A friend of mine, Alexandra Samuel, who introduced some in H&K's Toronto office to the finer points of online discourse through something called "dialogue panels", has launched a new venture based out of Vancouver called Social Signal. The intended goal of this small consultancy is "to support online communities and distributed collaboration networks — networks of communities that share content and relationships by using the latest generation of web tools."
Don't get me wrong here. I am not touting for a competitor. However, Alexandra's premise is instructive for all of us. Her thesis is that the most effective social movements and activist campaigns are bottom-up, decentralized and participatory. Not coincidentally, new web tools -- collectively called Web 2.0 and including such things as blogging, tagging and RSS -- also facilitate this type of communication. Explains Alexandra, "What’s exciting about Web 2.0 — yes, we really need another name for it! — is that it offers the technological infrastructure for decentralized, bottom-up, participatory collaboration. Instead of creating another community group to compete for foundation funding, like-minded members of existing community organizations can use a wiki to develop a joint proposal. Instead of distributing government surveys, public servants can access spontaneous, focused feedback by aggregating blog-based policy discussions. Instead of focusing on fundraising in order to pay campaign staff, activist groups can create far-reaching information campaigns that are powered by their members’ RSS feeds."
I have often argued (usually unsuccessfully I am afraid) with clients and at speaking engagements that social activists and advocacy groups are well ahead of most companies in the use of digital technologies to structure campaigns. But, I'll argue again, corporate public engagement strategies, essential for many natural resource, telecommunication and waste management companies, should take a page from the social activists who are finding new inexpensive and effective ways of facilitating collaboration and discussion and organizing around areas of concern.