We continue our series of interviews with opinion leaders, influencers and well-connected bloggers and social media personalities from Twingly’s home country Sweden. For today’s interview we had a chat and coffee with Brit Stakston, media strategist at a Stockholm-based communication agency. Brit believes in the web enabling real democracy but sees a lot of challenges on that journey.
Hi Brit. You are media strategist at the Stockholm-based communications agency JMW. Today that means lots of social media, right?
JMW provides most of the services that a typical communication agency offers to its clients, but our particular focus early on was social media – which of course should be the core discipline for every communication agency today. Without bragging I think we were one of the first agencies here in Sweden that understood the massive change that social media will bring to business and society.
What’s your personal take on the current state of social media?
We seem to have reached a phase where we have to deal with some critical issues that evolve as social media is entering every part of our (digital) live. One thing is the gap between people who know how to communicate on the web, which gives them a lot of power, and those who don’t. The insights of how analogue and digital values shape society need to be discussed.
Do you think social media has always reached its full potential in changing the society?
Not at all. For me it’s not a huge change that i.e. you and I gained influence and power just because we started using Twitter early. First when everybody knows how those tools can enable him/her to communicate and to get his/her voice heard, social media really will be able to make a difference. Then we can start building. That’s one of my missions today, to help people realize that the ability to learn how to engage on the digital side of life is as important as to be able to read. We all know what that being able to read meant for individuals and for society. Individuals as well as leaders of any organisation need to understand that this is the fact with digitalization as well.
Twitter is gaining momentum in Sweden and journalists are increasingly quoting tweets. How does that affect the importance of blogs?
I call blogs the “diamonds of social media”. It is a brilliant database that completes your digital footprint with your personal experiences, know-how and ideas. Very important: It will be available and searchable while our conversations on Twitter are lost after a week or so. Unfortunately, the journalist’s radar now has changed focus to Twitter, which is shown by the the fact that they don’t quote blogs anymore. But they definitely read blogs. When they write articles, blogs are often the source or did at least inspire some of the facts and thoughts presented. So as a communication advisor I recommend my clients not to ignore blogs just because they aren’t mentioned that often in mass media anymore. They are a hidden power to influence and allow for long term visibility.
So you don’t doubt the influence of blogs on the public debate?
Definitely not. A blog is a great platform if you want to influence and discuss issues in public or if you want to question politicians around specific topics. In Sweden we have lots of examples of how the blogosphere really has been pushing things forward and how it has put pressure on decision makers. The strength of a blog is that everybody has their own publishing platform, almost at no costs. You can react when people react on issues you are engaged in. To watch a discussion evolving around a topic that you have invested a lot of time into on your blog is a great feeling. Within moments you can provide a perspective by writing a short comment and with internal links highlight your own line of thinking here.
Would you say that in the age of social media citizens have more power than in the old days?
Definitely. The digital tools we have today are developed from exactly that fact, how we as human beings want to share experiences, values, expressions with each other and now withoug being framed to time and place. We want to change things! Unlike demonstrations or other physical gatherings, you don’t have to wait for somebody to grant you space to express your opinion. And you should never underestimate two things: First of all that your passion to change things is inspiring for others and second that the fact of something being public is really pressuring, much more than a private letter I send to a decision maker. A single blog post with relevant questions might be enough, especially if the person addressed feels that more reactions would follow if he/she doesn’t react. So overall, if you want to create public awareness for a particular topic and you don’t involve a blog in your communication, you miss out on a great opportunity, and you definitely tend to be lost on the journalist’s radar.
In the beginning you already mentioned the gap between those who know how to use the communication tools and those who don’t. Can you elaborate on that concern?
I am simply worried that the group of people who engage in social media and has the skills to become influential online is the one who exclusively sets the agenda. We have seen many examples like that the last year. Take the Kony 2012 campaign as one example: Its producers definitely knew how to put together a professional message which spread virally through the web. How many (more trustworthy) organisations haven’t worked extremely hard for years to raise awareness about issues concerning children´s rights and children soldiers, but haven’t even gotten a small amount of the attention Kony 2012 achieved?! I am scared of a world where the issues of the ones who understand communication are being considered the important ones. This is the reason why I think everybody should know how to participate on social media. Why? Because there will always be stories that need to be told and that won’t be on the agenda of individuals. Individual initiatives tend to be short term-based and have a weakness in the fact that they are carried by one person only, whereas organizations tend to be structured in a democratic manner and much more long term.
Do you think the web can create real democracy where everybody has the same power?
Yes, even if it sounds very idealistic. I am an extreme cyber optimist in that sense. But at the same time we need to realize that it is the human nature to group ourselves and to create hierarchies. We need to see that factors like power and money still are strong driving forces. The problem is when we keep on saying that all this does not happen in communities on the web while the truth is that it is happening on the web. So we constantly need to fight that, as well as making sure that as many politicians, CEOs and other decision makers are participating and getting involved in the dialogue. That they are thrilled over digital tools that enable them to keep in contact with their target groups on a daily basis, whether they are citizens, voters or customers.
What will you think in 10 years about what you said in this interview?
I hope that I don’t have to be nostalgic about these times!
Other interviews in this series: