Getting jobs in the Eurobubble: a game of inches

I had a lot of fun at the EU Studies Fair last week. For me it proved a very fruitful event for both students and professionals who are trying to get a foothold in that lions’ den that I call “Eurobubble jobs.”In my experience this can be quite a daunting challenge, but if it has been a journey that I think it is worth blogging about.

The most frequent questions I got:

  1. I’m a student. How do I land an internship?
  2. I’m an intern. How do I move from “intern” to “employed”? 
  3. How can I maximize my time in the most efficient way while looking for a job in the EU sphere?

Let’s get down to business.

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How did I land my first internship? It was 2010, a terrible time for job hunters. With a sluggish economy, in the middle of the worst crisis that Europe had witnessed since 1945, graduating between 2008 and 2012 was probably not the easiest time to lay the foundations of your career. Basically, there were no jobs around and all whether it be businesses related to politics, economics or communication, unpaid internships were really all that was on offer.

As a totally broke “economic migrant”, I could hardly afford unpaid work. I remember that together with a friend of mine at Maastricht University, we strategically worked our way towards getting a paid internship.

Firstly, we sent (literally) hundreds of spontaneous applications to all kind of businesses we thought might be interested in our profiles, not only in Brussels but in cities around world. I even remember getting an offer to go to Tbilisi to work for a think tank which I seriously considered doing – I really needed something.

Secondly, we screened a database of alumni from MU and looked at what they were doing. We also contacted them to see how they got their first jobs, and asked if we could get some tips and recommendations on which direction in which to move. Finally  we took the plunge and headed to Brussels for a couple of nights just to check out what these alumni were doing and see where people hang out after work. It was during those nights that we realized that public affairs is not all about knowledge (seriously, it’s actually only a small part of it). That’s when I realized I needed to change my mindset.

 85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge. Carnegie Institute of Technology.

To cut a long story short, we dared. We dared making the extra step to make sure we covered all possible angles in what was a pretty desperate search for employment, leaving no stone unturned. Eventually I got a paid traineeship at Bruegel which then turned into a job…but not after getting a few hundreds rejections from all other businesses. Rejection is bound to happen. If it doesn’t happen it means you are not setting yourself the ambition you deserve. You are just playing safe, away from disappointment but also away from opportunities.

Ergo, 1) be daring, 2) don’t give up no matter how many rejections you get and 3) cover all possible angles in the way your present yourself to the market.

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How can I maximize my time in the most efficient way while looking for a job in the EU sphere?

In the Eurobubble there is no real straightforward way to do this. But if I was forced to set out a clear-cut method to look for jobs it would be probably be something like this:

  • 25% of your efforts have to be around generic applications and letters of presentation. These will give you an overview of what is out there, how companies, businesses and institutions are structured and the way they publish vacancies. It’s the mandatory background on the environment you are trying to enter.
  • 25% should be on highlighting your social, extracurricular skills, passions and interests. This is a game of inches. For that one job in the bubble you applied for, trust me, there will be 100, 200 or 500 more people with similar profiles fighting for it. How can people decide to hire you over someone else? Most of the time, it’s what you don’t expect that will catch somebody’s attention. It might be a particular experience you have shared, an unusual language you speak or a common passion (whether it is photography, travelling or rock music) with your examiner. Don’t leave anything relevant behind when you present yourself.
  • 50% of your time should be on targeted and strategic approaches. These are direct, tailored and personal e-mails, handshakes or comments that hint at a potential ” meeting” or “a coffee” to follow up a conversation.

They shouldn’t be about jobs or employment but they should casually and in the least intrusive way possible propose an encounter where you present yourself as “a person” before being “a professional.” Why 50% into this? Because it will take you much more time to approach 5 people with this method than approaching 20 companies in a speculative fashion.

Surprisingly, this is where most young professionals fail, in my opinion for one main reasons: The overdigitalization of our interactions is creating a society where human interactions are scary or even unknown. People born after the late 90s already jump into this world where interactions and dialogue are fully digital among peers. People born before that back to the 70s have more flexibility since they experienced this change and can apply both interactive methodologies. (I’m 31 and find myself somewhere in the middle). This is not an outcry against digitalization. It is just a fact of life.

On top of this, there has been a substantial change of values among generations. I’m generalizing here, but I confidently see how the generation of our parents had completely different values based on prosperity and stability (whether this was financial, societal, geographical or marital) while the current youngsters value freedom, experiences and independence on all fronts. More and more of us are not as fussed about buying houses, nor cars, nor getting married nor crave that lifelong job contract that our parents so desperately want us to get. So, why be shy, right?We have learnt to be more flexible and ready to adapt. But it is important that we exploit this flexibility.

As a sort of experiment, but also as a work management filter, when people ask me for a meeting, a reference, a favour etc., I always give them my phone number straightaway and say “Call me whenever.” Out of these people roughly 5 % call me while the remaining 95% don’t follow up, forget or come up with written excuses for not making things happen. In my experience, that 5% who reached out to me over the phone were successful in starting a business, organizing a conference or getting a valuable contact. That is because they want to be champions in what they do and they do what they gotta do with no excuses.

There is one more point I particularly wanted to get across the people I talked to during the event. In my opinion Brussels is like bodybuilding: It’s not for everyone. I’m not saying that you need special skills to come here and land an EU sphere job, but not everybody is ready or willing to play the game. What I’m saying is that the Eurojobs (in the wider sense) game is not 9AM to 5PM. It’s actually from 5PM onwards.

Do you want to get a confortable 9 to 5 job in an office and be happy with that? Cool. You can do that anywhere in the world from San Francisco, to Milan, from Kuala Lumpur to Dakar. Why choose Brussels?

Do you want to build a career in the field of international institutions, relations and affairs? Then Brussels is the place for you (together ex aequo with Washington, Geneva and the city of London). But that “career” is made of a lot more than sitting in the office in front of your desk. It’s a lot about shaking hands, going to conferences, making yourself known on social media, blog, talk, chat, explore, fail, learn and start over again and this is the part that is not for everybody.

Many people have the capacity of doing this, but this is likely not everybody’s vocation. The same way that people have the capacity to prepare for a fitness competition and to train every day, diet seriously, follow a coach, a nutritionist, and a physiotherapist, but not everybody is meant for it. Personally, I am addicted to both the institutional communications/relations game and bodybuilding but this is just me.

To summarize the key piece of advice I gave at the Euro Studies Fair…. it all comes down to following your true vocation which doesn’t depend on what your family or friends or society tells you to be. It is about what you want to be or become, taking risks, being laser-focused on a goal, and willing to pursue it no matter what it takes to get you there. You are hard wired to follow the path towards the completion of your goal. Now get out there and make things happen to achieve your goal in life because ain’t nobody gonna do it for you. I’m up for coffee or protein shake whenever you like.

Peace.

A disastrous Suit Supply customer experience…yet again, in Brussels

I already written and tweeted about Brussels’ disgraceful customer service culture (in basically all realms) and I thought I had covered it all. But you know, sometimes you think you hit rock  bottom but actually someone manages to dig through the bottom and find another layer of low. This time though, it was an international brand that inexorably faces the distaste of the Belgian capital in providing decent customer service.

A few weeks ago, I desperately needed to get a suit for a wedding and went to the SuitSupply shop nearby my office. I entered, approached a clerk and said “Hi, I would like to buy a suit.” I didn’t say “I’m browsing” or “Mmmhhh, just checking.” I said I wanted a suit. The purchase was just a matter of minutes away. Usually, I’m more careful in displaying interest straightaway, but this time I didn’t have the time for it.

To my surprise, the clerk simply told me “Yeah, check over there” indicating, with utter boredom, the suits department…(right, I’m at SuitSupply…I guess there are suits :/) but I expected something more that a simple indication like “yes, we got suits here.”

Anyway, I look at the suits, pick a few models that could go and approach the man once again: “I’m off to a wedding in Italy. It’s gonna be very warm. Do you think this fabric would suit the hot weather?” – His reply: “Of course. (Full stop).” Looking bored and somehow unmotivated. I asked about some other items and kept getting the same attitude. I was the only customer at that time in the shop.

I decided, I was not going to buy a 600/700€ piece of clothing with such customer service and left. As an active Twitterer, I shared my experience. See below

With both pleasure and surprise, @suitsupply got back to me to know what happened. I was happy to explain. I appreciate when companies try to improve and listen to customers’ feedback. They apologised and asked me if I wanted to be contacted again by the shop manager in order to get a second opinion. I was happy to accept…and here is where the customer service / communication disaster happened.

I received this e-mail (I deleted the author’s name).

Let’s look at it:

Cattura

  • Debatable use of English.
  • Some text in black some in blue.
  • No apologies offered.
  • “…that is not the experience YOU SHOULD HAVE after a visit…”

OK, not everybody (me included) is a native English speaker, but if you manage a huge store of an international chain in a European capital, you should be aware of basic manners, especially with an unhappy client. Anyway, I gave him my number.

They call me a few days later but I was abroad for work and missed the call. They sent me this

“Dear Sir,
I tried to call you several times without being able to reach you.
Met vriendelijke groet, Kind regards,”

Let’s look at it again:
  • No greetings
  • They do not offer an alternative.
  • They just said they called and I didn’t reply

I explained I was abroad and they could contact me anytime as of now. It’s been two months and they never got back.

Unsurprisingly, they have 2.5 stars on Yelp.

Here we see how the social media manager of the brand made an effort to make up for bad service while the shop manager repeatedly displayed bad manners. Have you had a similar experience in Brussels or elsewhere?

Why Yelping matters


Yelping matters. That’s right. Reviewing businesses at the local level helps both customers understand how to make sensitive choices when purchasing goods, services or meals and it mutually helps businesses improve themselves. Only those businesses that apply positive constructive critiques to their work and their investments are able to survive and develop a demanding market.

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Yelp does all that. Many ask “Why not using Tripadvisor instead?” Tripadvisor is a terrific community that helps travellers planning their holidays and not get ripped off when booking a hotel or ordering a meal. The opinions you find on Tripadvisors are mostly from tourists to tourists. Yelp connects locals to locals and locals to tourists. It provides the image of the local people of local businesses. Whether you value more the opinion of one-off consumers or regular community connaisseurs is up to you but the grassroot community building that Yelp brings up is pretty extraordinary, especially in big cities.

The case of Brussels is very interesting. A trilingual community (French, Dutch and English) in a very international environment with tourists, expats, businessmen and locals communicating at the same level.

I started being engaged on Yelp some months ago and I’m happy to see that my continuous reviewing has paid off. I was made yesterday an Elite Squd Member of the Brussels community. I mainly stick to my field of expertise: food.

I love food, I love eating, I love watching my nutrition. As a lad from Parma (yes, one the world capitals of some of the most recognized foods in the world) I’m happy about the improvement that Brussels has displayed over the past few years in terms of food services, making in Forbes Top 10 Cities for Street Food.

Belgium is not a well-know and recognized place for its cuisine. Undeniably, Brussels is standing out lately. Possibly the huge inward immigration fluxes from all over the world have helped raising standards, variety and food culture. I am loving this trend.

Check out my Yelp profile and follow Yelp Brussels on Twitter.

Twiplomacy is the Bible of social media professionals in international organizations


The Twiplomacy report is par excellence the guide book to the use of institutional tweeting or, as they better put it, it is an annual global study looking at the use of Twitter by heads of state and government and ministers of foreign affairs.

While some heads of state and government continue to amass large followings, foreign ministers have established a virtual diplomatic network by following each other on the social media platform. Here is the executive summary from this great work put up by Matthias Lüfkens and Marek Zaremba-Pike together at Burston Marsteller. I had the pleasure to meet Matthias and Marek at their presentation of the report at BM’s offices in Brussels last July (See video below and my short intervention at 40:57)

For many diplomats Twitter has become a powerful channel for digital diplomacy and 21st century statecraft and not all Twitter exchanges are diplomatic, real world differences are spilling over reflected on Twitter and sometimes end up in hashtag wars.

“I am a firm believer in the power of technology and social media to communicate with people across the world,” India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in his inaugural message on his new website. Within weeks of his election in May 2014, the @NarendraModi account has moved into the top four most followed Twitter accounts of world leaders with close to five million followers.

More than half of the world’s foreign ministers and their institutions are active on the social networking site. Twitter has become an indispensable diplomatic networking and communication tool. As Finnish Prime Minister @AlexStubb wrote in a tweet in March 2014: “Most people who criticize Twitter are often not on it. I love this place. Best source of info. Great way to stay tuned and communicate.”

As of 25 June 2014, the vast majority (83 percent) of the 193 UN member countries have a presence on Twitter. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of all heads of state and heads of government have personal accounts on the social network.

Most Followed World Leaders

Since his election in late May 2014, India’s new Prime Minister @NarendraModi has skyrocketed into fourth place, surpassing the the @WhiteHouse on 25 June 2014 and dropping Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül (@cbabdullahgul) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RT_Erdogan) into sixth and seventh place with more than 4 million followers each.

Modi still has a ways to go to best U.S. President @BarackObama, who tops the world-leader list with a colossal 43.7 million followers, with Pope Francis @Pontifex) with 14 million followers on his nine different language accounts and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono @SBYudhoyono, who has more than five million followers and surpassed President Obama’s official administration account @WhiteHouse on 13 February 2014.

In Latin America Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the President of Argentina @CFKArgentina is slightly ahead of Colombia’s President @JuanManSantos with 2,894,864 and 2,885,752 followers respectively. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto @EPN, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff @dilmabr and Venezuela’s @NicolasMaduro complete the Latin American top five, with more than two million followers each.

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta @UKenyatta is Africa’s most followed president with 457,307 followers, ahead of Rwanda’s @PaulKagame (407,515

followers) and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma (@SAPresident) (325,876 followers).

Turkey’s @Ahmet_Davutoglu is the most followed foreign minister with 1,511,772 followers, ahead of India’s @SushmaSwaraj (1,274,704 followers) and the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates @ABZayed (1,201,364 followers) Continue reading “Twiplomacy is the Bible of social media professionals in international organizations”

A few lessons from the European Digital Advocacy Summit


Digital advocacy is assuming an increasingly important role in Brussels. What’s working to engage European policymakers? Can social media platforms help you find other advocates? Which tools work best? These were some of the questions addressed at the latest European Digital Advocacy Summit in Brussels, organised by the Public Affairs Council.

At the event, public affairs executives shared interesting case studies, insights and best practices as well as EU officials shared their perspectives on social advocacy. This executive-level conference was designed for interactive engagement between participants and presenters. I couldn’t attend the whole conference but I had the chance to sit at the “Successful Online and Media Engagement” part with Bruno Waterield, Brussels correspondent from the Telegraph and Christophe Leclercq founder of EurActiv.com

In this panel a lot was discussed about the Eurobubble (or Brussels bubble), the so-called circle of (mostly foreign) professionals living in Brussels and working on EU affairs. For an international organization, it is certainly challenging to communicate at different levels of governance and reach different target audiences at the European, national and local level. What could we learn from that panel?

  • Use the (Euro)bubble as a bridge, not as a border

I often hear the claim that the Eurobubble (including EU institutions) only communicates to the bubble. This is clearly an incomplete statement since the EU communicates at levels of governance and addresses different groups of stakeholders according to the policies the work on. For instance the European Commission:

Having said that, I am also convinced that people living and working in the Eurobubble do not only communicate within the bubble but they serve as information ambassadors at the national level. The Brussels press corp mostly reports to their central offices in EU Member States and around the world, professionals in various fields often go home and tell people what happens at the European level, civil servants exchange opinions with their national administrations and so on so forth. This is why I prefer thinking about the Eurobubble (whatever that means) as a bridge between Brussels and the rest of the world rather than a self-centred echo chamber.

    • Keep yourself in the loop

What I know as a social media analyst is that I have still an awful lot to learn and that I am bound to keep myself in the loop in order to keep providing valid recommendations and understand how the digital world evolves. There is no short-cut in this learning process. This applies to all professionals working in communication. Spend at least 10% of your time keeping an eye on communication technologies, experiment and make sure you get at least a tiny grasp of what may come next in your field of work and expertise.

    • Use the online to reach the offline

In digital advocacy the offline cannot be separated from the online any longer. These two dimensions work best when they are connected, when they merge. Being engaged online should be (an optional) step one to make “real” connections.

Where you European Digital Advocacy Summit too? Share your views with me.

My experience as a cyclist in Brussels


I come from a solid cycling tradition. In my region, Emilia Romagna, everybody cycles and most people are also fond of competitive cycling and follow the Giro d’Italia with vigor and passion. Especially in the city where I went to University, Forlì, people always say “there you can find more bikes than people.” I have also lived in Antwerp and Maastricht, two pretty cycling-oriented cities and that’s why prior to coming to Brussels I thought I would find the same level of cycling-friendliness. Well, I was wrong… My friend Kwinten writes a very good blog about this topic. You should check it out.

Brussels is everything but bikes-friendly. Let me tell you a few reasons why.

  • Infrastructures aren’t great

We can perhaps say that cycling infrastructures are decent compared to other areas in the outskirts of Europe but in comparison to most Central-Northern European cities, Brussels doesn’t shine through.

  • Drivers aggression (especially taxis)

Don’t get me started on the dangers of being a cyclist in the Belgian capital. Drivers literally love to get as close as they can to cyclists and when I take a cab I can’t understand why they are so aggressive and impolite to them. Continue reading “My experience as a cyclist in Brussels”

Brussels-based think tanks on Twitter 2014


Already last year I made a ranking of the best performing Brussels based think tanks on Twitter, which is to date my most read read blogpost. Obviously, followers are not everything and I’m not advocating that think tanks with more followers perform better than think tanks with less followers. This is why, in this analysis I also added the average percentage of retweets per post for each institution.

Today the Brussels Think Tank dialogue 2014 is taking place at the Resident Palace in Brussels (follow #BTTD14) and I have worked on a ranking with updated data including all think tanks that are listed in this excellent master thesis. At this regards, I also find it weird that it so hard to find an exhaustive list of Brussels-based think tanks online. If you have any good link please post it in the comments section below.

Out of the 32 listed think tanks, 24 have a presence on Twitter (please let me know if any of the “NOT FOUND” institutes actually have a presence on Twitter). The first 3 in the rankings are Open Society Foundations, International Crisis Group and RAND Brussels. From last year’s analysis, I put aside Fride since they did participate in last year’s think tank dialogue but they are actually based in Madrid.

Brussels_think_tanks_TwitterHowever, even though these 3 are listed in the source I mentioned above, I can’t consider any as a real Brussels-based think tank. Both OSF and ICG are worldwide organizations (as stated in their Twitter bios). Roughly, the same principle applies to RAND who have mainly US-based office. International_Crisis_Group_TwitterOpen_Society_Twitter

Below the top 3, this “non-purely-a-Brussels-based-institute” principle should be applied to the German Marshall Fund . Hence, see an adapted ranking below with actually-non-BXL-based TTs in light blue.

Following this criteria, Bruegel is the most followed think tank in Brussels, followed by and Friends of Europe and CEPS.

Brussels_Think_tanks_TwitterIn terms of retweets per post, and following the same criteria as exaplained above, the first place goes to Egmont Institute with 44%, Friends of Europe with 37% and the EastWest Institute ex aequo with Bertelsmann Stiftung scoring 31%.

Who started first on TwitterBrussels_Think_tanks_Twitter

The streets of Brussels are dirty, really dirty


“Expats who work for EU institutions in Brussels have few Belgian friends, think the city is “dirty” and plan to go home when their job ends.” This is what an article on the EUObserver (by Andrew Rettman) says .This is one of the most recurring comments by expats living in Brussels. “This city is dirty.” Although, when I bring this up to locals, most times I get the response “c’mon, it’s not that bad.”

Even though I have tried to keep an open mind on this, the evidence that the Belgian capital is a very dirty city is there, and it is on social media. Just check the hashtag #Bruxellespasbelle (credits to @quatremer )to see a collection of pictures illustrating the very poor waste management system of the city and other generic comments about some of the ugliest corners of Brussels.

I don’t think Brussels is an ugly city. Quite the opposite. But the way garbage collection is managed simply has no logic, it is inefficient and horrible. In Madrid, they recently had to face a massive strike by collectors. In Naples, the waste management issue is linked with several criminal organizations operating in eco-crime. But what justifies the disastrous way garbage collection is carried out in the capital of the EU?

To facilitate my advocacy, I created  a Tumblr called “Brussels Dump” through which I plan to collect tweets, posts, pictures and videos showing how waste management in this city is not working and to then bring this up to the authority in charge via social media.

Another similar effort has been put by @Bruxsmells (who has provided quite some material for my Tumblr) and by the blog Dirty Brussels Blog which seems to be inactive since 2011 though.

Stay tuned for more dirt 🙂

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Brussels expats get out of their bubble


A study by the Brussels-Europe Liaison Office shows that 60% of expats living in Brussels are sorry that they know so little of the Belgian capital. People who work for international institutions almost all live and hang out in the same districts (Schumann area, Place du Luxembourg etc…) TV Brussel looks into this topic by having locals showing expats around the city. I have participated in their latest episode in the programme Brussel Vandaag with Nico Cardone

Interview with Bad Service Belgium


In a couple of posts already I have bashed Belgium’s appalling services and the notorious mobility problems that afflict the city by interviewing the famous @STIB_fail Twitter account. In an effort to investigate on people’s reaction about the poor Belgian service culture, I talked to another Twitter account’s manager who collects all these complaints. It’s @BadService_BE. Let’s see how he made it all happen.

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When was the account created?

The account was created around March 2011.

What was the initial reason to open this account?

I was literally ripped off by a so-called company and I lost money. I felt so helpless that I wanted other people to know about this situation. Additionally, since I have had heard similar stories from friends complaining about different service providers I decided to create Bad Service Belgium to give the chance to people like me to have a simple and effective way to complain and our voices to be heard. My ultimate goal is to improve the experience of customer service in Belgium.

How many people really know your identity?

Not many. Family and some friends know about who is behind Bad Service Belgium. I have nothing to hide, but I rather remain not directly connected to the account.

Where do you get most of your complaints from? Are they mainly from Brussels?

Yes, mainly from Brussels, however I am receiving more and more complaints from all over the country. And from time to time I even receive complaints from tourists who were confronted with poor customer service and were able to find the Bad Service Belgium on Twitter. Typically people complain about public transportation and GSM/Internet operators. This is probably because of the high number of customers they have and the impact it causes in their lives.

What is your strategy behind retweets and moderation policy?

I only retweet when a complaint makes sense and might be helpful for other people to know about it (especially to put pressure to the concerned service provider to take action accordingly). I do not retweet anything related to topics such as politics, religion, sexuality or any extremist message. I also avoid non-sense complaints such as “I hate the weather” or “The guy sitting next to me stinks”. The only exception I rarely make to non-sense complaints is when they are so funny that, if I think I can make at least one single person smile or laugh, then I say why not 😉

How many notifications do you get per day? What are they mainly about?

It really depends on the day. On a regular day I get between 5-10 tweets. It also depends if people get active on a specific issue, or if there is a big service disruption that affects many people.

Have you ever been actually contacted by any of the institutions you complained about? If so, for what reason?

Mostly when I retweet a complaint, some companies offer immediate assistance to the affected customer and keep me informed of the outcome. They know that an isolated issue can easily become viral if not treated accordingly.

Do you think Belgium offer insufficient services? Can you mention other positive examples from other countries?

I do not believe that Belgium is better or worse than any other country in terms of customer service. People get good and bad customer service all over the world. However, because the important international community living mainly around Brussels, there are different expectations from different people. These expectations are heavily connected to their origins and the way customer service is handled back in their countries. Because of these differences and probably also due to a possible language barrier, some people often tend to generalize that there is a bad customer service culture in Belgium.

What’s the plan for the future? Do you plan on expanding your communication channels?

For the moment – mainly because I am doing this by myself – I will keep trying on retweeting as fast as possible (I manually go through every single tweet I receive for the sake of moderation). I hope to be able to maintain growth in the people that follow Bad Service Belgium (over 1300 followers to date), so a big thanks for all those who follow the account!

I have also created a Facebook page which do not seem to be quite successful as the Twitter account. So I still need to elaborate the strategy on Facebook.

Last but not least, I also created a “Good Service Belgium” Twitter account because I believe that praising for good customer service has even a greater impact than complaining about bad one. I am looking forward to see more people using that account.