After reading the story in every publication we looked at this week (well, PA Newsletter and PR Week to be precise), we thought it was about time we gave a nod towards the folks at Essex County Council in the UK. Their comms team have enlisted the power of social networking site Facebook in their quest to oppose the closure of the county’s post offices. We can only wish the two hundred odd supporters of the group well in their campaign. Although the tone of some of their comments suggests that they are not optimistic of success.
Whilst browsing the group’s page, we noticed that a related group is “I don’t live in London, I live in Essex” (13,000 members as opposed to the London network’s 1.7 million). Despite the fact that the UK boasts the highest number of members of Facebook after the US and Canada, we wonder how far the ability of members to join a geographical network with which they identify inhibits the use of the platform for political activism and companies marketing to consumers in Europe. In both cases, the ability to tap into Facebook users in a specific locality may be of great interest. For example, MEPs from Yorkshire may like to tap into the whole county in the run up to 2009, while local networks would have a greater allure to businesses wishing to provide local services or goods. It strikes us that the other tools such as the MeetUp site used by Beppe Grillo in Italy earlier this year may have certain advantages for certain types of local action.
Facebook is also clearly aware of some of the needs out there that are currently not addressed. Facebook groups that anyone can set up, such as the “we live in Essex” mob, may help and you can of course request that geographical networks be created. The site now also allows you to create pages for local businesses, products and indeed politicians. In addition, the Facebook blog promises new language versions, which presumably will also encourage non-native English speakers to request networks for their part of the world.
In Europe, currently the UK has 14 different regional networks, while users in other European countries can only belong to national networks such as “Belgium”. For now, it seems Belgians can at least live together in the virtual world.