Thursday, 24 September 2015

ABC's Utopia riffs on audience engagement

I don't normally watch the ABC's comedy show Utopia but I did last night because it came on right after Gruen, which is sort of fun too. Utopia amusingly lambasts office politics in Australia and so it has a valid place in our esteem. What made me laugh last night though was particularly the way it riffed on the idea of audience engagement. It's unusual in my experience for an Australian TV show to use this topic as a theme (correct me if I'm wrong here folks) and because of this it reminded me of Bernard Keane's novel Surveillance, which I reviewed here earlier this month. I mentioned in the review that Keane's novel was an exception in the world of fiction publishing because of its focus on the use of social media in the public sphere.

In Utopia, Rhonda (Kitty Flanagan) comes back from a conference all fired up about social media and audience engagement. In a meeting with other staff in the office, she encourages a fellow manager, Nat (Celia Pacquola), to dedicate more resources to social media in an attempt to raise the authority's public profile. What results is amusing because while the authority is involved in building infrastructure there are many people in the broader community who object to what it does. Hugh (Luke McGregor) triumphantly declares that the authority's Twitter account has gone up to 15,000 followers as a result of the recent efforts of his team. Karsten (Toby Truslove) ferries that information to the rest of the office and accompanies his announcement with loud clapping, which starts everyone else clapping too.

This segment is funny enough but the best part of the show is when Nat finds that some people who reacted to the authority's tweet on Twitter were labelling her a "Nazi". She is duly chagrined but Hugh quickly reassures her, reminding her that the point is to elicit a response from the audience regardless whether that response is positive or negative. This kind of illogical thinking makes you think of social media experts - the kinds of people Rhonda has been listening to at her conferences - and how they spin the message of audience engagement when pitching their profiles to potential customers. It's a bit of fun in short, and for those like me who spend a lot of time on social media, it's cause to have a quiet giggle.

I'm aware that Utopia is a rather intellectual offering of course, just as I'm aware that Twitter does not really accurately represent the broader Australian community. But these are the ponds I swim in.

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