Because of the Web we are putting less and less trust in experts and organizations and more and more in people like us-our peers.The European Union's Lisbon Treaty
was recently defeated in Ireland. One of the most remarkable things about the defeat was that practically every major organization was for it. Every major political party was for it. The business organizations were for it. The trade unions and farmers' unions were for it. The churches basically supported it. Most newspapers were for it.
So why did it fail? Many reasons, but two major ones. The first was that people didn't know what they were voting for. The text of the treaty was simply unreadable. There is an old saying: "Don't buy a pig in a poke." (Don't buy a big without examining it.) Or as one voter put it: "If you don't know, vote no."
The second reason is that the Irish have become hugely skeptical of experts and organizations. When I was growing up on a small farm in rural Ireland, there were certain people you absolutely trusted: the priest, the doctor, the teacher, your local politician.
Since the foundation of the Irish state our family supported the Fine Gael political party. The idea that you would vote for any other party wasn't even an idea. In fact, the idea that you would marry someone who was not a Fine Gael supporter was severely frowned on.
How times have changed. The church has had nothing but scandal. We now constantly unearth medical malpractice. Our teachers used to get children to memorize; now they have to teach them to think.
Our politicians, on balance, are not at all bad. Ireland has done extremely well over the last twenty years and our politicians played a key role in enabling this prosperity. Yes, there has been scandal and corruption, but much of it has now been rooted out.
But one thing is for sure; we don't follow our politicians like sheep anymore. As a taxi driver told me, he went on the Web, looked up some stuff about the Lisbon Treaty, and decided to vote no.
The Web is about the informed, skeptical society. There is a break developing between this skeptical society and its experts, institutions and organizations. The organization can't just say: "Trust us. Follow us. We know best."
The posters for the No campaign were second person and direct, saying things like "IT'LL COST YOU: MORE TAX, LESS POWER". Many of the posters for the Yes campaign had big pictures of the local politician. These posters were saying: 'I'm your local politician. Trust me.' "What we did with the poster campaign was cynical and wrong," Leo Varadkar, a member of the Irish parliament, stated about his party's campaign.
People go to the Web to find out what people like them think, and what other voices think. People today don't give their trust blindly. And this is as true for commercial organizations as it is for political ones.
People want specifics; to dig deeper into an issue. Bland political messages or marketing jargon such as "solving tomorrow's problems today" just don't cut it anymore.
In the pre-Web, politicians and marketers saw people as sheep to be lead. But in the post-Web the sheep have turned into wolves hungry for the meat in the message.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994. Read more
Gerry McGovern articles.