Finnegan's Take

Engaging with MEPs 2.0

My name is Gary and I have a MySpace account. There, I’ve said it.

In my defence, I haven’t used it for five years and I now forget the password.

However, for dozens of our esteemed Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), wandering alone in the social media wilderness we call MySpace is a regular pursuit.

According to the EU Digital Pulse 2012 report, 3% of the 102 MEPs surveyed by ComRes say that they frequently – that’s ‘daily or weekly’, ladies and gentlemen – log on to MySpace. And they say politicians are losing touch with youth vote…

WikiPolitics

I’m being a bit mean-spirited by plucking that particular little nugget from the wealth of data unveiled by the ComRes survey. MEPs are actually quite a social bunch.

A healthy majority of MEPs use Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia on a regular basis. Compare that with the 39% of ‘Brussels influencers’ who frequently use Facebook.

Perhaps surprisingly, MEPs have been relatively slow to embrace the power of Twitter compared to some of their national political counterparts and their usage of LinkedIn seems low (given that their contracts are up for public renewal every five years).

Questions for further study

Like all good research, the study provides answers to some key questions but raises a crop of fresh issues too. At the launch of the study at a European Commission building in Brussels, a common thread ran through the questions from the audience: engagement.

Yes, just about everyone in the Brussels bubble is hooked on Wikipedia but are they just using it for research or do they view it as a collaborative social tool?

Do MEPs use Facebook as a place to engage with constituents or is it just an extra broadcast channel?

And when we see European Commissioners firing out 20 tweets a day, are they (a) doing it themselves (b) telling their team what to tweet or (c) entire oblivious to what their tweet machine is generating?

Those are questions for another day but this study already tells us a great deal about how Brussels is using social media. And, as Andrew Hawkins of ComRes said, it opens up a world of opportunities for those looking to engage on EU issues.

New tools, new thinking

ZN’s Phil Weiss followed up with some tips for organisations looking to make the most of social media tools, including the need to break down internal silos and begin a wholesale mindset shift that focuses on where you want to go rather than obsessing about how you get there.

It’s advice that EU institutions would do well to heed but there are plenty of great examples of social media use from within the Brussels bubble – typically led by initiative-taking individuals willing to abandon old ways of thinking.

Take Ian Andersen of DG Interpretation. He is using Facebook to solve a chronic staffing shortage among the ranks of EU interpreters as hundreds of experienced staff prepare for retirement. [Check out ‘Interpreting for Europe’ on Facebook]

He chose Facebook simply because that’s where young people are to be found. It’s an ideal medium for answering questions, giving careers advice and launching recruitment drives for very specific skill sets – how else would you find a batch of 25-year-olds fluent in Lithuanian, Latvian and German, who also have degrees in interpreting?

Demographics

Dig into the ComRes study and you find that younger MEPs are much more prolific on social media channels than older MEPs. No shock there.

But there are still plenty of older politicians who are active online. Indeed, Thomas Myrup Kristensen of Facebook Nordic, who was one of the panellists discussing the report at the launch, noted that the older demographic is an area of rapid growth on Facebook.

They are ‘liking’ baby pictures, keeping up with emigrant offspring, and joining local community action groups. Maybe, just maybe, they could eventually engage in European political issues.

The acid test from an EU perspective will be the 2014 European Parliament elections. Will MEPs step up their online social networking in a bid to engage voters? Could they even use online advertising to target very specific sub-sections of the electorate? Think of the US obsession with the ‘Soccer Mom’ demographic during their 1996 Presidential election and imagine having Google AdWords and Facebook advertising at your disposal.

All of which brings me back to the big question: Could this election come to be remembered as ‘The MySpace Election’?

(Hint: No. No, it could not.)

 

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Comments

  1. p.s. Check out the Obama campaign’s new ‘secret weapon’ which merges data collection with social media. It provides political intelligence and a new to mobilise volunteers. Will any European political organisation attempt anything remotely as sophisticated?
    No mention of MySpace from Obama2012…

  2. Good point about rapidly shifting tools among social media.

    Interesting survey, although next time it could focus more on national sources of information, in different languages: key for politicians. Even sending questions to constituency addresses would probably have an impact on the answers.

    A point I tried to make when this previous survey was published, with relevance for EP watchers: http://euroman.blogactiv.eu/2010/07/15/brussels-blogger-study-2010-just-out-could-do-better-outside-brussels/

    As this present exchange shows, blogs are still relevant. Like other (online) media, they feed back and forth with social media: one AND the other, not OR the other.

    BTW, according to my EurActiv colleagues there, this event was well moderated! (hint: by Gary 🙂 )

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