Every year the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA) organises an essay contest for young Public Affairs professionals to discuss a topic of relevance to the industry. This year, EPACA wanted to know participants’ ideas on how to improve public trust in EU public affairs. A question key to Public Affairs professionals and which makes us rethink our relation to and responsibility towards a critical actor in European politics: the European people.
After all, EU citizens remain the pillar of the European Union. Their voice, whether it is dimmed or amplified by their national and European representatives, remains the fundamental source of legitimacy for any politician and stakeholder involved in politics. Indeed, without a certain level of approval from the European general public, individuals or organisations who want to impact on EU affairs loses significant support and credibility; and the more those are lost at the bottom, the more limited the effect at the top will be. Hence why public trust in EU public affairs is so critical, and why it is essential for businesses to keep thinking about what it takes to ensure and improve it. Our research executive Anne Sauviat was the winner of the EPACA Essay Competition and provided some answers to this challenging but crucial question.
How to improve public trust in EU public affairs?
To what extent are EU public affairs public? Which ‘public’ is actually encompassed under such appellation? These are important questions when thinking about the issue of public trust in EU public affairs for a reason: trust comes from a feeling of inclusion, which itself encompasses both a physical and symbolic dimension.
Apathy and skepticism have increasingly taken over public opinion on European politics. This mistrust is notably due to Europeans feeling alienated from a political environment and process they expect to be integral to. Yet, many perceive European politics as unreachable and incomprehensible conversations between political, economic and industrial elites. In this context, public affairs consultancies mainly appear as illegitimate intermediaries influencing EU politicians for private stakeholders ‘ interests.
Thus, building trust in EU public affairs necessitates overcoming the negative connotation they often assume. The notion and activity of lobbying should be brought back to its original meaning and purpose: providing decision-makers with practical information on topics they are not necessarily fully aware of, and informing them of the demands from the various groups of the civil society they represent. European public affairs would be better acknowledged if they were given a more ‘positive’ definition and if their relevance for both public and private entities were promoted.
Public trust also relies on the transparency of the information and services exchanged by the various actors (in)directly involved in the European political process. Giving accessibility to such data helps the public better understand and confide in the reliability of politically-invested individuals and organisations.
Finally, beyond the status of witnesses, European citizens should be more extensively and actively included in the public affairs debates. The new methods of communication and wide range of social media can significantly contribute to the ‘re-democratisation’ of European public affairs and their relative re-appropriation by the general public.
May 28, 2015
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As we set in for the winter months here are some waste residues that can be burned without subsidy or fear of eating up someone else’s much loved feedstock.
5 years ago: we heralded the arrival of the blogactiv platform from Euractiv and asked whether it was the future of the EU blogosphere? According to the Betteridge law of headlines the answer is ‘no’. I daresay the good folks at Euractiv would disagree.
3 years ago: we chuckled all day as an official Commission bio of the new Commissioner for Research was copied and pasted Wikipedia and therefore repeated an untrue rumor about the private life of the new Commissioner. Goes to show getting balance in a story is not all it’s cracked up to be.
1 year ago: The formidable Nick Andrews asked if the ‘leave us alone’ strategy has ever worked for industries under fire. His headline at least answered the question, although he slightly hedged it with a ‘not likely’. Whether you’re the financial services sector, big pharma, the biofuels industry or indeed just energy intensive the last 12 months suggests that Nick’s crystal ball had some truth in it.
November 14, 2012
Ronny Patz’s blog response to our podcast with the FT’s Stanley Pignal generated some on-line debate about why there aren’t many active bloggers on EU Affairs. Opinions on the scarcity are magnificently articulated here but I wonder if they are the same reasons that there are no blogs honing in on EU policies which have a huge impact on “Joe Public”. Take EU environmental policy for example. It has pretty much reached every one of the 500 million EU citizens. A more obscure element of it helped a maverick candidate to top the poll in Ireland’s general election this Spring. So you can’t say it isn’t relevant. There’s definitely space for an informative, entertaining, sometimes critical – sometimes supportive blog on how the Europe is being changed by environmental policy from Brussels. Any takers?
In the meantime, our next podcast on “Journalists & Digital” will be here very soon….
May 10, 2011
In my post A quick tour through the FH blogosphere, I shared some articles from other FHers writing on their own or team blogs. Here’s what some of them have been up to so far this year.
First of all we start by welcoming back James Stevens to Brussels. Having originally pioneered this blog back in the day, James has been in the Washington DC office for the past year and writing his own blog Bubble to Beltway. Here is his last post about the influence of interest groups in the legislative process and how more measurement is needed in Public Affairs – What I want is more data.
Which ties nicely with another colleague concerned with measurement from across the pond: Don Bartholomew, or MetricsMan, writes an excellent summary of the lessons learned in social media for 2011. Not strictly PA, but knowing what to measure in the digital realm is absolutely essential whatever the communications discipline, so definitely worth a read.
Steffen writes about reaching decision makers online, outlines ten key points that resonate with audiences when he presents on digital and PA to various audiences, and describes why campaigning more widely than the government relations comfort zone is important in a post entitled Campaigning to achieve PA goals, pay heed to the constituent consumer.
Outside the communications and public affairs arena, Michael Berendt gives his perspective on current affairs, specifically how Libya’s fate will have a major impact on Europe.
And of course I cannot sign off without welcoming FH Amsterdam to the blogging fold. They have been going for a couple of months now, writing about the digital and public affairs intersection. Definitely worth the Google translate!
March 16, 2011
In our recently published survey on the online habits of Members of the European Parliament, we found that:
- 69% of MEPs use social networks (mainly Facebook) up from 33% in 2009
- 34% are on Twitter, up from 21%
- 29% write a personal blog, compared to 40% in 2009
So we’re witnessing a shift towards the snappy interaction of social networks, and a move away from the more content driven blog.
I’ll look at two things here: i) what might account for this trend; and ii) some ideas on what the trends mean in practice.
Why the shift away from blogging towards social networks and the like?
It’s not hard to see why Facebook and Twitter appear more enticing than blogging:
- They both have ready-made audiences which may likely include MEPs’ constituents. Why bother with blogging, which is more time-consuming and does not have a ready-made audience?
- In that vein, Twitter and Facebook may just seem easier to maintain, given that there isn’t much content to produce. At first glance, writing 140 characters definitely seems a breeze compared to a full-on blog post.
- Election frenzy is over. Back in 2009, MEPs running for re-election were presumably eager to do everything in their power to showcase themselves to their electorate. That incentive is obviously reduced beyond election time.
- The EP’s social media team has been extremely successful on Facebook (their blog is also successful, to be fair). Presumably a shining example to MEPs?
- Facebook is all the rage. 500 million and users and that. Everyone’s talking about Twitter too. So presumably a fair bit of bandwagon hopping has taken place.
What does it all mean?
This is the trickier question. What does all this mean in terms of MEPs’ communication with constituents and others?
On the surface, it seems like good news: MEPs are eagerly adopting tools that connect them to people at the click of a button and provide Europeans a channel to engage in the political process through dialogue with decision makers. Indeed, some MEPs like Marietje Schaake and Sophie in ’t Veld, or Commissioners like Neelie Kroes (no coincidence they’re all Dutch) are engaging in conversation and using Twitter to ask questions and learn, and presumably thus improve their ability to do their job.
However, in another sense, the figures are misleading. Another finding in the report shows that MEPs who blog and tweet think “expressing views directly” is more important than “engaging in dialogue” (by a margin of 60% and 30% in blogs and on Twitter respectively). Clearly, listening, learning and conversing play second fiddle, and you could ask: what’s the point of telling people stuff if you’re doing so in a Facebook feed or in 140 characters? Not much.
As for the drop in blogging, personally speaking I think it’s a shame, although understandable: I know from experience just how hard it is to maintain a blog. However, blogging is a fantastic medium to express views and opinions in more detail, and some MEPs reach large audiences through their blogs, like Dan Hannan and Holger Krahmer. Is the fall in blogging a trend? No, I suspect we’re in a consolidation phase, where the MEPs who appreciate the medium carry on and others who like the idea of blogging give it a go, but where fewer experiment because it’s in vogue.
Another thought is that blogging is a way to kick start conversations on Twitter or Facebook. Which begs the question: if MEPs are not blogging but are instead using Twitter and Facebook, yet many are not engaging in dialogue, what are they using the tools for? Probably to post press releases, or to state that they’ll speak an event and other such information.
In conclusion, although the findings indicate that a number of MEPs are using the channels to engage, we should take them with a slight pinch of salt. Having said that, the trend is for more MEPs to start using the tools “properly” and I have no doubt that the more they see others gaining from engagement, the greater the appropriate adoption rates will become.
Equally, I have no doubt that I’ve missed some observations, so – as ever – please feel free to add, expand, agree or disagree in the comments below. Thanks.
February 23, 2011
So Thursday was the long awaited European Public Affairs Action Day, organised by the Parliament Magazine, and of course it was every bit as good as it promised to be. We hosted a workshop entitled ‘Social Media: what works what doesn’t’? We aimed at having a range of perspectives in our panel to get a good picture of how social media is being developed in different areas, from industry to national and then European politics.
Michael Adolph from FH started off with some of the inspiring work they do in Washington and highlighted that good quality content which shows real personal enthusiasm for the subject matter is most likely to resonate with audiences. He showcased a video for Johns Hopkins University’s Malaria Free Future campaign, which demonstrates how a fresh approach to traditional funding applications with creative visuals and a proactive online outreach can make a practical difference to malaria sufferers.
He was then followed by Samuel Coates from the UK Conservative Party. He gave very straightforward advice: don’t just believe the hype but find out who your audience is and reach out to them. Try to build a relationship rather than just following the latest social media trend and using those media channels like you would a foghorn.
Finally, we rounded off with another perspective, that of Ryan Heath who, as a member of Neelie Kroes’ social media team, has the opportunity to experience firsthand the way social media is shaping the government/citizen conversation. Definitely the most eye opening quote of the day comes from our dynamic Australian who said that on Neelie Kroes’ website ‘a single average blog post gets as many views as all of her 2010 press releases combined’ – a clear sign that the more immediate and personal nature of a blog post resonates with audiences.
Yes a good time was had and it was great to see so many industry leaders there. We videoed the panel and have a few snippets from the audience coming soon so watch this space…
December 13, 2010
Whilst we’d like to think that Public Affairs 2.0 was the only blog worth reading when it comes to the digital/public affairs/PR sphere it’s not the case at all! There are quite a few excellent bloggers at FH who blog in both a personal and professional capacity, and we thought we’d bring you a few samples once in a while, from Brussels to across the Atlantic.
Firstly staying in house; some of our regular contributors to Public Affairs 2.0 also have their own blogs, one of these is our Digital Strategist, Steffen Thejll-Moller. He writes here about the struggle to implement digital in public affairs, remember: don’t blame it all on the old fogeys.
Liva Judic is based a little further afield in our Paris office and describes herself as a ‘social media addict’. Her blog Merrybubbles is a regular upload of all things interesting and digi. One of her great articles is about the digital divide around the world and how mobile technology is being innovatively implemented in unexpected places.
James Stevens, whilst technically no longer a Euroblogger, now offers a unique European perspective on the goings on in Washington DC. His article ‘Neither the US nor the EU wants to kill its citizens’ takes a look at the transatlantic relationship in reality, especially in light of regulatory convergence. Whilst in his most recent article examines the line between government relations and public affairs, and how we can learn from each other.
But of course blogs take many different formats and not just personal perspectives. The FH London office clearly translates in-depth briefings into accessible blog format. For example, see their outline of the recent UK government’s spending review.
So I hope you enjoy sampling a little taste of where else the digital discussion about public affairs and public relations is taking place.
November 25, 2010
Today we launch the results of our European Parliament Digital Trends Survey – www.epdigitaltrends.eu It examines how Members of the European Parliament are using the internet to communicate with their voters as well as how the same MEPs use the internet to inform their daily legislative work. As such, we hope that the results are interesting both for MEPs and for Brussels public affairs practitioners.
In summary MEPs are using the internet to communicate to voters but are not yet for the most part using all the tools available. No doubt MEPs have come a long way since the last elections, but there is still a road to travel.
For public affairs practitioners we believe that our results support the view we espoused when we started this blog 2 years ago. Like all of us MEPs are going online for information to inform their decisions. To be effective, our public affairs strategies need to integrate digital communications into their toolbox of tactics. Digital can not replace traditional tools such as contact programmes and media relations it complements them, rendering our activities more effective.
On the microsite www.epdigitaltrends.eu you will find the following:
- Our main results with supporting statistics
- An e-brochure
- A full report
- A library of downloads, including graphs and the raw data for you to make your own analysis and graphs
- Commentary from MEPs
- An opportunity for you to post your own thoughts
- The charities we supported in conducting the research
- The methodology we used – sample size etc.
In the coming days we shall be taking time to reflect on what the different parts of our results mean for public affairs practitioners in Brussels on this blog.
Thanks to all MEPs who participated and to the hardworking FH team who made it all possible (everyone in the office played some role but in particular I’d like to thank Mike, Reg, Veronique, Liliana, Julie, Carey, Aurelie, Tim, Michele, Jay, Clara and Rosie)
We look forward to your reactions to the results on the microsite and to having a debate on this blog about what our survey says about digital public affairs.
May 18, 2009
We welcome another public affairs agency into the blogging world; Grayling EU has launched ‘The Lobby‘.
While possibly mistaken for the title of John Grisham‘s next book (if only Brussels were so exciting), we eagerly await The Lobby’s contributions to the Brussels Blog-Bubble.
May 11, 2009