Phil Bilbrough: Get out and play infront of your computer!

Get out and play infront of your computer!

By Phil Bilbrough

Should Government agencies use social networks to communicate their key messages? Yes. Should they develop their own social network platforms? No – well maybe – I mean probably not.

Several weeks ago, I met a colleague, a friend, family over an expresso (in the Italian quarter), he was distressed. His distress was distressing. The Government was infringing his ability to do legitimate business. In the smokey cafe his argument built to thumping table rage, how could Government agencies develop their own social networks when he he had existing networks with relevant audiences. The Government didn’t wanna know. Forgetaboutit. He went off to find a pony so he could slice its head off and put it in the bed of a Government Comms person.

My made-man’s example was SPARC’s Mission-On. I found out later that this site was a lot of people’s “example”. There was some inquisitive publicity about it. Why were a lot of people asking why? This site looks great, it’s fun and it has a nice feel and works well. Its talking point was the cost of its development of which large figures (multiple millions) have been speculated and circulated (speccirlated). The website is a significant component of the “Mission On” brand, but not its only one. This brand is being used for programmes implemented by Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, with support from the Ministry of Youth Development and it features these sites the hub TV, 24|7 Girl, and Fuelled. Mission On is probably generating value.

Regardless of the’s development cost, I don’t understand its why. My colleague had a point. On one hand the site is world class and contains a lot of worthy content. It encourages offline activity and healthy eating, yet it has some online stay-in-front-of-the computer games. There are also galleries/albums, activity cards and a social network. For me the site is fine, but why develop it at all? Or why develop it so richly?

Isn’t SPARC about getting people going? Yes reach your audience (8-14 year olds) via online, but why give them more reasons to stay at their computer? Reach them via an existing social network or site and challenge them to leave the computer alone and get outside. The Mission-On site reminds me of phenomenally successful Club Penguin (now owned by Disney I see), and Habbo. So why would SPARC create this when others have already done it? I did notice that on registration, Mission-On were very security conscious, perhaps they felt that there was a security flaws (kiddie predators) with the commercial sites. Either way the Mission-On website is great fun yet seems to be giving young New Zealanders an excuse to stay at their computer.

What about this as a strategy? SPARC develops the content and brand (the activity cards, the exercise programmes and eat healthy programmes) then goes to the online publishes or to online advertising agencies and says, “Here is the brand, the material, these are the people we want to talk to, these are the numbers that we want to reach, give us your best idea and we will proceed with 2 campaigns this year, evaluate their success, proceed with 2 more the following year.”

The Government spends money developing the content and spends money getting the content out there. No or little web development work, all the content is on existing networks.

Whether Government agencies should be developing their own social networks is an irrelevant question. And my colleague was right and wrong. Developing a social network is not a problem the development costs for building a Web 2.0 site are falling as I write. So technology and implementation is easy enough, but building the community is hard. Its very hard.

I have heard a person say (in relation to attracting members to an online social network) “Build it and they will come”. My eyes rolled. This cliche does apply when one builds a baseball diamond in one’s cornfield and then long dead baseball players turn-up (there is a site for dead baseballers that coordinates this sort of stuff) and people will arrive without any promotion to watch them. So this is obviously why “Build it and they will come” was applicable to building online social communities.

The sad thing or sage advice is that if you can crow-bar a marketing strategy into a cliche you will be able to sell it in. Complex marketing strategies glaze a client’s eyes which are wiped clear when they hear the next cliche.

The government will have some audiences that just won’t appear on social networks. I’m not saying that they aren’t there but they are invisible. Audiences that this campaign targets Are you ok?. So there are cases where the Government would prefer to create their own social network platform (for social messaging), but if the Government wants to go out and reach young kids why create ANOTHER site?

Save the life of a pony, let the made-man engage his audiences with your message.

I struggled for a topic for this blog yet as soon as I focused and topics started to tumble my way. Checkout this bullshit and its use of social media networks: GM Reinvention OK to reinvent yourself just why wait until you are bankrupt.


Phil Bilbrough is a freelance online advertising specialist who has recently begun blogging on the subject for Scoop at He can be contacted at

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1 comment:

  1. Priyanka D, 9. June 2009, 22:15

    Often the people choose which network they wanna use, creating another one does not make much sense.


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