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European Parliament Digital Trends Survey

Along with Edelman recently publishing its annual Trust Barometer, Fleishman Hillard recently produced their own insightful report, the European Parliament Digital Trends Survey. Out here on the West Coast, we may not be awfully concerned about how politicians from Lithuania or Finland use social media to reach out to their constituents. So let’s remind ourselves that these new tools – while not possessing magical powers – provide a massive opportunity for any government to communicate with previously invisible or overlooked publics.

For years, we have bemoaned the power of the media to tell us what news to pay attention to and how we should feel about it. Alas, the time has come to shift that power back to the people. Finally, the common folk have an opportunity to be heard by their leaders. They can talk to us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and personal blogs. In return, we can comment back and have a meaningful discussion with our leaders and fellow Web 2.0 users. The possibilities are endless!

Which is exactly why a whole 14.9 percent of members of the European Union (MEPs) believe that “engaging people through¬† dialogue” is the greatest benefit of personal blogs!

Wait, what?

Isn’t that the entire point of social media? Apparently not, according to those EU members who were surveyed here. Instead, 73.1 percent of them concluded that the greatest benefit was “expressing my views directly to constituents.” Let’s go ahead and examine the key words here:

The greatest benefit of this social media tool is to express my views directly to constituents.

Something is terribly wrong here. J.E. Grunig reached the conclusion years ago that the most effective way to build a healthy relationship is through two-way symmetrical communication. Social media tools embody this idea and seek to expand upon it by allowing conversations between previously disconnected individuals and organizations.

It’s outstanding to see the comparison between 2009 and 2010, in which use of social media networks among MEPs increased from 33 percent to 69 percent. Considering the fact that nearly half of the respondents surveyed were between ages 46 and 65, this increase is even more impressive. Yet as future politicians and policymakers seek to delve into the social media realm, they must embrace its power as a¬† facilitator of dialogue rather than as a broadcast medium. I suppose that will be the job of those 18- to 30-year-olds who only make up 24 percent of the current survey demographic.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. After all, we’re only kids. What do we know?

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