Move over America, Europe is dealing with its own brand of political and cultural disruption

Brett Kobie

brett kobie social media wekk

I often find myself explaining the current political climate in Europe to friends, family, and clients with this: “If you think the United States is crazy right now. Europe is at least as crazy as the U.S.”

My observation tower for Europe’s current environment is Brussels, where I head the digital public affairs offering for FleishmanHillard across the EMEA region. Yes, Europe’s current politics can rightfully be described as “crazy” but in that environment, we’re seeing something both interesting and exciting taking place.

Once apolitical and disengaged, a new class of what I term European everyday activists has emerged. These are people who are ready to fight for the values they hold dear, and political institutions, NGOs, companies, and trade associations have an opportunity to channel their mounting energy, online and off.

At Social Media Week London, I was lucky enough to hear how three organisations are dealing with this new brand of activism.

In a panel boldly titled: “Why everyone who works in social media now works in politics” I heard Shweta Kulkarni, who heads up internal communications to 18,000 people across EMEA at Bridgestone, tell the audience that “The time for top-down thinking is over. Companies like ours have realized that we have to really, truly listen to what our employees are thinking. We need to understand them and their personal values deeply or else we are failing them.”

trewin restorick social media week

Hubbub UK founder Trewin Restorick

Hubbub UK founder Trewin Restorick told the story of his sustainability-focused NGO, which partners with companies to bring environmental topics into the pop cultural mainstream. “I’ve got a very good BS detector when it comes to companies and their true agenda – most people do actually – and can see right through it when a company is less than genuine about its sustainability commitment.”

Sarah Baumann social media week

(Sarah Baumann, Brett Kobie, Shweta Kulkarni)

Sarah Baumann gave up her advertising job to become the Marketing Director for the People’s Vote, a grassroots campaign advocating for a second referendum on Brexit (the UK’s decision to leave the European Union).

“It was thanks to digital and social that we were able to mobilize 700,000 people a few weeks ago to march in the streets of London in favour of a people’s vote. People are ready to act and companies who are silent on Brexit and other hot button issues are finding themselves increasingly irrelevant to what is actually happening in British culture.”

No time for siloes

After hearing not only from this panel but from many others across the business, NGO and government worlds, one takeaway has crystallized in my mind: the level of disruption and uncertainty we’re seeing is cutting across disciplines – what was previously squarely the territory of the public affairs professional, has now seeped into marketing, corporate and internal communications, and straight on up to the highest structures of business.

To get through these uncertain times, the smartest organizations are leaving their job titles at the door – it seems that the time of siloed approaches may well and truly be over. At least for a while.