Prime Minister starting to leverage the influence of bloggers

Refreshments at #pmtea
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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

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