Social media: An unmissable opportunity for public affairs?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Social media allow policymakers to respond to citizens’ tendency to “increasingly question the undemocratic and unresponsive nature of the European institutions,” argues Amber Price, general secretary of ‘ECPA II’, a daughter organisation of the European Centre for Public Affairs (ECPA).

EU officials “continue to suffer from a perceived communications deficit,” writes Price, a public affairs professional at Nike, in an essay for the ECPA publication ‘The Future of Public Trust’, edited by Tom Spencer and Conor McGrath. 

Nevertheless, “we have entered an age where traditional means of communicating in the public affairs sphere are changing fundamentally,” the author argues. 

Using social media like YouTube, MySpace and Facbook “appears to be one way that policymakers are responding to these concerns, by engaging with a popular communications medium” to bring citizens and officials closer together, Price asserts. 

Still, “the use of social media has by no means been adopted consistently across the European institutions” and the work that is being done to assess how best to communicate with citizens is “not widely known,” she argues. 

The author sets out two ways in which public affairs professionals are “taking tentative steps” into the world of social media: an activist approach involving consumer groups and other NGOs in developing grassroots campaigns, and more direct influence via online consultations and government-hosted web chats. 

Moreover, “we have seen the advent of internet consultations, online fora, web chats and YouTube campaigns […] crafted by policymakers,” while “e-democracy, e-engagement and e-consultant have all become comfortable additions to the public affairs practitioner’s vocabulary,” Price remarks. 

Nevertheless, her article argues that the public affairs world lacks the impetus to fully embrace social media. “We have seen a tentative and […] half-hearted approach towards [their] adoption in public affairs strategies, with the majority of examples coming from the NGO community”. 

Price cites “unclear boundaries for the success or failure of a social media campaign” alongside difficulties in reviewing its success among reasons why “we remain on the periphery of mainstream use of social media”. 

Thus “it is hard to foresee a time when [their] use would replace all other modes of communication, but [they] could easily be complementary to other modes of communication in a public affairs strategy,” she concludes. 

NOTE: Price argues that the EU institutions and Brussels-based public affairs professionals are yet to harness the full potential of social media tools. If you have examples of successful Web 2.0 or other online campaigns regarding EU policy, feel free to share them with others on by clicking below. 

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