Monday, June 18, 2012

Prime Minister starting to leverage the influence of bloggers

Refreshments at #pmtea
Photo by
Last Friday Prime Minister Gillard sat down with a group of influential female bloggers, online women's forum managers and journalists in, what I hope, is the start of an active engagement with online influencers by the Australian Government.

As a blogger I have been on the receiving end of irregular random unsolicited emails from Australian advertising agencies, that sometimes spam bloggers in the hope that some of them will talk about their latest client's products.

I don't know what they charge their clients for this 'service'.

However, to my knowledge, governments and government agencies in Australia have, with a few exceptions, largely ignored the existence and influence of bloggers.

There's also been limited research by governments in Australia into understanding the reach and influence of bloggers, and few attempts at integrating co-ordinated or long-term blogger outreach into communication and stakeholder engagement strategies.

That is what made #pmtea so exciting.

Gillard met with a group of online influencers for an hour or so. She had tea and refreshments with them and generally chatted.

There was no express policy goal or message, and it wasn't a focus group. However what it did was establish a relationship that will help the Prime Minister and govenment in the future.

A photo of #pmtea attendees from
The Prime Minister established personal connections with influential commentators. So now, whenever she has a message her government wants to get out to large numbers of Australian women and families, her office can include these bloggers in the 'media' distribution, even ask them for help in appropriate circumstances to counter inappropriate spin from traditional media.

When there is negative press coverage on something the government has done, will do (or has decided not to do), these bloggers will think twice before buying into the hype, balancing their views with their experience of her character and their personal connection with her.

This form of soft influence is vital for blunting criticisms aimed at governments and government agencies - just as it is for commercial organisations. Having reporters think twice and reflect, based on a personal relationship, before reporting, is how media advisors have influenced journalists for years, often resulting in more accurate and balanced stories.

Part of the breakdown between governments and media outlets has been due to the breakdown of these traditional relationships, which help commentators understand why decisions are being made and humanise the participants in every debate.

The challenge today for governments, Ministers and agencies alike, is to rebuild this type of relationship with a new form of commentator - influential bloggers. People who command directly, or indirectly, audiences in the tens or hundreds of thousands, making them potentially larger and more actively engaged audiences than those of many traditional magazines and newspapers.

I hope that now the Prime Minister has shown that it is possible and acceptable for (elected) government officials to meet and interact with influential bloggers we'll see agencies more willing to have their (appointed) officials doing the same.

Bloggers are not traditional stakeholders or lobbyists. They generally only represent their own views and are rarely backed by powerful commercial or religious organisations. However they directly interact with, reflect and influence the views of their audiences. They have reach, and they have a platform.

Agencies need to consider inviting them to their conferences, bringing them in as part of their stakeholder groups. involving them in their research and providing them with stories (not media releases) and content they can share.

In other words, agencies need to recognise the influence of bloggers, just as they do traditional media commentators.

And, most importantly, agencies need to read what influential bloggers write.

Here's a list of some of the coverage of #PMTea by blogs, forums and news outlets.
News outlets


  1. Excellent post Craig. Some terrific observations and thoughts. Some innovative strategy coming out of the PMs office in recent times. Interesting times.

    Perhaps next on the agenda for the PM would be a similar event for male bloggers. Could I be so bold as suggest #PMlongblack as a moniker?

  2. I wonder why she only met with female bloggers?

    Very cool move though.


  3. It's been more on the local Canberra stage, but you'll be pleased to hear that the Canberra Theatre Centre has been fostering and calling about relationships with influential bloggers for a few years now.

  4. Hey Craig, I think you are bang on the money. For me it totally changed the pace and tone of the political discussion. For what it's worth, someone asked her right near the end of the gathering why she had done it. Her reply was along the lines of it offering an environment to talk about things and hear from people in a much less formal setting. The challenge with that is, as Clementine Ford describes it, a formal informality - how much do you discuss, how far do you go in what you ask? Someone did ask some more pointed questions and several of us were instantly of the 'whoah, not cool' reaction. The PM I might add, responded with a very non-spin pragmatic open answer. She did the same when talking to Eden (Edenland) about foreign aid. I think it was a very successful event for the PM.

  5. Hi Craig,

    I love your take on the event. Especially that bit about integrating co-ordinated and long-tem blogger engagement strategies. It's about bloody time.=)


  6. Thanks Craig. Great to see online and offline worlds meeting. I hope this comment isn't seen as off track, but for the life of me I just cant imagine the Leader of the Opposition in that photo.

  7. Catherine ArcherJune 20, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    Hi Craig. Interesting post and right on the money. I am doing my PhD on blogging parents (ie mostly mothers) in Australia. The morning tea with the PM (#PMTea) came at just the right time for me - right before my candidacy presentation which is this Friday! Coincidence? I may just use your post as a screen grab in my slides! This whole bloggin' thing is certainly getting more attention - I'd better hurry up with my research. Catherine

    1. No worries Catherine - and I've seen you on Twitter. If I can help any further, let me know :) You might be interested in some of Axel Brun's work as well (