Share Europe Online (SEO) began as a pilot project in 2013 as a space created for experimentation and exploration in public sector communications. Now in 2016 it is continuing to produce some very interesting projects. Often those of us in the public sector are more conservative in our communications. The SEO pilot programme has found a way to both be experimental and learn as much as quickly as possible. This blog will walk you through the thinking behind it and a selection of the projects within this programme.

The approach is rooted in shared learning and mass experimentation across countries and platforms. By regularly sharing failures and best practices, the European Commission and Parliament have found a way to rapidly build expertise in digital communications while working through different languages and across cultures. It also acknowledges the difference between communicating en masse, as institutions trying to engage large scale influencers, and locally, where a more personal approach is needed to get people involved as influencers within their communities.

In each country of the EU, both the European Commission and Parliament have representatives (EC Representation and EP Information Office). These offices have been cooperating on these projects and in this blog I share some of their experiences with you. You can find your local EC office here on Facebook and Twitter.

There are obviously some limitations to their capacities. Not least among these challenges is the fact that Reps have to communicate on the 10 priorities of the European Commission. However, these projects have found creative ways of sticking to the priorities but thinking outside the box.

Spain: #ComoHemosCambiado [ONGOING]

ICAI University: At this building there is a photo exhibited showing one of Spain's first Erasmus students, Pedro Vidal-Aragón de Olives. On the left in this picture, Pedro is posing with a photograph of himself taken 30 years ago.

The collaboration between the teams in Madrid and Barcelona blended the physical and the digital, the human and the institutional. In the 30th year of Spain's membership of the EU, the concept was to reflect on how Spain has changed and how the Spanish have changed as people in the time that has passed. The public were invited to share their photos of themselves from the year of accession. Posters were placed around cities to show how locations had transformed during EU membership. In the first 24 hours alone, 114 photos were uploaded to Instagram with the #ComoHemosCambiado hashtag.

The audience reached was diverse, but still targeted. The relatively young audience of Instagram was engaged with the images of places they knew, while an older audience participated with photos of themselves from 1986. Influencers were engaged to communicate on how Spain had transformed. The people invited to participate were those who were born in the year of accession. Each was equipped with an information pack to help them in producing content and their articles gathered into an eBook, demonstrating a lasting quality in their work.

This project capitalised on three very effective elements to have in a digital campaign: a strong link with the physical world, a personal connection with the audience and the recruitment of advocates by offering them something of real value.

Finland: #digisaatio [COMPLETE]

The local office in Helsinki ran a radio outreach project which joined up with two interesting and unexpected partners. The first was Basso – an untraditional radio station with a young audience. The second was Luomus, the natural history museum in Helsinki. They organised a series of debates on digital topics – cybersecurity, net neutrality, big data, copyright laws, geo-blocking – and with the help of their partners, stripped away the jargon and stilted tone that EU communications can often have.

Opinion leaders were invited to participate in the conversation online and social media advertising was used to increase awareness. This was combined with an end of campaign party that took place in the natural history museum which brought participants together in real life.

It is notable that there was not one negative reaction to the advertising on Facebook. Usually when you reach out and deliver your messages into the timelines of people who do not follow you there is some element of a backlash – especially in institutional communication. This goes to show that if you're offering something of value that is tailored to the interests and culture of your audience it will be well received, as opposed to just broadcasting to people.

Lithuania: Friend Request [ONGOING]

The Vilnius team used a multimedia blend of photos, videos and writing to tell a heartfelt story in a creative way. Currently there is a hostile attitude towards immigration among certain demographics in Lithuania. Using a reality show format, the project connected first generation immigrants with Lithuanian citizens. The immigrants came equipped with a "bucket list" and an "offer list". On the "bucket list" were things that they would like to try and on the "offer list" were things that they could teach and share in exchange. They used a platform model, where the immigrants and their lists were posted and people could choose to send them a "friend request".

Using social media, they gave a candid insight into the benefits of cultural exchange. They made the unfamiliar and unusual, familiar and human using technology. They used social media advertising to target people from demographics who were thought to be more hostile to immigration. It was also picked up in the mainstream media, getting TV news coverage.

The most interesting element of this project is its strong focus on people. Moving away from abstract arguments for immigration, like economics or duty, they concentrated on relatable elements that allowed the audience to put themselves in the shoes of either of the participants.

Italy: #EUFactor [ONGOING]

The conception of the Italian campaign was key to its success. Instead of deciding what they wanted to say and choosing a target audience to say it to, they took the reverse approach and looked for where they could help people. There is a need for (and reluctance for students to become) science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates in Italy. This structural gap will create problems for the job market in future, so the #EUFactor project focussed on addressing this issue and tailored its messages on EU priorities to the context. The chosen targets of the campaign were 16 – 19 year olds making decisions about their future studies.

Using a blend of real life events and inspiring stories spread via social media, the team used partners to amplify their campaign and advocate on their behalf. There was an invention competition and explanations of EU policies in the area were provided at these events. This combined with professional skills such as search engine optimisation and social media optimisation made for a powerful campaign.

They noted that while normally the Rep needs to work to find partners for its projects, in this case they were coming forward and volunteering themselves. This illustrates the difference between a campaign where the EU is promoting itself and a campaign where the EU brings an added value through its communications.

Lessons Learned

Be daring and different – if you push the boat out you learn more lessons and might grab the attention of people who might not notice you otherwise

A lesson for one is a lesson for all – co-learning and sharing experiences is the fastest way we can improve public sector communications

Consider the context – look for communication needs and derive your objectives from them and your messages will resonate

Partnerships empower, sustained partnerships more so – build relationships with your partners that are mutually beneficial and founded on trust, and you will reap the benefits

Offer your influencers something of value – whether it is a platform to express their opinion, an opportunity to help their community, a unique experience or a chance at self-promotion, try to make helping you communicate the most worthwhile experience you can

Be heartfelt and real, and so will your audience.

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