Public Affairs: Soap Box - Stuart Bruce, principal, Stuart Bruce Associates

As conference season ends, we have seen all the political parties enthusiastically adopt social media. Similarly, government - at all levels - has started to embrace social media. The public affairs profession perhaps has not been as fast to adapt.

Every aspect of public affairs has been changed by the social web. Whether you benefit from this change, or are disadvantaged, depends on how you respond. It starts with counselling clients on strategy where you need to be aware of the changed nature of society and realise transparency, trust and openness are not just buzz words, but reality. We all know influencing public policy is more than just drinks with contacts.

However, although contacts only play a small part, they still matter, and social media and social networks provide a third way to maintain that vital network.

Conversations on the social web also provide an insight into issues that matter.

You can track trends over time to see what is being talked about, by whom and when. You can use that data to build search optimised blogs and social media newsrooms that can rank highly in search and ensure you are one of the first places that hard-pressed journalists, civil servants and parliamentary assistants look for more information.

The social web not only gives an insight into the zeitgeist of the nation, but also provides potential for changing it. If pressure groups are using the social web for campaigning their agendas, then corporates must understand what they are doing and how business can respond - without unleashing a negative backlash from disgruntled consumers and campaigners. Online advocacy campaigns can create real world public policy changes.

The world has changed. It is not just the Arab spring where Twitter and Facebook made a difference. Public affairs must be ready now.

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