Just back from Stuttgart and the EuroBlog International Research Symposium 2006, hosted by Ansgar Zerfass (pictured) and his team at MFG Baden-Wurttemberg. As I said in the closing remarks, good conferences need not only good papers and good presentations, but also intelligent, engaged contributions from the body of delegates. All were very much in evidence during a stimulating and exciting two days.
As well as discussing the results of EuroBlog 2006, the symposium heard case studies and analysis from several different theoretical perspectives, some of them refreshingly critical of the positions claimed for social softwares. My fellow researcher Swaran Sandhu has posted papers and background materials at www.euroblog2006.org/symposium, but here is a brief overview.
The key note speaker was Elizabeth Albrycht (left), of the Society for New Communications Research, who spoke on Weblogs and Participatory Communications: A Theoretical Framework. Those who follow Corporate PR will be aware of some of Elizabeth's thinking but it was fascinating to see how her ideas are evolving and the paper ceratinly gave some valuable ways of understanding the changes that are associated with social software.
Next, Swaran Sandhu presented an informative, well-structured and detailed account of the results of EuroBlog2006. The level of analysis is more detailed than the headline results announced in January and I think the presentation is a valuable contribution to understanding how PR practitioners on Europe are responding - or not responding - to the challenges prsented by emerging social softwares. I followed with some thoughts on the practical and theoretcial implications of what the research team has called a 'two-speed Europe.' Again, there are slides on the symposium site but I will add a more detailed commentary shortly.
Next came three case studies:
- Cross media communications using weblogs and podcasting: www.antarctica2005.com, by Olaf Nitz and Michael Schuster, of Knallgrau New Media Solutions, Vienna, Austria
- E-Channel concepts for customer relationship management: www.catablog.de, by Simone Happ of T-Systems Multimedia Solutions, Dresden, Germany
- Weblog strategies of print media corporations: http://blog.intrinet.de, by Steffen Buffel of the University of Trier, Germany
Although it is in German, I think www.antarctica2005.com, which follows the progress of an Austrian teacher who set out to walk to the South Pole in record time, will help a lot of people understand the ways in which social softwares can bring a project alive. A blog sounded like a good idea until Michael's team relaised that it was too cold to use a digital camera or a laptop (and they'd be too heavy to carry in an environment when every surplus ounce is a serious challenge). The solution was regular calls on a satellite phone, which became the materials for podcasts. Interestingly, Austrian radio stations picked up on this and broadcast the files without conventional support from the publicity team.
The day closed with Borge Kristensen, from the University of Copenhagen and Trine-Maria Kristensen of Social Square, Copenhagen talking about Blog Usability. It turned out to be quite a controverial session, not least when Borge showed a video of a blog novice trying to make sense of a not very well presented jazz site - and the Scobleiser! I would argue that one of the big advantages of blogging is that by using templates and scripts, providers like Typepad have opened up a new platform of communication to a lot of people who would have found it impossible without an off the shelf application. But the more I think about what Borge and Trine-Maria had to say, the more I incline to their - critical - position. Something to return to.
Friday began with a very strong presentation by Dr Jan Schmidt of the University of Bamberg, who talked on Bloggers and Trendsetters: A Survey in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and Sarah Zielmann, of the University of Munster who discussed An Archetype for Euopean CEO blogs? Insights from Italy, Great Briain and Germany - again very useful stuff indeed.
Dr Ansgar Zerfass, of MFG Baden-Wurttemberg, gave a paper on Social Software, Business Excellence and Communication Strategies. It was brave of Ansgar to try and pull together such broad themes but the result was robust contribution that will be of real value to researchers, theorists and practitioners.
The Symposium ended with a roundtable discussion, hosted by Swaran Sandhu, between Prof Dr Helmut Kromar, of the Technical University of Munich, Trine-Maria Kristensen and Prof Dr Betteke van Ruler, of the University of Amsterdam.
Prof van Ruler is President of Euprera, the European Public Relations and Research Association,. whuch supported both the symposium and EuroBlog 2006. She began her contribution by saying we had spent the last two days discussing the wrong questions and posing seven of her own! Her seven were indeed good questions, but I doubt anyone in Stuttgart, or anyone who reads the presentations on the EuroBlog site, would dispute that the Symposium tackled some challenging issues in a meaningful and rewarding way.