It was great to see the fantastic crowd of influencers that gathered at our fourth – and first hybrid – #EUinfluencer event.
And it was @marcoRecorder, @BrusselsGeek (Jennifer Baker) and @PabloPerezA that joined us for the first of three enthralling panel debates that day. For this first debate, I wanted to delve into how the European Commission was doing on communications. What was it doing right? And what did it need to change to improve its communication?
We got started with @PabloPerezA, former head of social media at the European Commission. “Being fair to the European Commission, when compared with governments or even institutions, I believe they are doing a quite good job,” he said. “They have overcome that situation of total distinction between traditional and digital communication.”
At the latest #EUinfluencer gala I shared my thoughts about the state of European and #eurobubble communication together with @BrusselsGeek and @PabloPerezA.— Marco Ricorda (@marcoRecorder) September 30, 2020
What are your thoughts on this? https://t.co/wH1f1J0qeX
And where is there room for improvement, I asked?
“The European Commission has a strong network which is an important tool to engage with the audience they are trying to reach,” he said. “But you have to talk to Spanish people in Spanish; you have to talk to French people in French if you really want to reach those people in the digital world.”
@PabloPerezA also said he felt the Commission needs to make itself more available to the media and to do more on social media platforms, to “create things the public can use”.
The mention of platforms was the perfect time for me to bring in @BrusselsGeek. What do you think about the platforms? How should they be connected to the Commission? Should the Commission talk to them? Should they use them better?
“I don’t think it’s really about the platforms,” she answered. “But I want to echo what Pablo said – that the Commissions should use words people want to read.” It’s fine to talk to the bubble because the bubble is going to listen anyway, she continued, but once you step outside that, I don’t see it happening.
Seizing the opportunity, I jumped in to ask @marcoRecorder, who had recently left the bubble to go all the way to Malta, what’s it been like outside of the bubble. “There is an improvement,” he agreed before explaining where he felt change was needed using the concepts of ‘somewheres’ and ‘anywheres’ to talk about disenfranchised Europeans.
“Anywheres make the best out of the union,” he said. “They live in the bubbles, are mostly liberal progressives and care about the environment, about gender equality, about fighting discrimination.” Somewheres, he explained, are citizens who are firmly entrenched in their territories, “and the data is telling us that the messages from the European Union are not getting to the somewheres”.
Using the example of polarised Brexit votes to highlight the clear divide between large urban centres and the periphery, @marcoRecoder suggested the answer was to “address things people care about. You have to talk about the issues that are very important: defending liberal democracies and progress of the European Union,” he advised. “If you don’t, I’m very scared the UK will not be the last country to leave the Union.”
To make our debates as interactive as possible – after all, we wanted to avoid our audience falling foul of Zoom fatigue. We kept the panel debate (a little too) brief as we had a crowd of fascinating speakers and wanted to make sure we had a chance to hear them all. We also invited the audience to ask questions, encouraging silent participants to share their thoughts and probe the panel on chat.
And @evillenial from our social media team was on hand in her living rooms throughout the debate, calling on followers on Twitter to join in the conversation in real-time:
Our hypermoderator Liora posed questions coming in from the audience to the panel. What price are we willing to pay for our European values? Does the corona crisis make us too poor to stand up for our convictions?
@PabloPerezA took the question. “Without values, the European Union will be nothing,” he responded. On social media, he continued, we see more and more attacks on those values we take for granted. If the EU institutions don’t speak up about them and why they are important for maintaining society and peace and progress, no one will do it!
The second audience question addressed the topic of hate. How do we balance our relationship with social media platforms that are also allowing amplifying hate for profit? Liora thought it would be a good one for @BrusselsGeek.
“Disinformation is probably the biggest threat to democracy that we see,” shared @BrusselsGeek thoughtfully. “I say stop profit from hate. And I would like to see enforcement and proper regulation from the big tech platforms.” On the other hand, she continued, I think these are cultural problems. And forcing tech solutions on cultural problems won’t work. It’s about tuning out the disinformation and learning how to have a conversation, even with people you disagree with.
As always, our social media team – themselves spread far and wide across Europe – took the conversation to a wider audience throughout. Quoted images, live-tweeting and Instagramming really brought the online debate to the real world.
After all, having people discussing the debate in real-time, as it happens, is key.
I was really pleased to see people posting their thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and our panellists, our social media team and others engaged with them:
#EUinfluencer EU institutions could also use their huge bargaining power as major users of platforms to pressure them to become #GDPR compliant. Could lead to great communication campaign to demonstrate that EU stands with people not big tech.— monique goyens (@moniquegoyens) September 24, 2020
Our first, and fascinating, panel debate of the evening got everyone fired up, ready for more discussion and to ask some big questions about Europe some of the challenges we are facing. The conversation continued online as there are no simple answers to these questions.