With more than 290 million (and counting) active social media users in Europe, online engagement continues to grow. Seeing that the community on our social media platforms can get very active, at the beginning of 2014 we (the social media team) started thinking how we can take this interaction a step further. Rather than creating something for our community, how can we create something with our community?

United in Diversity’ is the motto of the European Union. Seeking to showcase this, in March 2014 we asked our audience to send us photos illustrating their view of ‘Spring in Europe’. The photos would be published in a dedicated album on our Facebook page and the winning picture would become the cover photo of the page for several days. The response: almost 250 photos flooded our inbox. More overwhelming was the resultant Facebook photo album which brought to life the diverse sights of spring seen across the continent.

This proved popular with our online audience as not only could those who entered see their piece of the puzzle but many other community members sprung to action to express pride in their beautifully presented homelands or admire the artistic impressions of the countries of others.

We wanted to keep the spirit of collaboration not only by crowd-sourcing the photos but also in how the winner was chosen. We asked the community to vote in the simplest way possible: to ‘like’ their preferred photos. Based on the vote, the Social Media Team then selected the winner from the 3 most popular photos.

Having proven popular in itself, we have since maintained a seasonal photo competition tradition, curating our community members' snapshots across spring, summer, autumn and winter to collaboratively convey the beauty that we find all over Europe!

The statistics

The community voting and interaction among the participants drove the number of unique viewers high above average: hundreds of thousands. In January 2015, during the winter edition of the call, the two most popular photos (one from Bulgaria and another from Romania) combined to collect more than 16 000 likes, bringing the overall reach of the album to an unprecedented 1.2 million unique viewers – the highest engagement rate on our Facebook page up until then!

These numbers show that responding to feedback and encouraging interaction is not only important for community and credibility, it also makes for good business! On Facebook, your content is rewarded with greater visibility if you regularly engage with your audience (and them with you). On Twitter and other social media networks the relationship between engagement and visibility is less straightforward (and measurable). However, in general it is still the case that responsive and engaging accounts are more appreciated and trusted by the audience.

Next steps

A strong response to our earlier call to support the fight against female genital mutilation (116 photos received) showed us that there is potential for involving the community on more serious topics also. Additionally, building on first initiatives like the Single Market Month and ‘Digital4EU’ platform, we are beginning to scratch the surface of interactive policy-making. The full potential of an online community united in diversity is yet to be realised...

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