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France: Elections 2.0
Conservative candidate Sarkozy's first steps in the blogosphere are clumsy
Pierre Joo (pierre_joo)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-17 07:09 (KST)   
Ahead of the U.S. 2008 presidential elections, here's advice to potential candidates pondering how to deal with the Web 2.0 new media community: take a close look at how French presidential hopefuls cope with their voters online in the midst of their own 2007 presidential election. Recently, all attention could be focused on one candidate: Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the ruling conservative UMP party. Nicolas Sarkozy is head to head with Socialist rival Segolene Royal in opinion polls, but as far as his online communication strategy is concerned, he has provided valuable examples of what not to do, starting with his official presidential bid announcement.

Nicolas Sarkozy has never kept his presidential ambitions a secret. As early as November 2003, on a TV talk show, when asked if he sometimes thought of running for president while shaving in the morning, he answered positively, adding that he thought about it "not only while shaving." Regarded as a virtual candidate for years, Sarkozy's official announcement could therefore hardly be fresh news. Yet, it needed to make some kind of impact in order to replace the big headlines of November 2006, which were all about Segolene Royal's triumphant victory at the socialist party's primary elections -- fresh news that had kept the media busy for several days.

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Since no surprise could come out of the message itself, Sarkozy and his campaign staff chose to find an original way to deliver it and thought they had found a good one: making the announcement an interview that would hit the headlines of several major regional daily newspapers on the morning of Nov. 30. Everything was planned carefully: journalists from the targeted newspapers were discretely contacted for the interview, while Sarkozy and his circle were busy raising expectations a few days ahead of the announcement, hinting that a surprise was on its way.

In the end, Sarkozy turned out to be the one caught by surprise: a copy of the interview had leaked to the daily newspaper Liberation, which posted it on its Web site, and quickly spread to the entire French media before the official release scheduled the following morning. By now, Sarkozy probably agrees that no information can escape online media for too long, as they enable anyone to instantly make any information accessible to the entire world. In fact, not only had Sarkozy underestimated the Web, but he had ignored it to such an extent that not even a "Sarkozy for president" official Web page was available immediately after the announcement.

Such amateurism is indeed surprising for someone supported by a dedicated and professional team. Even more so because among the many figures who publicly endorsed Sarkozy's bid is Loic Le Meur, a famous French blogger and the most active advocate of Web 2.0 in France. Le Meur's contribution to French leaders' awareness of the Web 2.0 phenomenon is undeniable.

As organizer and moderator of "LeWeb3," an international gathering of Web 2.0 actors in Paris earlier this week, Le Meur probably thought the event was a perfect opportunity for Sarkozy to better understand the Web 2.0 community, or appear Web 2.0 friendly. To seize this opportunity Le Meur allegedly imposed some last minute changes in the two-day event's program, rushing some interesting workshops to give a speaking slot to three political figures: former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and two French presidential candidates -- Francois Bayrou from the center-right UDF party, and Le Meur's favorite Nicolas Sarkozy.

Unfortunately for Le Meur, his initiative turned into a fiasco. Nicolas Sarkozy did come to the event, but his appearance proved how far away he stands from practices such as participatory debate, collective intelligence and knowledge sharing. All these practices are the very principles of the Web 2.0 community, more than a thousand mostly non-French speaking members of which Sarkozy was given the opportunity to engage. He did it in the worst possible way: a 20-minute lecture in French. Then, leaving the stage immediately after his performance, he left no room for questioning.

Loic Le Meur is now in trouble with the blogosphere, which is angry with him for hijacking the event's initial program to the benefit of some French politicians' agendas. This online heated argument even caused one participating blogger who had posted harsh criticism on the event to be fired by his company, which happened to be a sponsor for the event.

The consequences for Sarkozy are more benign: he surely did not make new friends among the Web 2.0 community, but most attendants will not vote during the elections next year. Yet, with the official campaign only just beginning, such a superficial and sometimes arrogant approach of online media could have tremendous consequences in a country that hosts Europe's biggest population of bloggers.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Pierre Joo

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