Maman Poulet | Clucking away crookedly through media, politics and life

When a seminar became a launch

February 25th, 2009 · 29 Comments · Blogging, Irish Politics, Social Policy

Yesterday I heard about a seminar being organised by Strawberry Media where Joe Rospars, New Media Director for the Obama campaign was to speak. It was pitched at bloggers and political and techie types and I was among the first to sign up and the organiser asked me to blog about the event and spread the word.

Now a little bit of background – In recent weeks it’s been apparent that Fianna Fáil were ramping up social media activities, there was a twitter account and then a sign up for online engagement with bloggers and encouragement for party members to blog.  I signed up to be kept informed as I’m on mailing lists for other political parties and I’ve helped run events for all parties and none to attend to discuss social media and blogging.  And I cover elections online.

Finally the largest party in the state were getting serious about online engagement and this was to be welcomed as far as I was concerned – I’m into people doing things online whatever the colour of their poltical bib.  I then heard that Blue State Digital (whom Rospars founded) were working with Fianna Fáil on the new strategy and things started to click into place.  Strawberry Media are working with Fianna Fáil and BSD as the Irish partners in the project.

But this seminar tonight was not advertised by Strawberry Media to bloggers as being part of the Fianna Fáil online engagement strategy. We were going to hear from the Obama online media guru – many of us had already supped from the Democratic Move On cup when Zack Exley came to talk at the EU Commission Representation in Ireland event in October. So we were looking for more detail and information and in just over 24 hours the event filled up.

Anyway off to the seminar I go,  a good sprinkling of bloggers – most of whom were not political bloggers but more social media types, there were lots of FF members and press and media handlers there also. There were also members of other political parties there – who thought they were going to a seminar presented by Joe Rospars.

We get welcomed by a Fianna Fáil staff member who introduced the party General Secretary Sean Dorgan. Sean proceeds to welcome us to the launch of the party website and says that they were glad to have bloggers there and some Ogra FF members to hear more about Blue State Digital from Joe Rospars.  There was an explanation of the involvement of Strawberry Media in the project and words about FF online in the future. The was a lot of activitiy happening on twitter during the event with people wondering what event they were at – but nobody in the room from the party or the company seemed to be reading  Twitter – Problem one!

The FF website is up on the screen and lots of FF types are around room making sure everything is ok. Camera Crew and photographers are there too. No politicians from the national stage that I could see.

Joe starts his input with a video about the Obama campaign and a brief exploration of the logistics involved online and offline in organising the movment and the campaign. The input ends with the Fianna Fáil website and this website stays up during a question and answer session. If I were a non alligned political blogger/social media type at this stage I would be very confused – Problem Two.

Questions are posed by FF candidates, members, journalists and bloggers and range from questions on Obama related issues, Blue State Digital directions (more about this in another post from me later) and questions about Fianna Fáil’s online strategy.

There has been a very negative reaction tonight to the way the event was run from mainly non political aligned bloggers and social media enthusiasts.

If Fianna Fail wanted to launch their online engagement strategy to an audience of bloggers and social media activists then they should have done the full bells and whistles launch and invited us all – we would have been there with bells on no matter if we voted or not. In fact from many in the room I think they would have offered up lots of advice and many questions and commentary. Last week Bord Gais Energy did something similar with an audience of bloggers – it worked really well because it was up front in that a company wanted to talk to a group of bloggers about a new project.

Did Fianna Fail mislead us tonight on what we were going to? I don’t think Strawberry Media did – they wanted people to hear Rospars – Fianna Fáil just misjudged how to do things with the very varied audience in the room.

The media company involved asked us did we want to hear Joe Rospars speak and lots of us said ‘yes please’ and they knew how to handle things and I think it was a pity they were not allowed to run the event as it was advertised.  As for Joe I won’t remember much about his speech because I was reading the reactions on twitter and watching the reaction in the room – a number of questions asked were not answered and little new information was gained.  The fact the new website was on the screen in the room led to FF specific questions being asked  – Cue Problem 3.

If it were a Fianna Fáil web strategy launch we’d probably have learnt so much more and FF would have lots of blog posts on the new project and engagement.

Finally to add to confusion regarding the night I wonder who I gave my name and email address to when I signed in at the door? Because at the end of night Joe was telling us all to email Fianna Fáil as if we were at a FF event.

Now if people are wondering about all the noise and negativity tonight it’s simply because people became very confused at what event they were actually at.

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29 Comments so far

  • Irish Election » Fianna Fail launch sitr as Joe Rospars speaks

    […] Blake the organiser replies , Slugger,    , Green Ink  , Mulley Communications , Gav ,   Suzy all weigh […]

  • Gav

    I think yourself and myself are on the same page on this one. There was massive potential for Fianna Fáil, if they really wanted to, to be more consultative and interactive than ever before if they’d pitched this event the right way. Why not call it a Q&A on their new online strategy with time for users to make suggestions on what they’d like to see from the country’s biggest political party?

    Muddling it up – aside from being an apparently very Fianna Fáil thing to do – was quite possibly the only way that FF could have managed to come out of the event worse off than when they started.

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  • Damien B

    Suzie,

    (I’m Damien Blake, I organised the event through my work – Strawberry Media- where I’m working to assist FF and Blue State on this new website.)

    It was my fault, I screwed this up; I organised the event, and put forward the idea behind the launch. I wanted as many people to see this as possible, and didn’t want it to turn in to an FF-only event. We tried to tone down the FF side of things as much as we could – that’s why there was no TDs, Ministers etc there.

    I’ve got a post up on my own blog about this – at http://url.ie/18jo – and I can’t really say anything more than I’m sorry, I got this wrong, and I’ll make sure I don’t make a mistake like this again.

    I’ll try to get the video available online as soon as I can – I’m sorry the way it was put together proved to be a distraction to the actual event.

  • simon

    So I am confused.

    The event is billed as hearing this guy speak. People turn up and see if is a FF event. FF guy gives a welcome opening speech etc and then the Guy who was billed to speak, gives a speech about what was billed as the topic.

    And then there is a Q & A session about Obama etc and Fianna Fail online strategy which as he seems to have come up with it, also covers what can be applied to the Irish politics. So really it was more or less as billed

    So all this fuss on twitter etc is that a Fianna Fail screen shot was shown? Which seems to be two of your problems with it.

    You other problem seems to be that people from the party and company were listening to the guy rather then reading twitter?

    Am I reading you correctly?

  • admin

    My problem is this event was confusing from the moment people went in the room – and not what was advertised and signed up for. In an audience of bloggers and twitterers nobody was taking temperature in room during event to check what people thought. People got more confused and it all ended in 45 minutes and now people are talking about the FF new initiative and not in a positive way – there are better ways of doing it – and if it were any other party I’d say it too – mass assumptions are being made elsewhere about this by people who weren’t there or talking to people there.

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  • Francis Mahon

    It’s really simple, Simon (if you’ll pardon the expression),

    The organiser, Damien Blake of Strawberry Media is a member of Fianna Fail, and, in fact, represents them as an elected councillor on Letterkenny Town Council.

    Got that? Damien Blake = Strawberry Media + Fianna Fail

    Another accusation that has been leveled is that the questions from the floor were selected in a biased manner (it is my impression that the same Mr. Blake was in charge of the microphone). Despite the ratio of Fianna Fail people to interested bloggers, the questions reflected a more specific Fianna Fail bent than a general open discussion.

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  • Damien B

    @Francis Mahon

    Yep, I had the microphone. As Suzie will back me up on, I tried my best not to get FF speakers. I called on people as I could see then, and came down to the back of the room to specifically pick out non-Fianna Fail people.

    @suzybie

    The plan was for me to be checking twitter etc during the event, but in the end it was my laptop that ended up being used for the slideshow so I couldn’t get access to it.

  • simon

    I am still a bit confused

    the talk was billed as http://www.strawberrymedia.ie/joe-rospars/
    “Joe will be discussing the lessons of the Obama campaign, how it can be applied in other fields, and will take a Q&A on his talk. Attendance at the seminar is free.”

    Did he address those issues? I get the point that people were not expecting a bit of a FF plug but if the guy gave the above speech did people not get what they came for? Just that they got a bit more?

    Also when is the last time bloggers have ever talk positively about FF 🙂

  • admin

    Francis – Damien is known amongst politics bloggers and politician bloggers as one of the very few if not only FF elected officials who blogs. And would be well technically experienced in this area also. Damien gets bloggers and online interaction – a lot of the party don’t…

    he did pick quite a few non FF members also to ask questions – me included, there were a few party political broadcast intros alright!

    Simon – read Gav Reilly’s post – it’s perfect on the problem with tonight from someone who was watching the match!

  • simon

    I have read Gav’s post and most of the blog posts and the tweets and really it just seems people are angry at getting more then they thought but still getting what they thought they would get. I will reserve judgement till I see the video.

  • SeanR

    Oh lord, its a bit like the Jack Straw email from Lagos, how daft! This sounds like a complete media disaster…

    Did you undergo an Manchurian style brainwashing, are there gaps in your memory? Would you like to play a game of cards Mother????

  • Damien Mulley

    G’wan Suzy, say black. Ring the bell.

  • Noel Rock

    Frankly, Simon, I didn’t go to see Joe Rospars tell me how Cowen and Obama are alike…

    This was one of the many problems of a night where I scoffed once too often.

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  • Darragh

    Yep, I was there too. I spoke to Damien after the event – nice guy and all that – and I told him that the event I’d been at was not the event I thought I was going to be at.

    Simon, you can stick rigidly to the facts here alright – it was advertised to hear Rospar, we heard Rospar. It was advertised to discuss how it could be applied to other events – we had a bit of that. I don’t really have a problem with that – I have a problem with the whole organisation of it.

    I’m one of the completely non-political bloggers that Suzy mentions above, but I do have an interest because I like seeing what people are doing with Social Media. I wanted to hear how, given the way it was advertised – “Joe will be discussing the lessons of the Obama campaign” – it would be done, what would be said etc. I expected a discussion, a more “geeky” (pardon the expression) approach to it with stats, figures and insights – the event being “particularly suited to bloggers and those interested in technology and politics” after all.

    Suzy has pretty much exactly what happened but let me add a couple of things:

    1. It was advertised as six sharp – I’d imagine it started at quarter past as they got things set up. There were no apologies, no introductions, nothing.

    2. Jimmy Healy, FF party member, introduces himself – and then Sean Dorgan – as if the audience knew exactly what was going on. I actually had to wonder what I’d missed here, if I had been blind to the obvious and everyone else had already known. A quick glance at Twitter told me it wasn’t so.

    He then tells us that Rospar is to speak for only ten minutes. The sigh in the room was almost audible – we’d come here and given up time for this?!

    3. Rospars speaks. For ten minutes, not including Q&A. Part of which is a rousing “Yes we can” video about what was achieved – not how though. He spoke for the ten minutes, had less than 10 slides and while a lot was focussed on what was achieved, the only insight he gave to the audience – and I’ll repeat, an audience of “bloggers and those interested in technology and politics” was that they “built real authentic relationships with people and used them in a concrete way”.

    4. Rospars takes questions. He doesn’t answer the ones that he doesn’t want to, one of the questions from a FF South Dublin candidate/member is “Will BlueStateDigital be helping Irish politicians to blog and use social media, cos, y’know, we don’t really know how to” while another is “Cowen is no Obama. Will this work” (very paraphrased but that is it).

    “Make sure a web presence is a big part of what you’re doing” is the message given to bloggers.

    5. Fianna Fail will use their new website to engage with people we’re told. I tweet big thing now is to get people engaged by email. “sign up for email” for interesting things. Cowen to reply to emails by video. as if this was going to herald a new dawn in Irish politics, solve the recession and speak to the people. We’re not asked for opinions, we’re not invited to participate in shaping how things are done, we’re expected to applaud. Sean Dorgan looks disappointed when we don’t.

    6. We’re thanked for coming just before 7pm – after less than twenty minutes of the man’s time, with no lessons learned , we’re told “Yay, so this is the first great step that Fianna Fail will take to engage bloggers and social media people. Isn’t it a great success? Aren’t we great? I’ll bet you’re all delighted. Sign up for the email, it’s gonna rock!” The room empties faster than Sunday mass for an All Ireland Final. No networking, no discussion, no how to find out more, no we’re here to answer questions. You’ve heard him, you should be happy, get out.

    7. I speak to Damien afterwards.

    – Damien, this was sneaky
    – Well yes, I suppose it was
    – Why
    – Well, is we billed it as a Fianna Fáil event, not as big a mix of bloggers would come and we’d have a lot more Fianna Fáilers. We wanted a broader mix of people.

    But is deceiving them the best way to do that?

    Sean Dorgan comes over to tell Damien that they have to go to the next event. He’s possibly one of the most instantly offputting people I’ve ever encountered, almost sneering at the fact we’re bloggers or that I work with Boards.ie – it’s obvious that they don’t get it.

    And that is my whole point on this (Suzy, sorry for the long comment…) Fianna Fáil still don’t get it. They don’t trust bloggers to be objective or to have valid opinions or valuable input. This is a tick the box exercise, a “Sure we tried, didn’t we? It’s not our fault that it didn’t work, it’s those think-they-know-it-all bloggers and their pesky freedom of speech.”

    Suzy says it perfectly below:

    If Fianna Fail wanted to launch their online engagement strategy to an audience of bloggers and social media activists then they should have done the full bells and whistles launch and invited us all – we would have been there with bells on no matter if we voted or not. In fact from many in the room I think they would have offered up lots of advice and many questions and commentary. Last week Bord Gais Energy did something similar with an audience of bloggers – it worked really well because it was up front in that a company wanted to talk to a group of bloggers about a new project.

    Did Fianna Fail mislead us tonight on what we were going to? I don’t think Strawberry Media did – they wanted people to hear Rospars – Fianna Fáil just misjudged how to do things with the very varied audience in the room.

    When was the last time bloggers had something positive to say about Fianna Fáil? I don’t know – when was the last time they gave us something positive to talk about? Last night certainly wasn’t it.

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  • Concubhar Ó Liatháin

    The complaint people have about being invited to a web event which turns into a Fianna Fáíl launch is fair enough though I think people would have gone one way or the other to hear someone of Joe Rospers’ reputation speak.

    I think however that the real story may be missed – Fianna Fáil went off with their cheque book to the US to get a web site when they could have got a website as slick at home. There might even be as much Irish as Polish on the site made in Ireland.

    Remember this is the party whose Finance Minister stood up in the Dáil not so long ago to chide shoppers who went north to Newry to avail of cheaper prices, a product of a lower vat rate, favourable exchange rates and general better value for money. Are they giving a good example in these recessionary times…..

    It doesn’t seem like that to me….

  • annb

    Damien B, The dog ate my homework tone of your laptop not being available to monitor movements on Twitter?
    Please give us some credit. Fair dues though, at least you’ve joined the right party – where this sort of smoke and mirrors approach to the truth is lauded and rewarded.

  • Brendan Hughes

    Hi Suzy. It seems that even the party faithful are unhappy with the approach taken to the promotion of this event.

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  • Donal O'Brolchain

    I attended the FF/Blue State Digital/Joe Rospars event on Wednesday last, although not a blogger or a member of any political party.
    I was not surprised to find that it was a FF event, as they have long gone to the US seeking advice from political campaign managers and funding. I said as much to a friend before the event.

    It will be interesting to monitor this relationship between Blue State Digital and FF. Will it last?
    Joe Rospars mentioned transparency in his presentation. We who live here know just how transparent the last FF leader was about his finances in front of Tribunals etc.
    Freedom of information(FoI) is a means of having some transparency. Yet the FF-led Government limited after the 2002 General Election, although it was not an issue either before or during the election. A strange form of transparency.
    Presumably Blue State Digital are now moving from the “idealistic” phase of the development of their business development to the “let us make as much money as we can” phase – just like one of their Irish clients has done long ago!
    Something similar happened to Lincoln’s Party in the US – I believe he was the first Republican President. Note it was also a Republican president (Eisenhower) who took the first steps to enforce US Federal standards against discrimination in southern US states during the 1950s.

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