Political campaigns have radically changed with the rise of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Looking at the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections or that of the leave campaign for the EU referendum in the UK, it’s obvious that social media has profoundly changed the ways influencers operate and what being an influencer really means. But what are the consequences of this phenomenon in the EU sphere?
A multitude of EU digital influencers take part in the political debate and champion specific issues to push for more audacious reforms. “They are the masters of their niches, and have established a high level of trust and two-way communication with their followers.”.(1)
Social media in the European Institutions
To grasp the scale of their actions and understand the methods they use, we need to look closely at the numbers. Interestingly, it has been estimated in a 2016 study(2) that the European Commission and the European Parliament found social media communication campaigns helpful in 80% and 74% of the cases respectively. This illustrates the crucial role played by EU digital influencers and digital communication in general in the EU landscape.
Facebook vs. Twitter in public affairs
When it comes to the channels that achieve the greatest impact in the EU bubble, the same study identifies Facebook, and above all, Twitter. The use of Facebook as a means of communication and advocacy is considered to be effective in 45% of the cases by the public affairs professionals interviewed for this study. But they perceive Twitter as much more influential: two-thirds see its use as effective, and 23% as “very effective” more than twice the “very effective” score for Facebook in 10% of cases.
If both those social media are appraised as the go to channels for digital communication, one third of the public affairs professional are not yet convinced by the possibilities offered by social media, meaning there is a lot of room for growth. And Twitter seems to have the upper hand in this contest too. 82% of respondents estimate that the use of Facebook will not develop much further, whereas just over half reckon use of Twitter will continue to grow. This can be explained mainly by the fact that the use of Facebook is already more prevalent than Twitter in the private sphere (2 billion users) and its use has been readily transposed to the professional sphere for communication purposes, rendering it more present than Twitter serves in EU public affairs circles.
Indeed, even if Twitter is seen as more influential, it is also less used and considered less effective than Facebook. A 2015 survey(3) found that 88% of MEPs used Facebook, whereas only 76% used Twitter. And 44% of the MEPs found Facebook to be as effective as meetings whereas only 39% thought the same of Twitter.
Roles and perspectives
Based on those numbers we can conclude that both platforms are essential tools for EU digital influencers, but they do not play the same role. Twitter has become the new place for press releases and opinion sharing, but Facebook is actually better for everyday communication and reaching out to a wider audience. We should not forget that another social media channel is becoming more important when it comes to influencing, listening, and building a network with the people close to you: LinkedIn. Already used by 28% of MEPs in 2015, we can expect more in the future, making LinkedIn a platform not to be overlooked by EU digital influencers.
Become an EU digital influencer
We believe that every communicator interested in influencing or merely understand the changing political landscape needs to understand and engage in these new channels. Here are a few tips on how to get started and perhaps become an EU digital influencer yourself:
- Focus on your area of expertise, not just what’s happening. You want your message to be as clear and distinct as possible.
- Set goals and create an action plan to reach them, for instance the number of daily posts or increasing your number of followers. You need to remind yourself that you want to be an influencer and that in order to become one you need a strategy and consistency.
- Identifying your target audience. You will not become an influencer by making random comments on events. Once you have identified your target audience, you will need to adapt your tone to have an impact.
- Listen. Influence is a two-way street and you need to be responsive to changes in your environment in order to stay relevant.(4)(5)
- And finally: just get started! This is the only way to learn in this new space: by doing.