Digital advocacy is assuming an increasingly important role in Brussels. What’s working to engage European policymakers? Can social media platforms help you find other advocates? Which tools work best? These were some of the questions addressed at the latest European Digital Advocacy Summit in Brussels, organised by the Public Affairs Council.
At the event, public affairs executives shared interesting case studies, insights and best practices as well as EU officials shared their perspectives on social advocacy. This executive-level conference was designed for interactive engagement between participants and presenters. I couldn’t attend the whole conference but I had the chance to sit at the “Successful Online and Media Engagement” part with Bruno Waterield, Brussels correspondent from the Telegraph and Christophe Leclercq founder of EurActiv.com
In this panel a lot was discussed about the Eurobubble (or Brussels bubble), the so-called circle of (mostly foreign) professionals living in Brussels and working on EU affairs. For an international organization, it is certainly challenging to communicate at different levels of governance and reach different target audiences at the European, national and local level. What could we learn from that panel?
- Use the (Euro)bubble as a bridge, not as a border
I often hear the claim that the Eurobubble (including EU institutions) only communicates to the bubble. This is clearly an incomplete statement since the EU communicates at levels of governance and addresses different groups of stakeholders according to the policies the work on. For instance the European Commission:
- has a central communication presence (dealing with communication at a global and European level)
- a presence delegated to the national level (managed by the Representations of the European Commission)
- An a widespread network of European Direct Information Centres to address and help citizens at local level.
Engagor Day is an event for all Engagor users and partners which took place in Ghent on May 8th, 2014 at the Eskimofabriek. The goal is to keep them updated on the latest feature additions and everything that is coming up. In other words, the Engagor Roadmap. Moreover, active Engagor users, such as NMBS/SNCB and Thomas Cook UK, presented practical business cases to inspire and inform their fellow users.
Among the introductory presentations and case studies that were discussed, I particularly enjoyed the contribution from NMBS/SNCB. Jean-Marie Hoffelinck (Advisor Online Communications) and Kim Castro (Community Manager) shared the story about the launch of their public transport company on social in 2013 and how they executed this exciting challenge. NMBS/SNCB is the Belgian national railway operator and autonomous government company formed in 1926. Like all public transport companies, NMBS relies heavily on customer care servicing around 850,000 daily travelers and dealing with a whopping 10,000 tweets per month.
WHAT TRIGGERED NMBS/SNCB TO GO ‘SOCIAL’?
NMBS started monitoring back in 2011 to get a better grip on how, when, and where people were talking about the company on social. The volume and type of questions were especially important to get a better sense of the social media landscape. To support their launch in 2013, they realized they had to put a great amount of effort into finding the right team and company ambassadors to fall back on.
Opting for Twitter to establish an extensive social media presence was an obvious choice:
- NMBS relies heavily on real-time communication. At NMBS, it’s all about context. In public transport, a tweet is often only relevant for 30 minutes. In terms of crisis management, NMBS dedicates all of their efforts to replying in a timely manner and proactively updating travelers with relevant information.
- NMBS needs to solve travelers’ problems within an instant. For example, when someone tweets, “My train looks rather dirty today,” it’s in their best interest to act on it immediately.
- NMBS wants to continuously improve customer care and give an accurate explanation as to why things went right/ wrong.
One of the most important starting points was a Belgian crisis which affirmed the importance of real-time communication. In 2011, the @stationschefBMO account was created after disaster struck at the Belgian Pukkelpop festival during a severe thunderstorm. This incident proved Twitter was the perfect medium to inform people when all other means of communication (calling, text messages, etc.) were being cut off.
Mobile, and more importantly, social are great means to provide support in real-time. From that point onwards, they really started noticing the significant success of @stationschefBMO (a personal account belonging to one of their employees). It caught their attention because of the positive impact it had on their image spreading some positive vibes for their company in the social sphere.
Due to snowy weather on March 12th, 2013, train traffic was completely down in Belgium leaving hundreds of people stranded in trains and all the other travelers without any means to get to their destination. The country was plunged into a state of complete chaos, and thousands of tweets flooded the Twitter account of NMBS in just one day.
After the disaster, they realized that “it really takes a challenging crisis before you can solve something” and knew they needed to properly utilize tools to better serve customer complaints, feedback, and sentiment. This was another really important factor that forced them to take action and be prepared for any scenario.
After two days at the Content Strategy Forum in Frankfurt with Digital Transformation team-mate Deirdre Hodson, Jonathan Stockwell reflects on how the Commission might take a more strategic approach to web content.
I felt a bit fraudulent heading off to the 2014 Content Strategy (CS) Forum in Frankfurt. My idea of content strategy was at best sketchy; at the Commission, the term is hardly used. But there was my name on the programme, next to Deirdre’s. We were speaking third, after two heavyweights, Margot Bloomstein and Eric Reiss. No pressure there, then.
I needn’t have been quite so worried about my uncertainty. It turned out no one claimed to own an authoritative definition of content strategy; it’s still a very young, embryonic field. So it’s partly up to us to decide which direction we take it in.
A place for content strategy
As I listened to the presentations, covering almost every content-related aspect of digital communications, it started to become a bit clearer where content strategy would fit, in the process of creating a common web presence for the Commission – the core of the Digital Transformation programme.
In broad terms, it slots in:
- downstream of the high-level corporate work (identifying Commission-wide user needs, devising a best-fit information architecture, optimised for the top user-needs) and
- upstream of content production (writing, editing and translating for written content)
This entry is the winner of #Talkdigital writing competition, an initiative through which the digital team of the European Commission gave the opportunity to citizens to present their ideas about institutional communication.
Digital communication is not only about communicating issues – it is also about practical help and direct social links between individuals. The EU should learn from online customer feedback products and mix it with Reddit’s AMA culture.
Let me briefly explain: Companies often use online channels to help customers and provide a service that adds real value. Take for example @DB_Bahn, @eurostar or @talktalkcare on Twitter – they provide a simple service for their customers: Ask us any question about our service and we will try and help you. Another example: Today’s digital culture could not exist without Reddit’s ‘Ask me anything’ (AMA) events. The reason why they are so successful is simple: everyone can join, it’s fun and the barriers to participate are perceived to be minimal. The EU needs to learn from these examples: Create a friendly online helpdesk that is not only useful but also easy to reach and fun to interact with.
The good news is that the Commission (and other EU institutions) already operates quite a few services that aim to help citizens to find information – but they need to be adapted to the digital age. For example, the EC’s “Europe direct” services are a great way of finding information – also on the local level. The European Commission operates a phone and a web chat service, an email enquiry service for more complex question – even with the promise of an answer within three days. However, I think those services need a better digital presence. But to make it really useful for citizens this service needs to cover “the EU” and not only one institution! Phoning the Commission or writing an email are good ways of getting in touch but in a world of digital communication we should think about more innovative methods that provide a more direct feedback experience.
So here is the idea: Create one single helpdesk website (in an ideal world for all EU institutions!) – maybe by using one of the various customer feedback management software solutions (something like uservoice) – which can cater for all sorts of citizen enquiries. This service should cover everything from finding a specific website or document on europa.eu to more elaborated questions about policies and EU law. Multilingual “AskEU” twitter and facebook profiles could be used to immediately answer the quick and easy questions. A strict policy would would need to be developed to focus on information – and not on debate. Of course not everything needs to be answered immediately, requests could also be forwarded to other services – the important thing is to keep people informed about the status of their request. By publishing all answers you will quickly develop a memory of FAQs that many people will find useful to read. The service could also host regular interactive AMA-style events “Ask us anything about directive X, policy Y or role of EP”. A new digital helpdesk service with a strong social media component could be innovative way to explain EU issues and create a new way to interact with citizens.
This entry received 2nd place in #Talkdigital writing competition, an initiative through which the digital team of the European Commission gave the opportunity to citizens to present their ideas about institutional communication.
By Špela Majcen
Robert Schuman said in his famous speech that “Europe will not be built in a day” and that small but concrete steps need to be taken to create de facto solidarity among nations of our continent. Indeed, many of such steps have been successfully undertaken. However, unfortunately, a big majority of citizens have trouble understanding the advantages and opportuntities brought to us by this never finished project of European integration.
Coming from a Member State with a disappointingly low participation rate at the latest elections for the European Parliament and at the same time slowly finishing my work as assistant to a Member of this same parliament, I believe that key to efficient and concrete communication with the citizens of Europe is a combination of three factors. First, mobilisation of young people, a lot of which seem to have lost interest in Europe but not in its student-exchange programmes, cheaper calls and visa-free travels. Second, the addiction of this same youth, which is also highly qualified, to internet, social media, blogging and communications in general. And thirdly, the networking and cooperation of these bright young minds in view of informing their peers and others of how they see the world around them. Read the full entry
This entry received 3rd place in #Talkdigital writing competition, an initiative through which the digital team of the European Commission gave the opportunity to citizens to present their ideas about institutional communication.
euStarter: Next Generation Engagement with Citizens
While the EU has a large online presence in all forms of Digital Media, there is a part of the population that believes the EU makes no visible impact at all. From evaluating the comments in Social Media, many feel they aren’t listened to by the EU being all the way in Brussels.
The author believes that this issue is primarily created due to a lack of interactivity within the platforms. These pages simply present the information, without much engaging content. Even the competitions require one being interested in the EU and to spend time trawling through these sites to find them.
How can we solve this problem? Read the full entry
By Xavier Desurmont
The Commission’s digital transformation programme is designed to help people find information on the EU more easily, and it will drastically reduce the size of the Commission’s web presence.
The web preservation project is an integral part of this programme. It aims to preserve content which might still be of interest for users and to closely look at the way digital information is currently archived and made accessible to the general public.
An inter-institutional working group, led by the Publications Office of the European Union, has been created for this purpose. It aims to get a clear image of the web-content currently available, define how to preserve relevant information from the past and develop a long-term preservation policy for the websites of the EU institutions.
The group is now discussing issues such as copyright, available tools, metadata, and preserving content from social networks and media. A pilot project to test the web preservation process has been launched in parallel.
Ideas on the method to be adopted are also coming together, based on the best web archiving practices implemented by national libraries around the world.
Our final goal is to put forward a web preservation policy with technical solutions which would allow us to meet the information needs of the public. The results of the first phase of the project are expected by July 2014. We will use this blog to keep you updated on our progress.
For the third year, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (@EU_Regional) is organising the “Europe in my Region” photo competition on Facebook. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the European Union’s achievements: the EU is present with hundreds of thousand of projects in all of the EU’s regions – we encourage citizens to take notice. A recent Eurobarometer study showed that if citizens are aware about EU regional projects in their region or city, more than 3/4 has a favourable opinion about them.
As of 12th June until 25th August 2014 citizens are invited to upload up to 3 photos depicting an EU-funded project provided the EU flag and funding information is visible somewhere in the picture. The top 100 pictures with the highest amount of votes by the general public + 50 ‘wildcard’ entries selected by the jury, will have a chance to win one of the three prizes. Each winner receives €1,000 worth of photography kit plus a trip to Brussels for 2 persons to receive their prize at the Open Days 2014 – European Week of Regions and Cities in October. In the previous two years, Commissioner Johannes Hahn (@JHahnEU) handed over the prizes.
The statistics for the 2013 competition were:
- 867 eligible photos submitted (42% increase on the previous year)
- 20,000 votes cast in the popular vote (60% increase on the previous year)
- 118,000 unique visitors to the competition Facebook app
- 32,000 new likes of the European Commission’s Facebook page
Lessons learnt from the previous two editions: Keep it simple!
Already since last year, any EU co-financed project depicting the EU funding information is eligible. Participants struggled in the first edition of the competition to differentiate between the different funds. Another lesson learnt from previous competitions has been to no longer let the public vote decide on a winner: Suspicious voting patterns (e.g. hundreds of votes originating from the same IP address, located outside the EU) had led to the exclusion of some candidates, which was unpleasant for both participants and organisers.
So, when travelling inside the EU this summer, remember to encourage your friends to take part in the Europe in my Region photo competition!
See last year’s winning photos
The recent European elections have been an excellent opportunity to reflect on the direction we want the EU to take. So we have a question for you – how do you think the EU could better communicate with citizens digitally? If you could suggest one big thing about European digital communication what would that be?
Share your ideas in this blogging competition! The winning idea will be published on this blog and the author will be invited to speak at EuroPCom2014. You can submit your entry until 15 June 2014.
It’s just a week since we launched our survey to get feedback from European Commission website users. We are excited about this for many reasons!
- the survey is the result of months of analysis of what the main reasons are people come to our websites. We gathered data from many sources: user feedback on our sites; social media, our free phone line; data from each individual department and from organisations who do similar work to ours.
- in total we held 22 workshops to get the list down from a massive 1700 tasks to 77. We worked through overlap and grouped similar things together. Given it was hours staring at and working through multiple spreadsheets the atmosphere stayed constructive and positive (in almost all!) the workshops!!!
- of course many individual department have been doing user research for many years but this is the first time we sat together as an organisation to assess why users are coming to our sites.
- the poll went out last Monday in all EU languages which was really important for us so we’d get a good language coverage which reflects our audience (9/10 of our visitors are from Europe).
“The significant problems we have cannot be solved with the thinking used to create them”. – Albert Einstein