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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 23:53 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 23:53 | SYDNEY

Why governments don't trust social media

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30 January 2009 10:51

Interesting aside on Autopia about Toyota's use of social media to market its new iQ mini-car. To publicise the fuel efficiency of the car, Toyota has sent two bloggers out on the roads of England with a prototype iQ and asked them to write about their 'hypermiling' adventures. Here's the moral of the story in regard to marketing:

The challenge is part of the iQ Blog created by the marketing folks at iCrossing, and, like Chevrolet's "Living Large" and the Ford Challenge campaigns, it's an example of automakers using social media to publicize new cars. What makes Toyota's effort interesting is it doesn't feel like it was scripted by suits. The hypermiling challenge contains an element of mystery that draws in readers. The bloggers acknowledge there's a chance the stunt may fail, and the appearance of a "whatever happens, happens" attitude from Toyota conveys the company's confidence in its product — something other car companies don't have the stones to pull off.

That ties in with a sentiment I read yesterday (and now cannot find) which applies to all kinds of information campaigns, whether commercial, diplomatic or military: when it comes to new media, reach is inversely proportional to control. To put it another way, the more you try to use blogs and online social networks to push a message, the more open you are to having that message hijacked.

A classic example is the Chevrolet Tahoe campaign. Chevy put lots of stock footage and music up on its website and asked users to cut their own commercials for the car. Anti-SUV campaigners decided to have a little fun with this idea to push their environmentalist agenda, completely undermining Chevrolet's message.

As this blog post argues, the problem in this case was that Chevrolet only gave the appearance of ceding control to online users. In reality, they tried, unsuccessfully, to maintain control by deciding what footage and music could be used in the ads.

This hints at why governments might be a bit shy about joining the social media revolution and why they will probably continue to favour one-way information campaigns. For one thing, the institutional culture of message control is deeply ingrained in governments and bureaucracies; and second, governments probably lack the confidence in their product needed to withstand any possible hijacking of their message.

The internet allows for previously unheard of levels of scrutiny, meaning that if your message is bogus, you're more likely to be discovered. A colleague just sent me an email wondering whether the 1981 news report I linked to yesterday is perhaps a hoax. I see that uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan has now posted the clip on his site, meaning tens of thousands are watching it, sending it to their friends and linking to it on their blogs. If it's a fake, we should know soon enough.

UPDATE: It's not a hoax. Reader Campbell Micallef sends this link to the bio of the journalist who appears in the story. Thanks for reinforcing my point about crowdsourcing, Campbell!

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