Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

by Matt Rosenberg May 28th, 2010

The more choices people have, the harder it is to choose. This poses real challenges for marketers of everything from vehicles to peanut butter to public engagement programs. Being distinctive helps, but in the end, it is the return on investment of money, time, or effort that determines whether the customer stays or goes and how the customer helps or hinders your reputation. As social media, Web technology and search capabilities continue to mature, the power of word-of-mouth will grow, raising the bar on performance much higher.

Paul Sutton is the head of Digital Public Relations at the Oxford, UK firm named Bottle PR, and writes an insightful blog on communications and marketing called Tribal Boogie. In a recent post titled “Web 3.0, Social Media and The Paradox of Choice,” he explains cogently how the welter on information provided by Google on any topic has driven the need for filtering choices by reputation through dozens of different Web social media such as Facebook, Twitter and specialized discussion forums.

Sutton says:

…so good is Google at what it does that it has brought about a shift in how people use the web. No longer do we want help finding information on the internet; we now want help choosing between the mass of information that is delivered to us in around 0.4 seconds….it’s no longer enough to be on the first page of Google…this is where social media comes into its own. People are now looking for recommendations to give them confidence and to back up what they read on a website…the social web is…the biggest form of word of mouth the world has ever seen, connecting friends, colleagues and strangers and building trusted relationships…Social media provides a solution to the paradox of the web now giving us too much choice, from a friend’s recommendation on Facebook to a stranger’s opinions on a forum to a review on a directory site.

This trend will become even more significant for marketers as Web 3.0 becomes reality. The concept behind the Semantic Web is that computers will be able to define the meaning of information on the Internet without guidance from humans; the Web will be able to define context and sentiment, and computers will be able to analyse content and links rather than merely connect. Given this, the influence of the social web can only grow. There’s no going back, and the sooner marketers fully understand this, the better.

When the next level of Web search – Semantic Web, or Web. 3.0 – takes hold, it will be a game-changer. Imagine that when you search for the best nanny referral service in Spokane, the most worthwhile public engagement programs in Puget Sound, or the most trustworthy or untrustworthy governments and politicians in Washington state, you will get powerful and accurate results that depend not on the literalness of matched terms in pages or documents on Web sites and popularity of those pages, but on the actually intended meaning of your search terms, applied to those sources and open social media. People will have a lot more reputation information, much faster.

This will ratchet up expectations not only in the consumer realm, but also public life. We’re already starting down this road through the whole open government push, where more abundant and easier to use information, including “Open 311″ systems such as Fix My Street are creating higher standards. Open 311 allows reporting of and – crucially – full public display of responses – on cracked pavement, potholes, broken curbs and streetlights, fly-dumping and graffiti. The traditional approach has been for government to hoard that data for itself, the whole of it seen only internally, not by the broader public. In contrast, “Open 311″ means reports of needed city infrastructure fixes, and responses from government, are there for all to see online. Reports for all jurisdictions in the Fix My Street system are accessed from here. Accountability in action on Fix My Street can be understood at a glance on any jurisdiction’s specific report’s page, such as the Aberdeen City Council’s. Notice how many problems have been resolved. I had a chance to tout Fix My Street last month on a segment of KUOW’s “Weekday” show titled “Technology and Civic Engagment.”

…if you go there, and you look around, it is just brilliantly simple in its interface, and they are getting a lot of use, and if you look, conveniently, they break out, ‘okay, here’s the stuff that government has fixed.’ They are getting response like you wouldn’t believe.”

Mash up the continuing growth of peer-to-peer, or social media and open government tools such as Fix My Street and you’ve got a growing emphasis on reputation, performance and collaboration. Add in enhanced Web search with an emphasis on intended meanings, and the effect gets multiplied. It will be less and less sufficient for taxpayers and constituents to simply “be heard” by government and more and more essential for them to be full partners, helping to drive change and outcomes, and building civic capacity.

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