Author, broadcaster and advertising doyen, Jane Caro, is the keynote at Communication Innovation – PRIA’s 2016 National Conference on the 14th of November (check out the full list of speakers here.) However, today she tells B&T how the internet is taking power from the powerful and what that means for the rest of us…
Should social media managers be on a constant lookout for ‘the next big thing’?
Yes, but I think that’s where we get ourselves lost. The technology and the method of delivery are forever expanding. I was listening to ABC Radio last week to people, I think it was Future Tens, talking about people having chips inserted into their brains. So goodness knows where we’re going to end up. In fact, human beings, haven’t changed. What engages us, what excites us, what moves us, what frightens us – what gets us involved and energised, is the same now as it was a hundred thousand years ago. Yes, new platforms shape the design of content, the shape of content, the length of content – but what they should never influence is the substance of content.
Critics see social media as graveyard for real action – where ‘slacktivism’ makes us click a Facebook ‘like’ rather than actually doing something. How then can it affect democracy?
I don’t think that’s any different to how it used to be. In fact, the only difference now is that people are able to register likes, they are able to sign petitions, they are able to donate to causes. Crowd funding is a really interesting example of that, and Getup! is an interesting example, as well. In a way, we’ve made it easier for people to, if not themselves take action, give other people a sense of being supported in the action that they are taking.
How has social media changed our democracy?
We had a form of democracy prior to social media which was about privilege. There were certain groups that had more access to democratic power than other groups – and that is changing, and changing fast. But of course, no one gives up power without a fight. The invention of the printing press had exactly the same effect on the powers that be in the 15th and 16th centuries. Which basically, in the western world, was the Catholic Church. We saw the Protestant reformation, then we see all the reactions to that, the Spanish Inquisition, the burning of witches, the wars that followed, while the Catholic Church tried to hold onto power. The internet is the next, and more revolutionary stage, after the printing press, not just of the democratisation of information, but of share of voice. Yes, it’s quite exciting, but it’s going to be as dramatic, volatile and as dangerous as after the printing press, because no one gives up power without a fight.
What lessons did you personally learn as a woman in the world of advertising that would benefit the women in the (still) largely female world of PR and Communications?
I think outsiders are always more powerful communicators. Insiders don’t know what they don’t know. Insiders think the world looks like them. If you’re a white privately educated man, you may be able to overcome this, but you’ve lived in a very sheltered world. You don’t know what it’s like to be outside that world. If you’re an outsider, you can see what it’s like inside that world, but you know what it’s like outside that world, therefore you’re better at communicating. Because you’ve got a wider view.
So if outsiders can affect real change, how do you see the future?
We’ve seen it in dribs and drabs, but it’s never going to be a smooth as we would like. I think the Trump phenomenon is fascinating – terrifying, but fascinating. I think the reason why he has such a presence amongst white male voters than any other group, is that they didn’t think that they were outsiders. You don’t get that level of fury if people don’t fear they’re about to lose something. The problem is, after the printing press, we took four or five hundred years to get our shit together. But because of climate change, we don’t have that kind of time. We’re going to have to sort this out fast. We really are in a sticky situation and I can’t predict what’s going to happen – I don’t know. I have some idea why things are the way they are, but how they’re going to work out? I see trouble ahead, real trouble ahead.