In our recent survey of the online habits of Members of the European Parliament there were a number of statistics that stood out. None more than the fact that 65% of MEPs consult Wikipedia at least twice a week for legislative work. Reactions from readers to this particular stat varied from “LOL” through to “scary”.Yet the more grounded amongst you simply asked “so what?”
This post seeks to provide some initial answers to this question from the narrow viewpoint of someone conducting public affairs in Brussels. Below I have set out three conclusions focused on the “so what” from our survey results for those seeking to inform MEPs (i.e. public affairs practitioners/lobbyists).
So what for digital public affairs in Brussels?
- Digital tools are a must for conducting effective Brussels public affairs
Since the start of this blog nearly 2 years ago we have worked on the assumption that our elected European Parliamentarians are using the internet to inform their thinking much in the same way that all of us do. When we don’t know something, or want to find background information, we google it, we go to wikipedia. Our survey supports this assumption. We now have data. 93% of MEPs use search engines on a daily basis in their legislative work and you already know how often they turn to wikipedia. When MEPs are turning to the internet so often to find information, it is pretty obvious that public affairs practitioners should consider digital tools as part of any effective public affairs strategy.
- Digital tools in public affairs in Brussels may become more important in the future
In terms of their relative importance in informing policy decisions it is clear that traditional forms of interaction (personal contact, written contact, media, events) with MEPs still rate highly. This is not surprising. Such interactions tend to come in the form of personal contact with identifiable actors and would, I venture, be more likely to be about specific dossiers/legislative proposals. Their importance for influencing decisions may be more readily perceived than the impact of information found on websites.
However, our survey suggests that MEPs will increasingly use social media in their own communications towards voters. As they do so they will begin to realise that the internet offers an opportunity to personally connect with interested voters/constituents, rather than simply broadcast at them. Increased familiarity and a recognition that the personal nature of the contact may make online interaction on policy issues more important in years to come. Such an outlook is supported, albeit anecdotally, by the fact that MEPs who blog are more likely to think that blogs are important in informing their decision-making.
- Digital tools should be an integrated part of implementing your overall public affairs strategy
The two points above do not in anyway seek to downplay the fact that our survey continues to suggest that traditional forms of contact with MEPs are very important in informing the way MEPs think about policy issues. Indeed our survey shows that personal contact (i.e. a meeting, a phone call) is still the number one way to get your message across, closely followed by media and then written communication and events. Our survey supports the view that we all still need to have public affairs strategies rather than digital strategies. These public affairs strategies should be supported and implemented by a combination of tools, including digital ones. Some would call this integration. I am more inclined to call it Public Affairs; communications aimed at informing the course of policy. We simply need to ensure that our Public Affairs toolbox has expanded to contain a full set of tools.
While this may not come as a shock to some, our survey does at least provide some data to back up our thinking. Later this week we’ll reflect on three things our survey has to say about the use of traditional tools in public affairs.