Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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.

For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive

The EU Commission's 2022 CSDDD proposal did not include provisions incorporating "conflict due diligence", they were added, after the Russian invasion, by the European Parliament and Council into the final directive text — for Ukraine's sake, vote for it.

After two years of war, time to hit Putin's LNG exports

Two years of tragedies, with well over 100,000 Russian war crimes now registered, underscore the urgent need to stop international LNG investments in Russia that continue to fund Vladimir Putin's war chest.

Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

Fewer than one-in-ten Ukrainian refugees intend to settle permanently outside Ukraine, according to new research by the associate director of research and the director of gender and economic inclusion at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

Latest News

  1. Memo from Munich — EU needs to reinvent democracy support
  2. For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive
  3. All of Orbán's MPs back Sweden's Nato entry
  4. India makes first objection to EU carbon levy at WTO summit
  5. Angry farmers block Brussels again, urge fix to 'unfair' prices
  6. Luxembourg denies blind spot on Nato security vetting
  7. Record rate-profits sees EU banks give shareholders €120bn
  8. Why the EU silence on why Orban's €10bn was unblocked?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us