Internet myths are debunked at the peak of the Web Summit

5 Nov 2009

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At the recent Dublin Web Summit, organised by Paddy Cosgrave, more than 150 people trooped into Bewley’s Hotel in Ballsbridge to listen to some of the most influential online Europeans talk about the impact of the internet on business, politics and media.

While delegates listened in delight or panic, tweeted, shot videos from their mobile phone, or nodded sagely at these influential Europeans’ observations, a 50-year-old fashion designer stood up and declared: “Yes, that’s all good, but where do I even start? What do I say on Twitter?”

Passion and fear

Broadcaster and author Anton Savage summed it up well: “When new media comes along, people react with either passion or fear.” Pointing out that today 80pc of US companies use social-networking site LinkedIn as a primary recruitment tool and that one in eight marriages in the US spark from an online romance, he said that one of the things the business and political elite lack is a canon for dealing with new technology.

But everyone starts somewhere. The second most influential blogger in the UK, Iain Dale, began his online odyssey during a visit to a friend in Washington in 2002. Now he’s planning on running for office in the UK as an MP. “Anyone can set up a blog, but it takes time to build up traction.”

But, he argued, don’t underestimate the influence of tools, such as blogs and Twitter. “The power of reaction is stunning. I was sceptical of Twitter as a political tool, but as a way of influencing a news story it’s a fantastic thing.”

Social media and social marketing

One of the internet’s leading marketeers, Nick Blunden of web agency Profero, is behind the online campaigns of global brands such as Pepsi, Unilever, Diageo and the UK government. Blunden pointed out that one of the biggest mistakes being made right now is that people confuse social media with social marketing.

“They want to use Twitter to propel their brand into the stratosphere. Increasingly, ideas and brands are socialised rather than broadcast and that’s a fundamental mindset change.”

Neils Thogersen, the former head of communications at the European Parliament, said political parties and business brand owners face a big struggle – “They have a fear of the devolving power social media is bringing.”

He continued: “Another thing that is important to bear in mind – people remember 10pc of what they read and 50pc of what they read and hear, but 90pc of what they read, hear and interact with. That why social networks have a huge role to play in getting citizens engaged and involved. It will not change everything, but it could be one answer to the democratic deficit in most countries in Europe today."

Bloggers present

Among the European digeratti were two prominent Irish bloggers, Darragh Doyle of Boards.ie and David Cochrane of Politics.ie, who both believe the best way individuals and businesses can get to grips with everything from Twitter to blogs is to use these tools to relate and engage.

The other thing to get used to, said Doyle, is the honesty of these networks. “If someone asks me to endorse their product or service, they’ll get a smack. I’ll be transparent about what I do like or don’t like.”

Cochrane, whose Politics.ie site gets 30,000 views a day, gave some sage advice: “It is important for individuals, especially companies, that want to use social media to be clear about how it fits in with what you do on a day-to-day basis. If you want to reach people it’s got to fit in. It shouldn’t be about having a Twitter account for the sake of it.”

It figures

Keeping up with the Joneses is often the core mistake firms are making online. Former journalist and the CEO and co-founder of Myhome.ie, Jim Miley, summed it up: “There’s no such thing as a new economy, only the old economy using new technology. Every business needs a solid business plan behind it. The numbers have to stack up because someone’s got to pay for this. Investors are also tougher and the concept you are pushing has to make it. They’re not going to rely on somebody coming with more funding.”

Paul Hayes, a public relations man who helped publicise games companies such as Havok and DemonWare and who is now working on a project called Artbex to sell art online, concluded that whatever you do online, be sincere.

“The same rules apply online as they do in the offline world. Your strategy has to reflect the real world. I got a good lesson in this early on. We used to share an office with the creators of Linden Labs in California who were behind the virtual world, Second Life.

“I was a sexy 20th-century rock god on Second Life and then people met me in the real world,” Hayes said.

To catch video highlights of the Dublin Web Summit, visit the website.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com