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Public Affairs Insights from the Centre

2 Mar 2009

New power shift

George Onisiforou

When Facebook tried to amend its user information policy last month, it found itself being the victim of its own dynamics — this is a company that thrives in giving its users the tools to organise themselves in groups and communicate their own messages. This is exactly what the unhappy users did — they created their own Facebook groups inviting people to join in their protest against the amendments.

It seems ironic that Facebook failed to understand the power shift it helped develop.

New media have shifted traditional concepts of power and brand ownership that companies were previously able to exercise through the old media. For example, a press release explaining the official company position now has less exposure than a personal opinion on a blog, a video on Youtube, a Facebook group, or a Twitter update.

Companies that want to sustain themselves well into the future should start understanding this dynamic by joining in and giving control and ownership of their brands to the public.

This was Joe Trippi’s message, delivered last Friday during a lunch with public affairs practitioners. The lunch, organised by the Centre and supported by Microsoft, gave the opportunity to one of the US’s most successful grassroots campaigners to share his insights on empowering people and making strong, successful brands.

Joe’s message has implications not only in terms of corporate communication, but stakeholder engagement in general. Empowering other important stakeholders like their employees, or their suppliers, is something that companies should consider.

Coincidentally, on Friday Facebook announced a new approach that allows users to have a role in determining the policies that govern its site. It’s hard to think of anyone creating a Facebook group against that.

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