Sunday

17th Dec 2017

Opinion

Bringing the EU's political debate to social media

  • Social media - Something MEPs should learn to navigate ahead of the May EU elections (Photo: European Parliament)

Three years ago, I moved from Silicon Valley to Europe. Since then I’ve met with countless politicians and civil society leaders in many nations – from Hungary to Germany, Jordan to Morocco – to learn about how they connect with their electorate or to help them to understand how they can be part of the political debate online.

Now, as the European elections draw near, it is time to reflect on these conversations.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The year 2014 will be a decisive one for European politics. Yet despite the EU’s significant impact on people’s lives, voter turnout in the European elections is foreseen to be at its lowest level yet – some estimate below 40 percent.

In recent years the traditional barriers between voters and politicians evolve rapidly, thanks to social media.

But there is a need to bridge the gap between citizens actively seeking to connect to politicians online, and politicians who do not yet fully understand how to connect and interact with these voices.

Many politicians in Europe are aware of this reality but remain unclear about what to do online.

First, and perhaps the most important point, is that political impact online comes not from how fancy your technology is or how big a staff you have.

It comes from being authentic. Political representatives should talk to people as they would speak in person. Engage. Interact. Answer questions. Ask questions. Build trust.

In today’s connected world, politicians have unprecedented access to engage voters in direct, candid and open dialogue. Indeed, more than one in three eligible European voters is on Facebook, and millions of others are reachable online.

Europe’s citizens are ready to connect and willing to participate in political discussion online. What is more, we are no longer relying on speculation to understand these social patterns. Research from the European Union Institute for Security Studies shows that in the next few decades people will increasingly expect to participate in political decision-making.

A Pew Research Centre study shows that someone who uses Facebook multiple times per day was an additional two and a half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57 percent more likely to persuade someone about their vote, and 43 percent more likely to have said they would vote.

According to evidence from the New Zealand 2011 General Election, every 1,000 fan increase on a political candidate’s Facebook page yielded a 1.4 percentage point increase in the share of vote.

For politicians, these are studies worth understanding.

In an era when people share and debate their political views online, and especially in the European Union where democratic values underpin political decision-making, political leaders must join conversations and take a step closer to citizens.

Of course, there is no comprehensive answer on how to approach social media. But politicians who follow the best practice steps below tend to have greater success:

Start Early - Studies show that the earlier you connect with people, the faster you build trust. Early investment in social media pays off in closely fought polls.

Tailor your content to your own style - People connect to people and although an MEP officially represents a constituency, you have to have your own persona. Use the technology in a way that reflects you.

Brush up on your page insights - Understand which of your constituents are most engaged with your content, at what times of day, and what interests them most.

Be useful - Ask people what they are most interested in hearing about. Consider what they think is actually useful information to receive for an MEP.

Encourage people to be content creators - If people create content in your online space, their own contacts will know about it and may pick up on your messages at the same time. So ask people for questions and respond; generate hashtags; get people to document how an issue affects them, for example through photos. Create and co-create compelling content that shares a story and your message.

Some leading European politicians are doing it right.

European Parliament: responds to zeitgeist with content directly relevant to people’s lives, posting real-time photos and hosting chats with MEPs. Reached more than 1 million fans on its Facebook page alone.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany: tags other politicians and posts featured videos from the inside at political rallies and events; it’s a reflection of her personal style and this has resulted in greater engagement between Merkel, her “fans” and those politicians tagged.

Bronislaw Komorowski, President of Poland: posts his own version of the "selfie" taken with fans. Includes short status updates with photos to let fans know what work he has been doing and what meetings he has intended. Informative, yet engaging.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia: posts photo albums from his visits around the world, which serves as a great way of engaging fans in the President's work.

How should success be defined? Advice garnered from political leaders and elected officials across Europe shows we should focus less on the numbers of “likes” or “followers” and more on the quality of the engagement.

If you have uncovered an issue you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, or if you’re connected to more people online than you could possibly fit in your office in a day of personal briefings, you are doing it right.

The writer is Facebook’s Politics & Government Specialist for the Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) region.

MEPs have stopped blogging, are afraid of Twitter, love Facebook

However real or exaggerated reports of 'Twitter revolutions' and 'Facebook activism' in Tunisia, Moldova, Iran and the UK are, members of the European Parliament appear on the whole to be afraid of the micro-blogging utility yet they seem to be in love with the social networking service.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives