Mathew Lowry


I’m going to try to break the habit of a lifetime this [morning/lunchtime/evening] and actually attend a physical [conference/workshop/seminar/PRpissup] about the EU and social media, something so self-evidently oxymoronic that I’ve often been tempted to drop the ‘oxy’.

But, life being what it is, I probably won’t make it due to [family issues/overwork/rampaging gerbil infestation]. And if I do, any question I’d try and ask would probably be as long as one of my posts, which wouldn’t do at all.

So, as insurance to the former eventuality, and as a training for myself in brevity, here’s my question for the panel. Feel free to add your own in comments.

Dear Panel,

A lot of people say very frequently that social media allows the EU to [engage with the citizen/renew its legitimacy/resuscitate European democracy/look cool at last], but I’m wondering whether anyone’s worked out the details yet.

Seeing as the Panel includes [American social media gurus/Facebook ninjas/blogging mavens/invading Martians], I’d like to ask a question.

If someone from within an EU Institution wishes to engage with [citizens/voters/taxpayers/peasants] outside the Brussels Bubble about a particular policy issue, they’ll need to reach out to the existing communities and conversations already underway on that issue, because these audiences are not coming naturally to the EU’s own websites.

Part 1 of the problem is scale (more here):

  • these conversations and communities are underway in 27 countries, in 20 languages.
  • no single policy expert in the Institutions can possibly engage with that, even if they had 8 hours a day;
  • your typical public servants already consider themselves busy enough and are not communications experts;
  • hence: “this sort of thing is for the communications unit”.

So this leads to Part 2 of the problem, which is organisational, because:

  • by the above logic, a communications unit will have to engage in conversations and communities in 27 countries, in 20 languages, about every policy topic the DG has;
  • these conversations, moreover, are often quite specialised and detailed, inhabited by [citizens/voters/taxpayers/peasants] intensely interested in the policy issue;
  • moreover, these people don’t care that the EU staffer is from DG X’s communications unit, and therefore cannot answer for DG Y, or another EU Institution.

So if you send your communications generalist in there, they may find themselves unable to answer half the questions, particularly given the speed of online conversation.

And simply bringing in subcontractors, while boosting the resources, won’t solve the above organisational problems and risks losing authenticity.

So, dear Panel, how is it done in [America/Facebook/Mars]?

Thank you in advance.

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  1. Yep, I’ve been asking this question, in one form or another, for several years now, and I can’t think, off the top of my head, of anything approaching a useful answer, at least not from EU comms officialdom. I guess they’re too busy going to conferences … ūüėČ

    Not that I have any easy answers to this one myself. I just finalised a social media strategy for an EU team, for example, and the conclusion was – given their organisational setup and the political sensitivities surrounding their content – that they’ll be keeping the engagement in-house, even if that means doing a lot less than they could.

    Merry Christmas comme meme! Maybe we’ll get an answer next year.

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