Anyone who has been to Brussels in the last couple of months will have seen tell-tale signs of the ongoing political crisis in two forms. One is the great number of flags people have hung outside their windows as a sign of solidarity (there aren’t any in Flanders apparently…); and another is the billboards, posters, bumper stickers etc. showing a little superhero wearing a big hat in the colours of the Belgian flag and the headline “I want you for Belgium”.
Great scope for eCampaigning one would think. But they could have done so much better. Admittedly, my French is poor and Dutch non-existent, so maybe I’ve misunderstood something along the way (undoubtedly), but here are a few things I thought should have been done differently:
1. For a start, there’s been no single online campaign hub. I’ve seen www.ooopss.com and www.sauvonslasolidarite.be brandied about. Worst of all I’ve seen www.lapetition.be advertised on some of the aforementioned billboards etc. What’s the problem here? On lapetition.be, people actually have to go searching for the right petition. If you really want people to sign up, make it easy for them. Similar thing with ooopss and sauvon-whatsit. You want a very easy URL people will see and remember. Oops they’ll remember phonetically, but how many thousands of people will have remembered it then gone to www.oops.com, which is something entirely different; while sauvon-whatsit is way too long and not snappy. But the main issue here is, why use 3 different sites? Maybe they all relate to the same petition, but you don’t want to be spread thin like this.
2. The strategy behind the campaign seems non-existent. They want to save Belgium, but how exactly? Just by getting signatures? Any Belgians at all or some in particular? So what will actually happen i.e. you sign a petition and then what? It gets shown to whom exactly? How will it make a difference? Interest mobilisation is not just about getting loads of signatures. It’s about creating buzz, stirring debate, and having a solid plan in place for once you get the support! I don’t see that happening. Then there’s the target of 100,000 on sauvon-whatsit. That’s unambitious: only 1 in a hundred Belgians want to save their country? Surely not! A million would be a better objective: how about 500,000 from Flanders and 500,000 from Wallonia – for a start?
3. There’s not much of a viral element. Maybe they’ve fallen into the trap of the “viral assumption” i.e. thinking that there are enough people out there with some interest so you don’t have to make any effort to push your material. It should be really easy for someone to forward the material e.g. an obvious send to a friend button on the homepage which brings you to a form stating clearly “ask 5 friends to save Belgium, enter their email addresses here”.
4. Part of point 2 and 3 as well I guess: why the lack of vision or ambition with regards to what they’re doing online? There’s no conversation taking place. Why don’t the organisers write a blog to stir on the masses, promoting events day by day, speaking about progress made, outlining aims? They have a list of high-profile people who allegedly support the cause and have signed the petition. Why not use them as champions who maintain the blog with their thoughts on why Belgium is so great and should be saved? Or maintain a wiki on why Belgium is great? Or launch a contest where users can submit videos, photos, stories etc. telling about their best “Belgian” experience using any of the popular social media sites e.g. YouTube. This would provide easy user generated material to enhance the campaign, create buzz, and increase viral potential all round!
5. In addition, the link between offline and online is poor. Ironically, one of the main effects of the Internet on politics is local mobilisation in the “real” world i.e. it is easier for small groups of likeminded people to hook up in their neighbourhood and campaign on issues they agree on because they can find each other online first. There is no element of this in the Save Belgium campaign. There is only talk of the big event held in Brussels last week and the next wave in early December where they’re asking people to volunteer to collect signatures. Why not make it easy for people to hook up in their town or village, provide them with material to campaign with, and get them to do the work for you? Then have a section with descriptions including pictures and video from a local effort. Or even with the big event held a few days ago in Brussels: pictures, video, testimonials by famous people who were present, a viral element? Nope. What was the point of having it? To show solidarity? Great, but what are you going to do with it i.e. how will you harness the solidarity and make sure that everyone who wasn’t there wishes they had been?
I think the people behind this campaign have lacked vision and ambition BUT eCampaigning isn’t rocket science! Lots of Belgians do want to “save Belgium” (presumably) so that’s half the battle won – by simplifying material, getting some “champions” aboard to push the campaign, enabling people to contribute directly to the campaign, putting people in touch, making it easier for them to spread the word for you, etc. this campaign could be a winner (assuming the politicians will listen..!)