the invitation. I inhabited that mad world for a while. Then I left. I might join again. It had merit. 

Ghost blogging? It’s going to happen. Get over it already.

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The blogosphere is no garden of Eden. We can try to self-regulate, but in so doing we’re only exposing our own naïveté

In the beginning, there was the web.  It was beautiful. It was perceived – and conceived – as a nirvana, a democracy of thought, in which money held no sway.

Then, money woke up. Banner ads became commonplace. So much, in fact, that people stopped clicking them. Our reaction at Sharepages? Flip everything around. Put the banner ads at the bottom, then people won’t realise that’s what they are.

On the day of relaunch, our stats skyrocketed, and stayed up. We even had someone call us telling we’d ‘got our web page the wrong way up’.

That was some time ago. Sharepages has since changed back to a more traditional layout, under more traditional advertising thinking.

Fast forward to today. It’s not about sites and surfing: it’s blogs and browsing, or social sites and, well, socialising. And so it’s natural that, given we expect the people – yes, people – we interact with, we have certain expectations of them. We want to believe them.

Who do you believe? What do you believe? Do you really think that the columns in trade magazines are really written by CEOs? Do you really think that documentaries are made by the people who appear in them? Do you think Kathy Sykes had an overwhelming need to understand alternative medicine?

No. That CEO had his or her thoughts organised and rationalised by a copywriter. Those people in documentaries were sourced because they fitted the demographic. Someone somewhere had an idea for a documentary that would appeal. They had a list of candidates that would be good to front it. Kathy Sykes was perfect. A sexy physicist with a fairly open mind.

Media is built around demographics. The web and now the social-media-sphere will follow suit. So the nirvana – the belief, the expectation – that we have of social media is about to change. Everyone is chasing the big advertising dollar.

When you read so-called ‘soft’ news, you’re probably reading something ghost-written. That is, something interpreted and publicised and syndicated through an agent, or agency. Virtually everything in Metro, for example. So it follows that, more and more, what you read online will follow suit.

There will be a time, a year or two or three hence, in which we look back at the arguments against ghost blogging, and laugh. It lacks transparency. It lacks integrity. It lacks authenticity. Gimme a break.

In a year or two or three hence, the big money will be savvy. It will be pushing messages out in every digital channel available. The people you think are saying things, will not be saying them. Other people will.

The beautiful thing, in a way, is that consumers will become more sophisticated in their consumption. And the dynamic therefore follows that the ghosts – the PR people – will have to up their game in putting across their message.

I used to argue against ghost blogging. I used to think it was heinous. But that belief is changing. I’m coming to realise that the blogosphere – the beliefosphere – needs to step out from the garden. Big bucks are on their way, and we all need to understand and recognise this.

Is this a bad thing? No, not really. The web is a massive force for good. Advertising and PR are massive forces for communication. Is communication good? Comments please.

links for 2008-04-03