We recently published our 2nd survey on the online habits of Members of the European Parliament, looking at how MEPs use the Internet to communicate with constituents and other interested parties, and to inform themselves on policy matters. A few weeks back we analysed reasons for and consequences of MEPs’ use of social networks and blogging. This time, we’ll look at what the figures mean for the Public Affairs professional operating in Brussels.
1. Content strategy
It’s a given that MEPs use the web to conduct research and inform their thinking on issues e.g. 80% visit interest group sites every week. However, for the PA professional, it’s not just about sticking information on a site and assuming they’ll all come flooding.
There’s an overload of information available online and you’ll need to cut through the clutter. However, as PA professionals we’ve too often been so smug as to think that the tenets of good communications strategy – analysing audiences, testing messages, developing a content strategy – should be left to corporate communicators and marketers.
Absolutely not: provide dull content and assume MEPs will be interested at your peril. For instance, 80% of MEPs look for summaries online – more than those who look for position papers – so your content strategy may want to look at how to present key information in a more digestible manner, perhaps using video or info-graphics even. Likewise, what’s the public profile of your issue: is it a technical under-the-radar issue? In that case, technical argumentation works. Is your issue high-profile? In that case, you’ll need to show you’re aligned with broader opinion and make your content more “value” based i.e. more real stories, less facts and figures.
In terms of channels, more MEPs appreciate issue-specific websites than organisation websites (80% vs. 75%) so perhaps rather than looking at building a single site where you centralise all your content you might want to adopt a more scattered approach where you build issue-specific microsites and bring them together on your main site? Perhaps you might want to blog?
Then there’s Wikipedia, which needs to be incorporated in any content strategy (78% of MEPs visit Wikipedia every week.) Do you know what’s on all relevant Wikipedia pages? Are there Wikipedia pages which don’t yet exist which you could develop?
2. Driving traffic
99% of MEPs use search engines every week, 93% of them every day. Google especially is the gateway to content online. Step nr 1 to ensure that you have a presence when MEPs look up your issue is the content bit above. Next in line, you’ll need to think of search, which involves search engine marketing in the short term (e.g. Google AdWords) and Search Engine Optimisation in the longer term (i.e. making sure you appear high up in organic search.)
There are scores of other ways to drive traffic, from advertising on social networks (e.g. Facebook ads) to banner advertising on 3rd party sites (e.g. local news sites).
The best way is to produce compelling content which others are willing to spread for you (make it easy for them from the off e.g. send to a friend and Tweet functions next to your content.) Sometimes the content isn’t enough and you’ll need to develop campaigns, small and large, based around a campaign concept and a campaign “driver” (e.g. a competition?) which results in traffic if done well.
But always start with search.
3. Increasingly, you’ll want to engage and build relationships with MEPs (and others) online
The holy grail is direct interaction with MEPs (and their influencers) via channels such as Twitter, and this trend is on the up given that 69% of MEPs use social networks (mainly Facebook) and 34% are on Twitter. However, these figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt. MEPs might use the tools, but that doesn’t mean they engage and listen to what anyone tells them. Likewise, they might listen to constituents but not others. But certainly, the trend is for more of them to engage and listen: in a recent interview we published on this blog, Ryan Heath, Neelie Kroes’ Social Media Manager, outlines how eager he and Neelie are eager to receive valuable input via Twitter and yet PA professionals are often absent from the conversations.
The best way to start is to map the players, MEPs and beyond, and determine how they use social media and networks. Based on that, develop an engagement approach. Most importantly, develop reciprocal relationships: in return for attention you should be providing insight and content, not just you blurting out messaging.
4. No it’s not all moved online: integration is key
Let’s not get too caught up in the excitement. By all means, the web is essential, and will only grow in prominence. However, traditional channels remain core e.g. 95% of MEPs visit online versions of traditional newspapers several times a week whilst personal contact is also valued by 95%.
Direct advocacy and media relations won’t be replaced any time soon and remain key to any communication strategy in the Public Affairs realm. Having said that, the manner in which MEPs and their influencers take in information is so varied that ubiquity becomes essential: being present not in one or two channels, but five or six.
5. Beyond the bubble
Yes, events beyond the bubble have always mattered, especially at constituency level, but information transfer and exchange is so quick that an organisation’s broader reputation matters in the Public Affairs space more so than has ever been the case before. When 99% of MEPs look up your issue online, they may find good content you’ve produced, but if the other content all addresses a recent crisis half way across the world, it won’t matter. Meaning what? Get out of your PA comfort zone and think reputation; speak to the marketers, your brand people and the corporate communicators, because the disciplines are increasingly intertwined.
As ever, if there’s anything you’d like to add or remark on, please speak up in the comments below. Thanks.
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