Mathew Lowry

DG INFSO turns to Facebook in its latest ‘roaming-related’ communications drive.

Back in 2005, I was on holiday on the north coast of Bretagne, listening to the BBC in my car while I waited for my wife to come back from the shops. And who showed up in my radio? Why, Martin Selmayr.

Who? Martin was (is?) the spokesman of Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, and I was running INFSO’s web team, so I perked up at the sound of his voice.

Now Martin was opening the campaign for what eventually became the Roaming Regulation. I didn’t know that. I was on holiday. Stupefied, I heard him declare:

“In October we’re going to launch a website that provides full details of roaming charges across Europe.”

Those may not have been his exact words, but it was enough to change my outlook towards returning to work!

In the end, we did get that site launched. It was tough – hand on heart, I think we were the only webteam inside the Commission capable of doing it, and there was no time for subcontracting – but it was worth it when I saw the data we published appearing on the BBC evening news, demonstrating the striking variability of roaming charges for UK users, and a similar thing happening on the RTBF, and France2 …

More to the point, when Mrs Reding needed to win the argument inside the Commission, she apparently brandished a graph we provided of the visitor stats. That’s the way the story goes. What I do know is that launching that subsite doubled our portal’s monthly visitor numbers. People cared, and the numbers showed it. The regulation went through. It was one of the Commission’s few good communication stories that year.

Since then the original site has morphed many times as they extended the regulation to SMS, which came into force on 1 July. To celebrate this, INFSO has just launched a Facebook Fan Page: Sea, Sun and SMS.

Clever title, for those who know their Serge. There’s also a quiz which is surprisingly non-Commission in style – I think you need to become a fan to check it out – and like all quizzes works virally, with users promoting it to their Facebook ‘friends’ both as part of the quiz workflow and through their own profile’s Wall.

A lot of people ask me if/when they should use Facebook in campaigns. My personal opinion for a long time was that Facebook is too fluffy, simplistic and superficial for most EU communications, or for stimuating a decent debate on most things.

But then I heard what remains my favourite response to that question, from Charles Crouch: go where the audience is. On that basis, Sea, Sun and SMS is probably a good example of where Facebook is an ideal platform for the Commission.

But what else is it useful for? The Parliament did some things on Facebook in the election campaign – see this and other posts on the EP webteam’s excellent Writing for (y)EU blog.

But does anyone know any other EU/Facebook examples that work? Or ones that didn’t?

PS Before you even think it: I used to work for INFSO, but I’m not any more, so I am not getting paid to promote their stuff! I worked there because I was interested in that stuff, and I still am, so now I can write about it.

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  1. With 417 members, and possibly most of them real people – not EU bots like yours truly automatically and dutifully becoming a fan of any site in this genre, this page is doing slightly better than its Can You Hear Me, Europe!? – is !? punctuation a trademark!? – counterpart ( was after the same amount of time.

    But does anyone know why the page description is promoting Jean Quatremer’s take on the French results? Perhaps Mr Barroso should be told – ed.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  2. Can U hear me was launched around mid-May and has a grand total of 522 members.

    Sun, Sea and SMS launched 2 days ago and already has 422.

    One was launched as part of a EC-funded communications campaign, implemented by a PR company, with a vague remit. The other is more focused, and was set up by an intern at DG INFSO.

    Can you guess which is which? 😉

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  3. Thanks Mathew!

    Great article.

    Indeed, this initiative is managed internally by a dynamic team of roaming enthusiasts (so, not only an intern…). 😉

    One of the objective of this online project is to go beyond and thus reach a broader audience that we don’t usually reach.

    We also strongly encourage everyone to spread the news for it’s not that often that the European Commission goes… Web 2.0!

    Become a Fan!
    Join us on

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  4. With the roaming campaign the EU did really something to the benfit of all citizens. Chapeau!

    But setting up a facebook fan page and asking every Brussels colleague and their relatives to join the group is not about getting in touch with 450 millions.

    Have a more in-depth look into the 1000 fans of the group. You will quickly realise: they are indeed real people, but many, many of them live in Brussels or Belgium. What does it make you think of? Exactly!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  5. 1000 users now? You’re right – pretty poor by facebook standards.

    But for a DG of the European Commission it’s probably a high point. The European Parliament, of course, does better, but it’s got a wider scope and (had) a massive election campaign, so it’s not directly comparable.

    I really think you should see this as a pilot – the beginning of a journey by the EU institutions into social media, rather than the destination.

    I quickly scanned the first 24 fans – only 2 were in Belgium, but most didn’t say, so I’ll see whether the people behind it at the Commission can shed any light on how many fans are their rellies in Brussels.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  6. [this is the first half of a comment received by email from Pierre-Antoine. I am publishing it on his behalf as he was unable to, possibly because the full comment was too long – Mathew]

    @interested user

    Hi and welcome to the discussion board!

    It’s true that we first relayed our initiative among our own circles of colleagues and friends – who are “real” people. Actually, that’s the very nature of social-networking to begin with people you are mostly in contact with. But we did not limited our promotion strategy to the Brussels’ bubble, and we tried to reach out broader interested groups through modest promotions means with mitigated results. You can find the current demographic and geographic composition of our Fan base on Sea, Sun and SMS ( Have a look if you want to know more! 😉

    Our initial objective was much more modest than you might expect. Actually, we were trying to reach out to young (15 -34 years old) Europeans who are Facebook members interested in travelling and texting, and able to communicate in English. We were also trying to learn more about online communication via Web 2.0 platforms.

    The target was set at 10,000 Fans. Indeed, it is not a very high standard. But it has to be pointed out that this was a pilot experience for the EU institutions, one of the first attempts to run internally an online communication campaign based on a social-networking tool. More important, we used very limited human resources and “large” 100€ budget ! This is not an excuse, but rather an expression of our learning context. We have learned a lot about social media, and we still have a lot more to learn.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  7. [this is the second half of Pierre-Antoine’s comment, published on his behalf – Mathew]


    Indeed Mathew, this pilot experience should not be compared with the European Parliament Fan Page about the European elections, a campaign of much wider scope and audience, and coordinated with other media. One of the positive aspects of this experience is that we learned a lot about on online marketing and community management.

    And as you said, it’s only the beginning of long journey into social media for us. In any case, it certainly paves the way for new types of profiles working in the EU institutions such as full time community managers. For the moment we don’t see social media as a channel to communicate with the famous “European citizen” – Mr/Mrs everybody, but more like a channel that may allow us to engage and interact with particular segments of the public, building communities of interest, collecting feedback, offering opportunities to participate, etc.

    Some breaking news: We will be soon trying out internally Twitter, the famous microblogging tool, to cover an important event of the DG INFSO.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  8. Many thanks for the details, Pierre-Antoine. At least one DG seems to have realised that “transparency will be imposed whether one likes it or not”, so one might as well embrace it.

    Another relevant quote, this one from a recent FIR podcast: “If you’re going to be naked, you’d better be buff!” 😉

    More seriously, totally agree with the approach you outline re: community management and outreach to diverse online groups of interest. I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post about EU community managers some time ago – how widespread within the Commission is the understanding of how beneficial such an approach might be these days? Are other DGs paying any attention?

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

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