November 13, 2012
If you’re working on an issue in which you represent one side of the debate, you’ll need to present that view online. Why? We’ve been over this before, but in short, people who matter will be looking you up online and if you’re nowhere, they’ll read up on the competition, not you.
So you’ll need to have an online presence, it will need to be fed with content, you’ll need to promote it via online marketing and other tactics, and you’ll need to engage on other platforms where your audiences may be active (social media in particular.) Neatly summarised in this visual (I hope!)
September 4, 2012
Not long ago, Brussels was wildly excited about the potential of social media, from two perspectives:
- Social media = EU saviour: proponents of the EU construct believed that social media could help bridge the divide between member states and Brussels, connect citizens and the institutions, and generally make the EU more visible, democratic and transparent.
- Social media = Public Affairs tool extraordinaire: organisations operating in policy-land believed they had a wealth of new options at their disposal, whether they were looking to reach out to policy-makers, build coalitions, or generally raise visibility and momentum around issues that mattered to them.
In both respects, we’re experiencing social media fatigue, as even the most ardent enthusiasts are appreciating that social media is no silver bullet without the right building blocks. Meaning what?
Social media ≠ EU saviour
The EU is dull: it remains uninteresting to many because it’s distant and deals with issues that most people don’t care about. Tax, education and healthcare are more interesting than REACH and fish.
The constitution debacle and now Eurozone has dealt a massive reputational blow: the fact that EU enthusiasts often seem to not care much invariably fuels accusations of it being elitist and undemocratic.
Leadership and communications: many leaders and others responsible for communicating Brussels to the world frequently struggle to articulate its significance without coming across as – again – elitist, pompous and/or uninteresting (some, not all!)
The piñata effect: given that the EU leadership and those responsible for communications don’t articulate their activities and raison d’etre especially well, they’re an easy target for national level politicians, media and others wanting to pin the blame for everything – rightly or wrongly – on Brussels.
Language: last but not least, we may now have channels that allow for instant, barrier-free communications, but we don’t all understand each other.
Conclusion in short: the building blocks aren’t right i.e. if we don’t have the right people saying interesting and relevant things, to the right people, at the right time, in the right tone, who cares if we have shiny social media channels at our disposal?
NB: Mathew has written about EU communication and social media in far more detail and quality than I have here – have a look at his blog if you’re interested in this topic (although he’s stopped blogging for now).
Social media ≠ Public Affairs tool extraordinaire
Organisations often aren’t allowed to say anything interesting: when talking to policy audiences, or audiences that are affected by policy, it helps to be permitted to talk about policy. Sometimes the lawyers, or company and/or industry culture won’t allow it.
Public affairs functions within organisations often have no strategic communications capability: they operate in a policy silo, blissfully unaware of the fact that communications (on or offline) can actually be pretty effective when done well. Net result: limited use of data, analysis and measurement, and thus poorly targeted and ineffective output.
Structure and resources: linked to the previous point, organisations may think communications is fab but simply don’t have the right organisational structure, people or outside support to conduct it well.
Organisations sometimes really don’t have anything interesting to say: sometimes there’s a lull when no particular dossiers affect an organisation and they have nothing remotely interesting to say that would interest policy audiences (NB: this is only the case with utterly uncontroversial industries, of which there are only a few e.g. if the Financial Services industry had nothing on going at the moment – utterly hypothetical of course – they’d still have lots to do to mend their reputation and thus to communicate).
Conclusion in short: again, although some digital PA is very good, the building blocks often aren’t right i.e. as above, if we don’t have the right people saying interesting and relevant things, to the right people, at the right time, in the right tone, who cares if we have shiny social media channels at our disposal?
June 9, 2012
I gave a presentation to a number of smart and lively communications professionals last week as part of the “EU Federation Knowledge Programme”, organised by EurActiv for their trade association / federation partners. The theme was my usual: applying digital and social media to Public Affairs activities in Brussels. Warning: if you don’t like orange, avoid!
May 9, 2012
Despite the various “influential bloggers” lists and the like about, what often escapes the otherwise astute PA professional is that the online world is not a different universe, at least in Public Affairs in Brussels. Citizen blogging or tweeting on the majority of issues that PA folk in Brussels care about has not taken off, meaning that the usual array of politicians, officials and journalists that are artfully mapped out in the hallowed stakeholder maps, a staple of PA, just need an extra couple of columns and it’s an online stakeholder map too.
In short, check if the said individuals tweet or blog or otherwise engage (avid engagement in a certain LinkedIn group perhaps?) and add a couple of extra columns, one for whichever channel they use, and another on how they use it (last tweeted 6 months ago, ignore; avid and insightful blogger, don’t ignore.)
A shame somewhat, but still a reality on the majority of issues. Don’t get me wrong, there are influential people here or there outside the regular offline crowd, especially in tech and energy, and there are a few influential generalists, but the issues based influential crowd in Brussels is pretty much the same whether on or offline.
March 5, 2012
Based on a conversation with a seasoned corporate communicator:
In the mid 80s, when the person in question started their career, any adverse reporting was deemed harmful. Press-clipping syndrome was very prevalent, meaning that anything published that could be deemed critical was taken very seriously indeed. This was an age when NGOs were just starting out and industry-bashing was in its infancy, so the fuss was probably all a little pointless.
In the nineties, and the noughties especially, with the web and social media taking off, the issue of loss of message-control was very prevalent. The fact that Tom, Dick and Harry could say whatever they wanted and gain an audience was seen as an existential threat. Press-clipping syndrome remained somewhat prevalent, and coupled with the might of the NGOs that were supporting Tom, Dick and Harry in their endeavours, critical reporting was deemed very dangerous indeed and increasingly hard to manage given the proliferation of channels.
In 2012, it’s all still pretty frightening, although not ALL stuff that is published and in the public domain is deemed as potentially dangerous. We’ve got better at differentiating: high-influence, high-quality influencers we care about, trolls, less so. This probably stems in part from the fact that industry has got better at using the channels itself and so essentially understands them and the threat that a single event may represent far better than just a few years ago.
In the future? 2012 evolved: adverse coverage will continue, but it will seldom come as a surprise. Organisations will be fully ingrained in the social media space, and numerous people will be entitled to track and respond, not just a couple of spokespeople. Individually, that which is deemed harmful will also develop. For instance, while we now hear of firms not hiring someone because they’ve found pictures of them on an all-night bender, in future, surely, people’s records online will be so comprehensive that we’ll expect nothing less!
November 17, 2011
The activities of the Public Affairs professional in Brussels (and most other places, for that matter) can be summed up in three core activities:
- Gathering intelligence.
- Getting a message to policy-makers and influencers.
- Engaging with stakeholders and building relationships and coalitions.
Each of these activities can be supported online, and the purpose of the wheel is to exhibit this. It contains the three core activities at the centre, and moving out, online communications activities, and in the outer circle, the tools and tactics that support these.
- These could be placed in an order (1-6) starting with monitoring, through to content production, marketing and ending with community, which would in principle represent the correct way to approach most online endeavours, but it may not always be the case, plus I didn’t want to over-engineer.
- Yes, there’s plenty of overlap, hence the arrows. There should probably be more arrows, but again, didn’t want to over-engineer.
- Yes, there are far more tools and approaches, but this is specific to PA in Brussels, hardly the most advanced digitally, so this is fine for starters I think.
The wheel is by no means final, so would appreciate scathing criticism or (preferably) constructive suggestions for improvement.
October 15, 2011
I recently heard for the umpteenth time that someone who had signed up to Twitter and didn’t gain a following of a million within a few weeks had given up, claiming it doesn’t work as a channel to raise awareness and engage on policy-related issues because it’s not credible and 140 characters is only enough for a bit of mindless babble.
I doubt it. There are two reasons it wouldn’t have worked (beyond the fact that it always takes a bit more time than you think): either tweets were dull or irrelevant, or, on the given issue, there aren’t enough people interested in it active on Twitter YET i.e. there’s no critical mass. A telephone too was pretty useless when hardly anyone one had one.
So two points:
- A channel is just a channel: it’s not the nature of it that determines whether it works or not but what you transmit on it. Does an annoying telemarketer trying to sell you something utterly useless make you think the phone is a worthless communications channel?
- A channel is just a channel: it’ll work if there’s enough critical mass i.e. lots of people on it, meaning people in your sector/area of interest/issue, actively using it. Fact of the matter is, in most areas, they aren’t all on Twitter yet.
And a third:
- Enough with the “only 140 characters”: it’s enough for a quick exchange and to drive traffic somewhere else where you have as much space as you like to delve deeper (a blog, for instance.)
September 7, 2011
At the risk of sounding like an anorak, I get a kick out of asking PA professionals how many of their “stakeholders” are on Twitter, hearing them say “none” and then asking them for a short list of their most important “stakeholders” i.e. MEPs in relevant committees, commission officials in relevant DGs, relevant people at perm reps, in the media etc.
Shock horror, we then discover that many of them in fact are on Twitter. Some even use it properly. They follow and are followed by lots of their peers in their same sector. They are active every day. They ask and answer questions and provide information (and want some in return).
So once again: if you’re a PA pro, following the right people on Twitter and generally being interesting and/or relevant will provide you with access to lots of people who matter, it may make them like you, and what’s more, it will supply a stream of information that you might only get elsewhere the following day.
I’m proud to say FH gets it, but once I leave the building, I shan’t be holding my breath.
I hear some variation of this all the time: we don’t need digital, this is just a policy issue; digital isn’t relevant, we’re not trying to reach a mass audience. And so forth.
No – digital is always relevant; it’s the degree that changes. In short, here are three reasons why:
- Digital isn’t only social media. People often think that being active online always involves 2-way engagement but I’m perfectly happy to admit that in many cases, Brussels issues are such that online engagement isn’t likely to happen, for a number of reasons. However, policy-makers and others who matter, no matter how niche an issue is, still use the web to conduct research. So content and search are always relevant.
- Beyond content and search, the engagement piece is increasingly important. On some issues (ICT especially) Twitter advocacy is already fairly mature, and it’s just a question of time before the same becomes the case in other sectors.
- Lastly, there’s the fact that the line between PR and PA is blurring: issues are increasingly influenced by players beyond Brussels, meaning that success in PA will depend on a government relations “plus” approach involving more audiences, across Europe, and across channels (including digital).