DWP has launched a YouTube channel. It’s not the first for a UK government department – No 10 and the FCO at least were there before. And there is no easy way of telling whether it is the first government use of YouTube as a campaign channel – that’s one of the problems with emergent classification – but it’s a brave attempt to explore new ways of communicating. This isn’t about grand policy or prime ministerial speeches – it’s about helping and encouraging lone parents to find their way back to work.
Various thoughts come to mind when watching them:
- This is very much niche entertainment: one video has been up for six weeks and has been viewed 1,400 times, the other has been there for a couple of weeks and has been watched 400 times
- There is a nod to the amateur ethos of YouTube: the earlier video in particular has shaky camera work and a self-referential knowingness – “say hello to the camera”. This is not the style of public information films, but also doesn’t quite get past the professional trying hard to look slightly amateur.
- There is a deliberate blurring between staff and customers. In this video,
the Jobcentre Plus lone parent adviser reveals that she is herself a
lone parent and a past beneficiary of the support which she now gives others. This is government trying to act like big sister, not look like big brother.
- YouTube is in many ways a social network – it is about sharing and contributing, not just about passively watching. Government hasn’t quite worked out how to do that yet: on the lone parent videos, comments are disabled. This is still, in its post-modern way, a monologue not a conversation.
- But YouTube is more subversive than that. The conversation is going to happen anyway. Looking at the videos on the YouTube site, rather than embedded here, is a different experience. From this page, there is a splendidly anarchic list of “related videos” – starting with Jobcentre Wierdo and followed by a number of others which don’t quite toe the official line. It is a success of social engagement of a kind – I suspect the FCO doesn’t have many related videos with their customers setting their experiences to music. And indeed, looking at Haydon Warren-Gash, British Ambassador in Colombia sitting behind a desk speaking straight to a static camera, his head framed by the British and Colombian flags, the semiotics point in a very different direction. Yet even here there is a conversation to be had – viewers can add comments if they want to, though so far none of the 136 viewers has chosen to do so.