NEMO goes to BledCom!

BledCom, one of Europe’s most influential public relations conferences celebrates its 21st edition in July, and NEMO researchers will make a big contribution.

Here’s the line-up for Saturday afternoon:

Philip Young (NEMO/ISK): Meet the digital naturals: Faxes, fridges and the future of PR

Marja Åkerström (NEMO/ISK): Digital naturals, procedural rhetoric and the gamification of democracy 

Henrik Merkelsen and Sara von Platen (both NEMO/ISK):  The role of communication professionals in the digital age

Howard Nothhaft (NEMO/ISK) and Jens Seiffert (NEMO/Leipzig): The missing media, the procedural rhetoric of computer games: A Bogostian perspective

Nils Gustafsson (NEMO/ISK): “We have parallel cultures now.” Age, internal competition and social media strategies of Swedish parliamentarians

Closing panel address: 

Timothy Coombs (NEMO visiting professor, University of Central Florida): How digital media remodels strategic communication: Deep and reflexive views from NEMO

NEMO ROUNDTABLE: The beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning for digital public relations? 

Contributors: Stephen Waddington, Timothy Coombs, Betteke van Ruler and Anne Linke Chair: Philip Young

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NEMO research sets world example, says Tim Coombs

Timothy Coombs has returned to sunny Florida after spending four months as NEMO visiting professor at the Department of Strategic Communication (ISK) at Campus Helsingborg. We asked Tim to reflect on his stay…

“When people ask me about ISK and Campus Helsingborg, I tell them something special is happening.”

TC NEMO snap
I had an amazing time visiting ISK and Sweden. The only thing that would have made it better would have been Sherry and Mugsy being there with me.

I will miss the community you all have created at ISK. What struck me is how you were more than just a department that is a collection people. I would call what you have a community where people are engaged with one another and academics. That creates a very positive atmosphere of cooperation and a sense of a people working together to build something special.

When people ask me about ISK and Campus Helsingborg, I tell them something special is happening. It is a combination of the people and ideas. NEMO is the most visible aspect of the ideas though a lot of other very interesting research is going on at ISK. It was a pleasure reading various research projects and research outcomes while I was there.

NEMO is on the cutting edge of the intersection of the Internet and society. I see job descriptions in the U.S. at major universities that reflect the themes being pursued by NEMO. The anthology of the NEMO research will help to show the world the innovative thinking and research being generated by ISK. NEMO is creating a distinct voice that articulates the various ways the digital world is impacting society.

“I would say ISK has established itself as one of the best programs in Europe and globally”

I am a strong believer in forward thinking research and NEMO captures that brilliantly. Too often public relations research, especially in the U.S., is simply more of the same thing, a seemingly endless parade of movie sequels. In the NEMO research I see new ideas, new directions, and innovation. The danger is that the thinking is ahead of its time for reviewers. I would say is better to be too far ahead than following behind. NEMO is trailblazing in many ways and appreciation for it in the field will grow over time.

ISK has a growing reputation in Europe as one of the up-and-coming programs in strategic communication. From what I have observed during my time here, I would agree with that assessment and go one step further. I would say ISK has established itself as one of the best, programs in Europe and globally.

Visiting professors are useful in building and developing that global vision. ISK is becoming not just a Swedish, Scandinavian, or European but a global brand. Visiting scholars can help contribute ideas to the mix and also report to others of the great developments occurring at ISK. Building a new program has many challenges often requiring long and difficult meetings. Everyone at ISK should be proud of where the department is and the direction in which it is going.

“ISK gave me a greater appreciation of how public relations connects with society”

I learned a lot during my visit about research and culture. It is important to be exposed to new ideas and research traditions. Consistently I did experience new concepts and perspectives when reading through the research here and listening to research presentations and discussions. Overall, it gave me a greater appreciation of how public relations connects with society.

I have always been interested in how public relations affects society. The new research traditions I encountered and cultural context of Sweden gave me more ways to think about how public relations and society intersect. This is the point I probably thought the most about when I was in Helsingborg. On a more specific, research level, I have used ideas from gamification into some CSR work. Moreover, I used the time and presentations in Sweden to refine my conceptualization of the effects of social media on crisis communication, especially the mitigation of crises. My work in refining social media and crisis communication was heavily influenced by my time at Campus Helsingborg.

On a personal level, I gained an appreciation for an engaged department. My current school is not nearly as engaged; we are more a collection of individuals than a group. That is due in part to the many disciplines that have been forced together. It was great to see such engagement and energy among the people at ISK. I will miss the people and that sense of community.

Besides the people, I will miss the research colloquiums the most. It is energizing to listen to new ideas and to hear people discuss the ideas. The discussions raise new ideas and help the research to develop more fully. This is an amazing resource for ISK that I hope is maintained. The mix of presentations by ISK and outside scholars is perfect for stimulating research ideas and spreading the ISK brand.

I hope to return to ISK and Campus Helsingborg regularly but I need to plan more trips that are not during the winter. The cold, snow, and darkness are not something I will miss. But, the people and ideas make visiting ISK worth it regardless of the weather.

Watch Tim Coombs tell the 2013 NEMO Conference about Crisis, Social Media and Zombies

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Rebranding the city: an old building in a new media

watertower2By NEMO researchers Cecilia Cassinger & Åsa Thelander

How is the city imagined visually in social media? Does it affect the way citizens view their city, their level of engagement and participation in community life and political decision-making? Who is included and excluded in re-imaginations of the city? Who is given voice and who has none?

These are some of the questions that we explore in a NEMO-funded project about co-creation in visual new media (e.g. Instagram). As an example of collaborative efforts of creating meaning and value among publics, we study experiences of participating in an Instagram project to rebrand Landskrona, a city in southern Sweden. Every week a different citizen uses Landskrona’s official Instagram account to portray the city from her or his perspective. From the city’s perspective, the social media initiative is believed to increase engagement in communal life, ultimately generating a positive image of the city that can alter the current associations to crime, unemployment and racism.

Unlike professionally produced images, Instagram enables ordinary citizens to define the images of the city. What publics post on Instagram seem to have far-reaching consequences for the city’s reputation, especially as consultancy firms now use big data approaches to analyse the happiest and coolest cities on the basis of Instagram photos. For example, Belfast and St Louis were recently revealed as the happiest cities in the UK and North America respectively, based on an analysis of the number of photographs of smiling people with connections to the locations.

In the flow of photographs of Landskrona, the old watertower stands out as a recurring motif. Numerous photographs portray the tower from different angles, using different filters. The watertower, which stands on the highest point in the city, is closed to the public; it can only be viewed from the outside. The architect Fredrik Sundbärg designed the tower in 1904, which makes it Landskrona’s oldest building. What would Sundbärg have said if someone had told him that his tower would be one of the most shared images of Landskrona some 110 years later? Nowadays, the original function of the tower is secondary; instead, the tower is turned into a commodity and marketed as the symbol of Landskrona.

Even though Instagram is a relatively new media, regarded by many as being able to revolutionise images of places, the images of Landskrona on Instagram are often conventional and show historical sites. The question is how a city can be rebranded through an old building in a new media.

Explore images of the old watertower in Landskrona here.


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NEMO Conference 2014: Friday, October 17

The third NEMO Conference will take place at Campus Helsingborg on Friday, October 17. Reserve the date!

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The Threat of Being Yourself

By NEMO/ISK researcher Nils Gustafsson

One of the things I like best about research is doing interviews because it is a very direct way of learning. For my NEMO project, I interview members of the Swedish parliament about their attitudes towards using social media as a tool in their intra- and extra-parliamentary work. The aim is to study to what extent the increased focus on individual politicians (rather than parties) – so visible in social media – can be a serious challenge to long-established collective norms within the parties in parliament.

Especially in a parliamentary system which forces strong party cohesion, like here in Sweden, political parties develop party cultures that members must adhere to if they want to be accepted by their peers and increase their influence and status within the group.

As well as being a strong individual with a personal platform, able to set yourself apart from your fellow parliamentarians (and rivals), you must show loyalty towards leadership, the group and to the informal norms of communication and conduct that are present in each organisation. But norms and cultures change as a result of inner and outer pressure, and then it can be a very tricky thing indeed to navigate through a political career.

Halfway through my interviews I had come to the conclusion that something was indeed happening with internal norms in the Swedish parliamentary parties, and the change seemed to be most serious in the largest and most collectively orientated party, the Social Democratics. Here, some MPs spoke of parallel cultures: younger parliamentarians would be more individualist and candid in their communication with (semi-)publics, whereas older MPs kept quiet and got in line.

It seemed logical: an individualist trend would be more problematic for a collectivist party.

But as I encountered more MPs from smaller and more individualist parties (such as the Left, Green and Liberal parties) I realised that the possibilities of building individualist platforms through the aid of social media posed a perhaps even greater threat to them: a group of people already made up of strong individualists with a tradition of open competition could face even worse problems in keeping MPs in line, because there would not be a tradition of conformism to fall back on.

As I am doing my last interviews for the study, each encounter is equally exciting: what more is there to know? What have I missed so far? And then, of course, I am looking forward to the joy of going over all of the interviews again to do my final analysis.

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Publicity in new and old media: Kafka revisited

NEMO researcher Matthias Baier experienced the paradox of state secrecy versus new media publicity when investigating a migration case.

Sweden is famous for its publicity principle that holds that all official documents normally are public. There are of course many reasons for keeping official documents secret, but such decisions should be made case by case, and restrictively. Those communicating documents to the press enjoy special privileges. There is however an increasing amount of actors in the new media landscape that challenge these rules. This became apparent when digging into a migration case.

Matthias explains: “The case concerns an asylum seeker – let’s call him John Smith – who was about to be expelled. His tragic history became public, but mass media didn’t disclose his exact personal details. Later, at a blog, I came across the decisions from the migration board and the migration court concerning John Smith. This was not surprising, since court decisions normally are public. These decisions could easily be retrieved from a database at the blog and John Smith’s full identity was disclosed. I then needed a last decision about the case, but could not find it anywhere, so I turned to the migration board.

“Now the Kafka process started.

“First I used a web template for official documents at the migration board. After some days my request for the document was turned down as I didn’t have John Smith’s authorization. I thought this was a mistake by the automatic system and called the migration board. After some days trying to circumvent the switchboard (for X, press 1…), I finally reached a person at the registrar; they always know. Given obscure and negative answers, and a bit irritated, I was passed on to someone up in the hierarchy that could deal with my request. This person, legally competent, referred me still further up in the hierarchy to a central staff lawyer. Quite irritated, I was informed that all decisions of this kind were secret. After several formal requests and answers sent back and forth through mail (not e-mail) I got a copy of the decision after I had signed a commitment to keep the document secret and keep it safe.

“Now the document is kept in a safe at the department of Sociology of Law, while most of the information about the case is still public, accessible through a handy database on a blog.”

  • Matthias Baier is working with ISK researcher Marja Åkerström on a NEMO-funded project, Adjudication as Democratic Practice: Discourses on Court Decisions in a New Media Landscape 
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NEMO Swarming research chosen for ICA Seattle

NEMO researchers Hagen Schölzel  and Howard Nothhaft will present their work on Swarming at the 64th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA) in Seattle, in May.

Their paper, entitled “How to investigate the establishment of facts in public discourse? Actor-Network-Theory as a methodological approach in PR-research” is based on their research into the ‘Swarming’ attack by internet activists who accused the rising star of German politics of plagiarising his PhD thesis. Within two weeks, Defence Minister zu Guttenberg was forced to resign. Howard and Hagen have given earlier accounts of the crisis at the 2012 NEMO conference and 2013 NEMO Academic Conference.  

The ICA’s annual meeting, generally regarded to be the most important conference in communication research worldwide, is based on a keenly contested selection process which accepted only 36 percent of submissions.

Howard and Hagen’s NEMO-funded investigation draws on actor-network-theory (ANT), a theoretical foundation not yet well-established in PR research. The authors argue there is a tendency for public relations research to tacitly underestimate the complexity, and indeed fragility, of the concept of ‘fact’ in public discourse. This tendency leads to a masking out of a crucial part of what public relations does.

The paper suggests some ways of exploring the establishment of facts as an active process, thus highlighting the role of communication. The analysis also draws attention on the network that ‘makes up’ a public person such as the former minister. Such a network nowadays ‘consists’ of complex and diverse entities not only including persons or institutions but also new media technology, mass media support, and – as the case shows – things like a PhD thesis.

In addition, Hagen will also present on the relevance of the cultural philosophy  concept of Interpassivity for communication theory. This second paper, based on research supported by ISK and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, contributes to current discussions about the limits of interactive communication and implications for democratic societies.

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How will Digital Natural first-timer voters affect the Swedish election?

ISK researcher Nils Gustafsson has begun work on the latest NEMO funded project. 

The Viral Vote? First-time voters in Helsingborg, social media, and information about the Swedish general election in 2014.

In research on social media and political behaviour among young people, the focus is often on “new” forms of political participation: for instance, the networked activism made globally known during the Arab uprisings, the Occupy Wall Street events, the Indignados movement etc from around 2011 and forward (Bennett & Segerberg 2013). Or – in contrast – the focus is on how political parties and political candidates use social media in election campaigns (e.g. Larsson & Moe 2012, Bergström 2011). However, these latter studies tend to focus on elite users (Larsson & Moe 2012) or on the direct interaction between political candidates and voters (Bergström 2011). This ignores the often “subtle nature of Facebook politics” (Gustafsson 2012) that goes on between ordinary voters, sharing links and discussing politics under the radar of more public debates.

This year will see two (or rather four) elections in Sweden: the European election in June, and the local, regional and national elections in September. Around 400,000 voters, or 6 % of the electorate, will be first-time-voters. A fifth of the electorate will be under 30 years old. They probably won’t “follow” or “friend” a lot of politicians, nor will they “like” their pictures on Instagram. But they probably ill vote: turnout has risen among first-time and young voters in the last two elections and chances are good that it will be even higher in 2014.

This project will undertake a series of interviews, focus groups and ethnographic field studies before, during and after the election(s) in September 2014. The research will be explorative in its nature: the point is to study in what way young people who are not politically active in interest organisations or parties will take part in political discussion and engagement in the election campaign. How is their decision to vote affected by the information they get through their feed? How do they react to political views expressed by their friends? Do they lose interest after the election or are they interested in the development of the political situation?

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Project updates January 2014

NEMO has formally considered 23 proposals for research projects and is currently funding 11 projects, representing over five years months of academic study. All are led by Campus Helsingborg staff, but include collaborations with academics from the UK, Germany, and Denmark.

  • The Dream of Enlightenment within Reach?  Howard Nothhaft, Campus Helsingborg
  • Communication Practices of Social Media Communities Mia Larson, Campus Helsingborg, and Szilvia Gyimóthy, Aalborg University, Denmark
  • BIKT: Social interaction in organizing processes – the effects of new media  Agneta Planander, Campus Helsingborg, Kristina Palm, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
  • Adjudication as Democratic Practice: Discourses on Court Decisions in a New Media Landscape Marja Åkerström, Campus Helsingborg and Matthias Baier, Lund University
  • Swarming for Democracy – A New Culture in Political Communication Howard Nothhaft, Campus Helsingborg and Hagen Schölzel
  • H@bermas 2.0: The Ecology of the User-Generated Public Sphere Howard Nothhaft, Campus Helsingborg
  • Co-Creation in Visual New Media: Examining the experiences, conditions, and consequences Åsa Thelander,  Cecilia Cassinger, both Campus Helsingborg
  • Role of communications Professionals in Digital Age  Henrik Merkelsen,  Veselinka Möllerström and Sara von Platen, all Campus Helsingborg
  • An Awkward Tool: Social Media and Intra-Party Competition Nils Gustafsson, Campus Helsingborg
  • What Digital Naturals Demand from Democracy  Marja Åkerström, Philip Young, Campus Helsingborg
  • The Gamification of Democracy:  On the democratic socialization of ‘digital naturals’ by the procedural rhetoric of computer games  Howard Nothhaft, Marja Åkerström, Philip Young (all Campus Helsingborg) and Jens Sieffert (University of Leipzig)

You will find more details of each project here.

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Conference Videos on NEMO YouTube Now

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Thank you to everyone who attended the 2013 NEMO Flashpoints Conference held at Campus Helsingborg on Friday, October 11. There are links to videos of all the presentations on the NEMO You Tube channel.

Video: Conference Highlights (30 minutes)

Video: Jesper Falkheimer, Philip Young: Welcome to ISK (6 minutes)

Video: Stephen Waddington: Brand Vandals (33 minutes) Presentation as .pdf

Video: Philip Sheldrake: Influence and Social Business (22 minutes)

Video: Philip Young: This is NEMO (11 minutes)

Video: Deborah Mattinson: Talking to a Brick Wall… (29 minutes)

Video: Peter von Satzger: Youth, Music & Social Media (33 minutes)

Video: Lina Thomsgård: Equalisters, Democracy & Social Media (22 minutes)

Video: Regina Katralen: Secrets of Top Blogger Egoina (6 minutes)

Video: Liz Bridgen: How Social Media Can Destroy PR Careers (8 minutes)

Video: Timothy Coombs: Crisis, Social Media and Zombies (26 minutes)

Happy Christmas – God Jul!

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