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Social media conquers the Brussels bubble

In May 2012, ZN and polling agency ComRes published the “Digital Pulse” report on
the use of social media by EU policymakers and “influencers”. The results were unequivocal: nine out of ten MEPs and EU professionals use Wikipedia for their work, 70% of MEPs use Facebook, and one third regularly use Twitter. LinkedIn is also very popular among NGOs, trade associations and businesses.

ZN Founder and Chief Hyperthinker Philip Weiss and ComRes Chairman Andrews Hawkins analyze some of the study’s implications and opportunities to use social media in EU affairs.

Philip looks at how MEPs and Brussels “influencers” have embraced social media, like almost everyone else, in their daily lives. It’s “the new normal”. He notes however that many people working in EU affairs are constrained in how they use these new online tools because of the “frozen paradigms of Brussels”. He argues that this is evidence of a need to completely rethink EU affairs if MEPs and EU policymakers are to engage citizens in the upcoming 2014 European parliamentary elections.

Andrew highlights the fact that not only are social media being massively picked up by MEPs and EU professionals, but unlike with traditional media, costs for publicizing are low and you can get detailed data on what audience your campaign is reaching.

He also contrasts the London and Brussels political markets, noting that single-issue campaign groups and activists have yet to penetrate the EU capital like corporates have. There is still an unexplored, potentially massive niche to be filled: “potentially you could have tens of millions of people rallying behind a cause if they feel it sufficiently emotionally, if they can get sufficiently engaged.”


What can social media do for the Brussels bubble?

Last month ZN and polling agency ComRes held a conference on MEPs’ and EU professionals’ engagement with social media based on a new “Digital Pulse” study charting the rise in use of websites like Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter.

The following short interviews with some of the conference’s participants look at how social media can effectively be used by politicians, activists and Brussels insiders.

Facebook: “Useful for political debate”

Kristensen Thomas Myrup, Director of Facebook Nordic, lauded the “very high” use of social media by Brussels policymakers and influencers. He was particularly impressed that institutions sometimes reputed to be old-fashioned, like the European Parliament, were actually among the biggest users of Facebook and Twitter: “The MEPs were out in front. That was cool!”

It can sometimes be hard to interest citizens in debate. But with 900 million users, Myrup said Facebook is a popular and transparent way of engaging in discussions: “On Facebook you use your real name. And we think that’s very important for the debate that people that are on Facebook and debate are who they say they are.”

“The real world effect of something completely virtual”

Ian Andersen, external communication advisor for the EU Commission’s DG Interpretation, was struck by the extremely high use of Wikipedia by MEPs (88%) and other EU professionals (93%). He said this was “encouraging”: “In a sense European politics is already driven by a crowd-sourced information engine.”

Andersen also discusses how the EU’s interpretation service is using social media like YouTube and Facebook to prepare for an upcoming wave of retirements in the department. He explains how social media have enabled a massive increase in interest and applications for interpretation from target universities: “We’re very happy with the real-world effect of something that is actually completely virtual.”

How to engage with young people?

Kamila, an intern in DG Interpretation, talks about how to use the department’s Facebook page to engage with young people. The page is used as a way to directly answer potential recruits’ questions about career opportunities and to raise interpretation’s profile. How to arouse interest among young citizens? Sometimes a picture seems to be worth a thousand words: “People love comics. People love images. … We also share things that other people post or try to find fun stuff on Google, but usually we try to create our own content.”



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