Managing Director of Keene Communications, Jake Rigg, presented a whistle-stop tour of Social Lobbying at Keene’s recent Social Media Week event. This is part one, of three posts.
Public affairs or lobbying has always been social. This was one of my key messages at Keene Communications’ Social Media Week London last week. In front of industry professionals, government representatives and academics, I gave a whistle-stop tour of how social lobbying has progressed over the years.
Lobbying has never not been social lobbying. So we call it social lobbying at Keene with our tongues’ firmly in our cheeks. Tammany Hall Democrats in New York were lobbying Democrat officials and union bosses in the late 19th Century on the basis of gaining advantage in debates by gaining third party advocates, making arguments, listening, refining those arguments. While Keene Communications would not agree with either their aims or their cloak and dagger methods, it is clear that their work was intrinsically social.
Indeed, when “lobbyists” gathered at the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington to put their case to President Ulysses S. Grant they undertook a similar process. Our own “lobby” – the central lobby in the Houses of Parliament extends the term social lobbying to an even greater extent. Here any member of the citizenry has the right to wait and lobby their MP on whatever issue they see fit.
So it is a mistake to consider social media as the only driving force, yet this view appears to be in vogue within the industry. Online campaigning groups such as 38 Degrees and MoveOn are often heralded as harbingers of change simply because of the sheer weight of numbers involved. However, the Chartist movement saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in places including the town in which I went to school – Trowbridge; a town so politically depressed that even Charles Moore of the Spectator called it ‘a town with no excuse for itself.’ These people were engaged not through twitter hashtags and direct marketing, but ideas and debate. In this sense, a campaign’s success should not be understood in terms of popularity alone.
However, the question of whether a campaign is only successful if it achieves its goals is one that deserves some condiseration. Imagine Schrodinger’s cat, a wonderful beast in that it’s dead when it’s alive. In the hypothetical experiment, which the physicist devised in 1935, a cat is placed in a sealed box along with a radioactive sample, a Geiger counter and a bottle of poison.
If the Geiger counter detects that the radioactive material has decayed, it will trigger the smashing of the bottle of poison and the cat will be killed. If quantum physics suggests the radioactive material can have simultaneously decayed and not decayed in the sealed environment, then it follows the cat too is both alive and dead until the box is opened. However, cats can’t be both alive and dead at the same time, can they?
In the same vain, perhaps modern campaigns can be both successful and unsuccessful. In terms of social media, many people say X campaign is doing really well – it has lots of followers. The politico in me says “so what?” Social media needs to feed directly into a campaign’s objectives, use metrics to measure progress but not view them as an isolated means to an end. Navigating these divergent ideas is a vital issue and one which requires resolution.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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