Is it possible that, like Howard Dean before her, Segolene Royal derives her success in part from a successfull application of peer-to-peer based web strategies?
After hearing Benoit Thieulin, Segolene’s internet strategist, speak at a fringe meeting on commons-oriented policy-making during the European Socialist Party Meeting at Porto on December 8, I have some grounds to believe so.
When Sego came on the scene about one year ago, France had already a thriving blogosphere, with many politicians operating individual blogs. But Ms. Royal asked her staff to do something altogether different. What matters, she said, was to engage with communities of non-members to the party, not just adding a new canal for egocasting herself. And this is then what Benoit and his team set out to do. They had no preconceptions, but were from the right generation and had an open mind, seeing participation not as a threat, but as an opportunity. When they started their forums, they very quickly reached about hundred messages per day, and in this first phase, set up a team of about a dozen volunteer moderators and synthetizers, making sure to be entirely transparent about the foundation of such interventions, which had as basic aspiration to obtain a civil debate focused on policy proposals. Sego positioned herself as the politician who would be determined to listen, and she also indicated there were to be no taboos, such as for example the possible negative effects of the 35-hour week.
This system of moderation however, had to be modified after an upsurge of participation, up to 300-400 contributions started to be added every day, overwhelming the volunteers. So a rating system was set up, followed by a meta-ranking system whereby the most active raters were given privileges, and where then asked to create thematic communities.
Benoit also referred to the No campaign to the European referendum. A study of this had shown that while the yes vote supporters were drawing on a small number of very big sites, the no campaign consisted of a long tail of hundreds of densily related micro-sites. This inspired the Sego camp to stimulate the creation of hundreds (I can’t remember if Benoit said 300 or 1,000 as an estimate) of blogs by sympathisers, and to make an effort to interlink them, creating an ecology of support.
This is the summary of his rather short presentation, and he then concluded that beyond the technology, what mattered was that this became a means to draw in non-party members in her campaign, especially young people, who would then propulse her success, against the initial almost universal opposition of the party apparatus. Her web strategy then, was not at all marginal, but the key aspect of her drive, the very reason for her success.
From a broadcast model with politicians sending out messages in the hope of convincing isolated individuals, Sego’s team set out to start the campaign by listening to the connected individuals and their peers, seeing themselves as facilitators.