In addition to learning about the exciting work done by the Fenton professionals, Sharene Azimi, Vice President with Fenton, offered to help me get some answers for (DIS)ENGAGED. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask some important questions relating to the topic of this blog, the answers to which came from John Gordon, Vice President of Online Services with the firm. What follows below is this question and answer session:
Could you please briefly explain the scope of Fenton’s work and your role?
Fenton provides a range of public relations, advertising, and new media services to clients that protect the environment, transform markets, improve public health, and advance human rights and social justice.
I am the Vice President of Online Services and I work with clients to develop strategies to engage their network through Web tools and social media.
Can you explain how Fenton is using Web 2.0 (social networks, blogs, or user-generated content in general) to further its work?
We believe successful campaigns require you to join a conversation before you can move people to action. These conversations are happening in traditional media, at water-coolers, and around the kitchen table. But, more and more, they are happening through social tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs. As much as appropriate we try to integrate social media into the communications mix. The challenge is to leverage the strengths of each media to complement and support the overall goals of the client.
Now the big, general question: do you see the emergence of these technologies as engaging citizens in our political and social process to change our society for the better? If so, how?
Yes. Any tool that enables citizens to organize, inform and communicate at a higher level can only better our society.
Do you see anything as a threat to technology’s ability to help move us all forward?
Last mile restrictions and media consolidation are probably the biggest threats to the Internet’s potential. Also, investment in communications infrastructure and equitable access to technology are challenges we must meet if we want to move forward as a society.
Do you believe in the professed power of social networking sites, or could they be smoke and mirrors?
The power of social networking is real. Millions of people are using these tools to connect with others and have real conversations. That’s a powerful thing.
Do you believe blogs, sites like YouTube and social networks could actually end up being a hindrance to progress, or another distraction in a world where people can seem incredibly disengaged?
Traditional media inspired response, but the experience was mostly passive. The promise of social media is that we can engage and deliver action within the same expression. With every medium there is the opportunity to use it for less than productive means, but the overall rewards certainly will outweigh any threats.
Are there any examples that immediately come to mind that you see as a success in leveraging these new online tools to change things for the better, or at least expand engagement in the larger conversation?
The one obvious example was the Obama campaign. They were able to integrate new media in way that brought about historic change.
What specific technologies do you think hold the most promise for moving the conversation forward?
I don’t think it’s about the specific technologies so much as it is about behavior. The technology certainly enables communication, but people’s desire to connect and communicate in new and creative ways is driving the innovation.
Do you see any “dangerous” new technologies, or, ones that look like they may hold us back?
Social monitoring tools are very useful, but they are also a little frightening. I don’t think most people understand that every Tweet and post they generate is searchable and that people are actively mining and monitoring for information. The flip side of this is that younger generations do understand this and they seem okay with it. This active embrace of total information sharing could have future implications about the perception of privacy rights.
Thank you so much to the team at Fenton Communications, both for helping me, and for your work!