By Katja Wittke
On Saturday, June 2, the Center for Social Media was represented at the American Marketing Association’s Marketing and Public Policy Conference in a Special Topic Session entitled "The Changing Concepts of ‘the public’ in public policy." Katja Wittke, research fellow of the CSM and Stephanie de Chassy, Chief Operating Officer of OneWorld United States (a Ford Foundation grantee) presented. Maria Ivancin, Assistant Professor in American University’s School of Communication, served as the session chair.
The session was unique among those at the conference, bringing a communication focus to marketing and public policy. As communications professionals and researchers, the panelists brought a new perspective to public policy – focusing on the ways that new technology is changing the way that messages and media channels are used and the effects that these have on audiences and on our society.
An area of relevance to this particular conference is the concept of public media. New technology is bringing a very different look to public media, opening up new channels and bringing together new audiences and publics that would not have existed in the past. The presenters in this special topic session both represented grantees of the Ford Foundation in its effort to strengthen public media and promote innovation. The Ford Foundation played an important role in the creation of public television back in the ‘50s and ‘60s and in 2005 it increased its spending on public media to $50 million over five years.
We’ve all been bombarded by the new technology terminology – Web 2.0, social networking, blogging, RSS, folksonomies, You Tube, Gather.com, Twitter, Flickr – there’s something new everyday. The impact that all of these things have is a shift in how we look at our publics. Web 2.0 allows people to create rich experiences by interacting with one another and with content providers and organizations. In communication terms – we are changing from one-way, top down communication to a more complex dynamic playing field that allows for a high degree of connectivity and creativity. The public is no longer just the recipient of the message. They are not just the target audience; they are key players in the communication process, creating content, driving issues, defining the marketplace, playing new roles in the exchange process of marketing. From a public media standpoint we are seeing a shift from the media being for the public to media being by the public.
The non-profit community has seized this opportunity. Always strapped for money, the Internet was a god-send for the non-profit world. It allowed a lower cost, more efficient method for achieving their marketing goals. But many soon discovered that the power of the new media was not just in efficiency in reaching their audiences. The Internet changed the scope of engagement for nonprofits by directly connecting them with people who are interested in their issues and causes while also, and perhaps more importantly, connecting these people to others who are of similar mindsets. It is the consumer, the citizen, the various publics who are actually setting the agenda. The result is "citizen engagement" – a more motivated and capable public striving to influence public policy.
The session brought some insight into some of the work that is being done to understand the impact of these changes on public media. Although the examples are in the nonprofit world, the presenters stressed that they could also be applied to other segments of our society as well.
Three themes were covered in the presentations –
1) Building communities through engagement and integrating these communities into marketing and organizational goals.
2) Measurement – how do we know what we have? It’s not easy to measure the impact of the Internet and these new technologies in traditional terms, but compounded with global reach and new dynamics of communication (more akin to word of mouth) measuring the size and impact of these publics is difficult. There may be some ways to measure or map the diffusion of messages though.
3) Some thoughts on the tools themselves. We don’t want a discussion on technology, but rather the role that some of these tools play or should play in engaging the public.
Katja Wittke’s presentation, "Mapping Publics Emerging Around Public media Projects," covered her analysis of Global Voices as a case study. She showed ways to measure the reach and nature of the publics and suggested that support from nonprofit, government, and commercial sectors will be necessary to nurture some of these new publics and that public policy will need to address some of the issues to help sustain it.
Stephanie de Chassy presented a case study of OneWorld, a global online hub for groups and individuals interested in international issues. The case illustrated how NGOs can bring individuals together to network, collaborate and learn from each other. OneWorld has used technology to expand the view of the public for nonprofits and to help them engage with new audiences in a more compelling and effective manner.