Without Twitter, life would be a mistake… said no one ever.
The past two years have seen an acceleration of the use of Twitter and other digital channels as a core way of communicating. In Brussels and EU bubble, no one disputes the crucial importance that social media plays in shaping the conversation. Twitter has replaced many other channels as THE place to share critical information at record speed.
This means it is no longer possible or credible to communicate effectively in the EU without having a strong social media presence.
At ZN, we have been working in the digital space for over 20 years. During the past 5 years, we have been ranking the top digital influencers in the EU to recognise the importance of social media on policymaking. We wanted to find out which individuals had an impact on the conversation and get their views.
Due to the pandemic, we were all thrown into the biggest learning experiment ever devised and forced to replace traditional communication channels – that had dominated Brussels for many years, with #F2F events and lunches – with their digital equivalents. The only way to keep up was to check out Twitter for the latest news and conversations and join thousands of Zoom conferences to dig deeper.
Because of the duration of this ‘learning phase’, I believe that many habits have been permanently changed.
Influence is built through a combination of activies. However, the relevance of digital has changed from being a bonus feature to a core strategic tool. It is contributing to key changes in the communication landscape:
- A move from a Brussels-only discussion to a real interaction between nationals, local and EU conversation. You no longer need to attend every conference and meet every official to shape discussions.
- More transparency. Although the word transparency is certainly overused, not having an online presence today is a strong statement that your company doesn’t want to engage and communicate with the wider world. Having a presence is the first step towards transparency.
- Real two-way engagement requires more effort. For your organisation to exist it needs to be noticed and you need to be part of key conversations. This means sharing your views on key issues and topics that matter to you and reaching out to the like-minded.
- Communication vs lobbying. In a noisy, crowded environment bureaucratic lobbying that dominated the past decades no longer suffices to make your case (more white papers anyone?). You need to simplify your messages, learn to be an outstanding communicator. Deep knowledge of the technicalities of your dossier will not allow you to win the argument. You need to convince other stakeholders.
What can you do to make sure you adapt to this changing world?
- Learn by doing. Join key platforms. Get familiar with the worlds, the tweets, and the hashtags that matter to you.
- Reach out to those that matter to you (research and follow them, then reach out, and soon you will be able to have a drink with them).
- Tell your story online, ask questions and share key information.
- Test and learn to find out what content works for you and how you can reach the right people at the right time on the right topic.
None of this is easy and won’t come naturally to many experienced public affairs professionals in Brussels. That is why you need to embrace this new space with the enthusiasm of a first-year student in a new and exciting field. Practice and learn.
What is your advice for doing digital the right way?