The Dangers of Ineffective Statistics Communication

I was very pleased to be invited at the DIGICOM Final Event – Sharing Landmark Achievements in Communication and Dissemination to discuss a topic that especially in the modern times of post-truth, false news and high polarization of the institutional and political debate in Europe, is of the utmost importance for communicators and all those involved in producing and putting together statistics and official data from public and private organizations.

I myself am not a statistician and certainly I don’t have the level of competence and knowledge most of the people in the room had in this field. I am a communicator and I have helped and coached institutions, politicians and public officials in doing something different than what they did: getting messages across to others.

When I was contacted to give this intervention, the drafted title for this keynote was “Communicating official statistics effectively” and so I started read the relative literature on the topic including for instance the report “Communication of statistics in post-truth society: the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Thus looking at the work of Eurostat and other organizations in the field, I realized that a lot is already available in relation to communicating statistics. What is missing though; apart from some very interesting analyses, mostly from journalists, public speakers and sometimes some very dedicated politicians with a passion for truth and democracy, is a set a serious warnings about the dangers of ineffective communication of statistics, which then became the title of the intervention.

Why the reverse language? Why is it different to address good communication vs the dangers of bad communication? It’s the feeling that this triggers. Sentiments related to fear, concern and worry trump positive emotions and get more attention from any kind of audience. As a political communicator, and an open believer in a “United Europe”, I looked at the challenges that democratic institutions have had to face over the past few years. This is why, at the very last moment I have decided that my intervention should focus on this danger.

Even though, communicators and statisticians, at least in my humble experience, don’t often interact, the collaboration between these two types of professionals is today more important than ever. Some say it is a character difference – statisticians are more interested in things while communicators are more interested in people – but there be more behind that.

With the non-stop proliferation of social networks and digital features that spread information and content at a pace that was just unthinkable a few years ago, there is a strong need for the statistics community to modernize by accepting the importance of effective communication strategies and embody them as an integrated part of the statistical production process. The power of statistics is directly proportionate to the way they are communicated.

The ability of statistics to accurately represent the world is unfortunately in decline. A new age of big data controlled by private companies is taking over and is challenging democracy as well as the value of statistics. In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They should provide stable reference points that everyone – no matter their politics – can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western democracies.

Shortly before the latest American presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic data published by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government “is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living there”.

According to the Eurobarometer an absolute majority of European citizens do not trust statistics. These results are critical and follow a continuous declining trend, which, if not reverted, will have significant social consequences, as the gap between citizens and citizens’ trust in public administration and international institutions widens.

This trend is amplified by the deficiency of citizens’ knowledge of basic statistics literacy.

  • 25% of respondents could give a correct answer to the unemployment rate
  • Only 6% of European citizens know the GDP growth rate of their own country
  • none of the respondents were able to give a correct answer to the annual inflation rate of their country.

More worryingly recent reports on the perception of migration in Europe shows a very deep divide between reality and sentiment of society.

It is as if the era of evidential argument is ending and now knowledge is increasingly delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed.

The declining authority of statistics – and the experts who analyse them – is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as “post-truth” politics. And in this new situation, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly polarized.

On one hand, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to people’s emotional investments in their community. It is just one more way that privileged people in Brussels, Washington DC or London seek to impose their worldview on everybody else.

On the other hand, statistics are quite the opposite of elitist. They enable journalists, citizens and politicians to discuss society as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated. The alternative to quantitative expertise is less likely to be democracy than an unleashing of tabloid editors and demagogues to provide their own “truth” of what is going on across society.

Is there a way out of this polarisation? Must we simply choose between a politics of facts and one of emotions, or is there another way of looking at this situation?

Over the past few years, especially when it comes to understanding some pretty exceptional events, communication experts have often discussed and raised the issue of the power of emotions and the facts vs feelings dichotomy. Sentiment, perceptions, attitudes, unorthodox claims not based on actual numbers, play a bigger role than statistics in both politics and policy making.

While I accept it for politics, accommodating or appeasing electoral tendencies via the implementation of sentiment-based, rather than evidence-based policy making, is destructive, and as a pro-European, I don’t find myself particularly proud or at ease with recent policy actions undertook by a number of European governments in managing the economy, climate change or migration.

But now let’s talk communication. What seems to be clear from some of the most recent challenges for the European Union, the economic crisis, Brexit, migration, the current state of “evidence-based only” public communication is not working.

This doesn’t mean suggesting the dissemination of lies or half-truths, but it means to consider 4 macro factors:

  1. The power of emotions
  2. The need for statisticians to be empowered
  3. Understand your audience
  4. Invest in rebuttal and fact-checking

THE POWER OF EMOTIONS

Facts don’t speak for themselves. Framing, metaphors and narratives need to be used responsibly if evidence is to be heard and understood.

We can’t separate emotion from reason. Better information about citizens’ emotions and greater emotional literacy could improve policymaking. Values and Identities drive political behaviour but are not properly understood, debated or considered. Before a set of statistics can be used, it must be made understandable to people who are not familiar with statistics.

The key to the persuasive use of statistics is extracting meaning and patterns from raw data in a way that is logical and easy to demonstrate to an audience.

Let me give you a couple of examples of people that took the visualization of relations and meaning to the next level.

Hans Rosling, was a Swedish physician, academic, and public speaker. He was the Professor of International Health and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software system. He held presentations around the world, including several TED Talks in which he promoted the use of data to explore development issues. He is the author of international best-seller Factfulness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_QrIapiNOw

Geoff Ainscow, one of the leaders of the Beyond War movement in the 1980s, gave talks trying to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons. He wanted to show that the US and the USSR possessed weapons capable of destroying the earth several times over.

But simply quoting figures of nuclear weapons stockpiles was not a way to make the message stick. So, after setting the scene, Ainscow would take a BB pellet and drop it into a steel bucket where it would make a loud noise. The pellet represented the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Ainscow would then describe the devastation at Hiroshima.

Next, he would take 10 pellets and drop them in the bucket where they made 10 times as much noise. They represented the nuclear firepower on a single nuclear submarine. Finally, he poured 5,000 pellets into the bucket, one for each nuclear warhead in the world. When the noise finally subsided, his audience sat in dead silence.

That is how you put statistics into context and trigger emotions.

FEEL EMPOWERED

Statisticians deserve a lot of credit, but before convincing other people to acknowledge that, they have to do it themselves first.

In my experience in coaching scientists on performing effective communication, I often felt there was a lack of self-acknowledgement. As a statistician you’re not simply putting data together, you are shaping society, and you are making people realize things.

Safeguarding the facts and figures and facilitate the use of good quality statistics for evidence-based policy making contributes to sound and sustainable policies for the collective benefits of citizens.

Self-reward and empowerment must start from you. Acknowledge your role and be proud of what you bring to society.

UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE

One of the biggest challenges faced by any collaborative statistician is communicating statistical information to those with less knowledge of statistics. As statistics is a core ingredient of transparency and accountability of institutions, it needs to be proactively rendered to citizens with quality and understandability.

When it comes to communication to different audiences, sometimes we are too fast at agreeing and patting each other on the back in a closed room full of experts but we tend to focus on communicating to the very few rather than the vast majority. I have certainly been a culprit of that.

We are so used to resorting to statistics that we tend to bombard our audiences with too many mind-numbing numbers. Statistics are rarely meaningful in and of themselves. Statistics will, and should, almost always be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number.

Audiences are not a monolith but mostly a conglomerate of infinite sub-audiences. Look at how they behave, where they are and consume content.

INVEST IN REBUTTAL AND FACT-CHECKING

Your work doesn’t end with the publication of your data-sets. Keep monitoring what people say about the data you publish, make sure, if you can, that no misinformation is spread and if not, rebut.

Many ask me in my intervention to provide solution against disinformation. It doesn’t get any easier than that and it’s up to institutions to decide how much budget and resources to dedicate to that.

I feel that today the information vs disinformation battle is not about being smarter but being bigger. We (Europeans and euro bubblers) often self-flagellate for our alleged inability to communicate. I think it’s time to stop this narrative.

THINK ON THE LONG TERM

Contrarily to the current perception of things, the construction of visibility, relations, brand is a long-term game and the underestimation of this (thinking that is a short-term game) is in 99% of cases the reason for public communication failure.

Do not overestimate what you can do in six months and don’t underestimate what you can do in three years.

A post-statistical society is a potentially frightening proposition, not because it would lack any forms of truth or expertise altogether, but because it would drastically privatise them. Statistics are one of many pillars of democracy.

I still believe that democracy needs evidence-based policy making. I still believe that independent statistics are at the heart of evidence-based policy making and I still believe that Europe is and will always be the cradle of democracy no matter that challenges that lie ahead. And the implementation of democracy requires independent statistics.

The experts who produce and use them have become painted as arrogant and oblivious to the emotional and local dimensions of government. No doubt there are ways in which data collection could be adapted to reflect lived experiences better. But the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.

This is a serious danger and something that you have the chance today to reverse. Don’t miss that chance.

In fitness and communication don’t pay peanuts to get monkeys

EXPENSIVE OR CHEAP CONSULTING? Let’s talk about it…
Lately I’m getting a lot of requests via Instagram to provide some advice and consultation on fitness. How can I lose weight? What should I eat? What supplements should I take? And so on…

This is pretty flattering but no matter how many of such requests I get, I prefer to recommend people to “real” professionals in this field and to people who can dedicate an appropriate amount of time to clients who really want to improve their physical skills. Why do I do that?
1. I am aware I don’t have the expertise, nor the knowledge, nor the time to help a person through this very encompassing path. I acknowledge it and I would be a fraud if I did.
2. I would damage the market at expenses of “actual” PTs, nutritionists and trainers.

The same thing happens often in communication and digital marketing but getting cheap consultation is more expensive than getting proper plans of action.

If you are faced with the choice of spending your budget, for whatever purpose, between a lot of cheap service or a few good services, my advice is to always focus on quality, not quantity!

How to effectively communicate and coordinate agricultural communication

I was thrilled to give the keynote speech at the COPA-COGECA Seminar “Coordinated and effective communication for assuring a viable and sustainable EU agriculture sector and Common Agricultural Policy.” Being this a key theme of Expo 2015 Milano where I was in charge of Digital Communication for the European Union pavilion, I was excited to have another opportunity, two years after the Expo, to reiterate the importance of bringing about a solid dialogue and a concrete set of policies to face the challenge of feeding the planet with 9 billion people expected in 2050. Here are my words at the event. What do you think is key in promoting solid agricultural communication? Let me know in the comment section below.

The EU Common Agriculture Policy has been a cornerstone of EU integration. Upon its construction, development and management depend so many other policies and political circumstances that need to be analysed separately in terms of impact but also holistically in terms of the ramifications that these policies bring into Europe and the world.

When we talk about communicating on CAP and agriculture at large we do not only talk about farming. Agricultural communication also addresses all subject areas related to the complex enterprises of the food-feed chain. We talk about food safety, animal welfare, rural issues, natural resources management from water to solar power, we talk about jobs, science, research and funds, renewable energy and we discuss issues that have an impact at the local level but that affect policies and politics globally.

Furthermore, the range of action of agricultural communicators  spans all participants, from scientists to consumers – which makes their job hard in facing challenge one: “WHEN YOU COMMUNICATE TO EVERYBODY , YOU COMMUNICATE TO NOBODY”

When we talk about coordinated and effective communication to ensure a viable and sustainable EU agriculture, the first question to answer is “who are we talking to?” Is it going to be consumers, producers, distributors, lobbies, groups of interests, retailers or policy makers? Whatever the answer, be assured there is no overall valid communication strategy and approach that can be applied to all these audiences. To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.

There are different ways you can communicate issues related to agriculture. You can do it in a soft way. Showing photos of happy cows, producing milk for babies or another family out on a pic-nic, biting an apple in order to educate people towards a more healthy lifestyle…You can do it more aggressively, for instance by highlighting the challenges and dangers of not implementing a sustainable global strategy to feed the projected 9 billion people expected to inhabit the planet in the year 2050. You can do it more institutionally, by informing systematically about all laws, directives and regulations published by the institutions. You can do it more strategically, by shedding light on the fact that even though more and more people are getting out the threshold of poverty over the past 20 years (largely thanks to the stronger economy of China), the gap between malnutrition and obesity is getting wider, highlighting the necessary need to not only focus on resources, distribution and funds but especially on education towards a healthier and more sustainable diet and awareness about intensive production of foods that could have significant impact on the way we can feed the planet in the near future.

Certainly something you cannot do is to communicate passively, which means shooting out information and hoping that “somehow” by some sort of act of faith, your stakeholders will read it, share it or comment about it or simply click on the “Read more” link… You gotta go get those likes, shares and followers through engaging and targeted content. You have to learn how to use hooks in a thumb scrolling society. Success in management requires learning as fast as the world is changing.

As digital strategist for the European Union at Expo Milano 2015, the biggest ever event on food and nutrition which welcomed over 20 million visitors in 6 months, we had a number of challenges which affected the way we communicated and managed the brand of the European Union.

As a global player in the debate on food and sustainability, the European Union (EU) should seek to reinforce its position, highlight its achievements and, most importantly, take this opportunity to work towards finding common solutions to these issues with other international organisations, countries and private stakeholders. The EU leads the way in terms of promoting quality food and ensuring food security and safety and environmental sustainability.

Indeed, with over 800 million people facing hunger in less economically developed countries and high and increasing levels of obesity and non-communicable diseases in developed countries, now is the moment to act. Ill-informed food choices, dwindling natural resources, climate change and threats to the world’s biodiversity are all issues that need to be tackled urgently. Expo Milano 2015 focused the World’s attention on addressing these challenges and provided a platform to deliberate on these pressing issues.

What is needed is the intelligent management of Earth’s resources. If we really wish to put an end to our ongoing international and social problems, we must eventually declare Earth and all of its resources as the common heritage of all the world’s people.

The coordination challenge: You should not sacrifice efficiency for the sake of over inclusiveness. You want to listen to everybody but it is up to you to make decisions and be held accountable. Establish a chain of command meaning that give everybody the chance to contribute but as communication manager don’t feel necessarily obliged to make everybody happy or visible. If you are the communication manager, be the manager. Make decisions.

When you coordinate a varied communication project, you will be under pressure to make some content or activity more visible than others. Keep the vision of your target audience, your brand, your mission statement clear in mind so that you know how to make holistic decisions that will affect your final goals. Plato used to say that “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” As a manager you will have to make that distinction.

Our task is very hard as communicators because most communication consumers think they can be communication producers, not because you know how to eat that means that you know how to cook. Meaning that not because you can read, or because you use Facebook and Twitter or because you watch videos on YouTube you are a communication expert and the expertise required to make content attractive and engaging is the product of years of work, not the improvisation of skills. As communication professionals there is a risk in selling ourselves short for the sake of accommodating non-experts in our field.

Be confident of your communication skills. Be confident of your experience and the science you apply when communicating to your audience and be confident as a manager, because you are accountable for the results you will or will not obtain.
As communicators for create global causes you should feel as both managers and leaders. Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. And you have the chance to do both.
 

 

 

What sports taught me about communication management

Managing a big social media campaign or  event is very similar to preparing and managing a sport team. In my experience in sports and professional communication, it is impressive to notice how many similarities come up within these two different playing fields. I disagree with this article and here is why.

Whether you will be curating national elections, the Eurovision song contest or the next World Cup, you need to prepare well in advance. Whether you are managing a team or a community, you can never consider your job as “done.” A community is never done. It is built, maintained and bred. Exactly like a sports team that finishes a league then starts another one and so on and so forth.

The “pre-season” is all about training and getting ready, getting fit and understanding your goals and potentials. No matter what, the better prepared you are, the better your performance is going to be. Even if things take an unexpected turn, your preparation will make a difference in how you play the game. You can either train for your success or complain for your failure. That’s all up to you as a coach or as a communication manager.

The tough part of analyzing your goals is to understand where you need to stop dreaming. Don’t take this as an obstacle but take it as realistic management. Any team knows at the start of a season whether they are fighting for the title or to avoid relegation. Understanding that, means understanding your budget, your means, your players, your competition. This “reality check” is necessary to help you better manage your resources: Are you prone to attack or to defend? Are you stronger on visual content and SEO or rather copyright and public relations? Understand your strengths and weaknesses objectively and use them to make the best our of your long-term goals.

A common mistake I see an sports at an amateur level is to start a league without proper athletic preparation. The same things applies to campaigners who focus too much on the first quarter of activity and end up with no content after a few months. Nothing kills your community more than scattered content. No preparation is equal to branding suicide.

Training

Things are not always as planned. That’s why campaign management is pretty much like a game or a race. There are things you can control (your training, your sleep, your nutrition, your tactics) and other you can’t (your competitors, the weather, the judges or referees). Having said that,  don’t be afraid to fail. You can make mistakes in monitoring, reporting and assessing your strategy.

The important thing for your sustainable institutional communication is not to ever make mistakes, it’s impossible. It is about how you react when things don’t go the way you expected. Your ability to get hit and keep moving forward. We can all make mistakes but it is through such acknowledgement that we can work together and build a more solid and effective communication strategy as campaigners.Play_and_react

Reporting is not the end of your task. It’s actually the beginning of your next goal. The insight you have got about your physical performance and the performance of your team is the starting point of your next competition, not the end of your current effort. Reporting and making a reality check on where you are physically is the only way to improve ahead of your next challenges. The same way, when you run  a communication project, it is essential to keep learning about the influencers in your topic, about the demographics of your conversations and about the actual reach and impact of your work. At times, it is better ti take a step back and see things from a distance instead of keep going an narrowing our prospects. This will help you refine your strategy for next big things to come.Evaluate

Network creation should be one of your goals. A network where you, as an institution or a business, are identified as a reliable and important source of information and expertise is a an expression of success. This type of image and brand takes years sometimes but the benefit of maintaining a solid positive aura, whether you are a captain, a coach or communication expert, are greater than you may think. In the era of continuous digitization of relationships and interactions, it is the hand shake, the speech or the informal coffee that make a difference in brand building. Hardly you will be seen as a mentor if lacking this very specific, and ever more important skill.

Synergies

Photos credits

Olympic weights © markomarko40 – Fotolia

Rugby,Placcaggio © massimhokuto – Fotolia

groupe au rugby © ALAIN VERMEULEN – Fotolia

The strategy of football © rafikovayana – Fotolia

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_theory

Takeaways from “Politicians in a communication storm”

Over the past couple of days, I attended “Politicians in a communication storm, an event organized by the Media Directorate of the European Parliament focusing on recent communication issues, in particular:

  • Social media and trust: how to overcome myths and propaganda
  • What we’ve learnt from the US elections, Brexit and the peace process in Colombia
  • Politics and millennials

Apart from the outstanding networking opportunity (the attendance list was both huge and very diverse) it was good to make the point of the situation in European communication, challenges following Brexit, the (highly unexpected) Trump election and the current political crisis Europe is stuck in. The main lessons from the day:

“Brussels comms” is a bubble and doesn’t want to change: Autumn is “Comms Conf Season” in Brussels: EuroPCom, NATO SMIO, media4Democracy just to mention a few. Out of all the people in the panels I attended, there was neither a Brexit campaign manager, nor a Trump communication advisor or similar. These are huge conferences, but only displaying people that think “in the box” or “in the bubble.” That was a big let-down. The communication of EU institutions, whether we like it or not, is stuck in its own arrogance and instead of learning from winners, these gathering of communication professionals are more keen on listening to those who lost massively (in this case we had speakers from the Guardian and the Washington Post who supported Bremain and Clinton), whose only arguments are hypothetical scenarios (“If millennials had turned up to vote, if Florida voted differently, if Wales voted differently etc…). All these speculations are pretty useless and feed the bubbleS (whether we are talking about Brussels, London or Washington) with their own pleasing content. Talking about echo chambers….

Look East: For decades, Europe looked at itself as the second best in digital communication after the US. Well, it’s time to think again. South East Asia, the Middle East and South American institutions are using social media way more strategically and way more audaciously than in the old continent ( as presentations by Nestor Eduardo Chiliquinga Mazón, Secretary-General of the Andean Parliament and especially by Hiren Joshi, Social Media Advisor to India’s Prime Minister showed).  Especially the work of PM Narendra Modi ahead of his latest election has been absolutely outstanding and daring…and most importantly, successful. EU comms is too stuck into its own communication protocol, but this approach is making Europe lag behind in the latest communication trends in times where we need to urgently get closer to the citizens, not further. East Asian governments seem to set the bar very high in disruptive communication. Lots of things to learn from them.

Feed your attendees…and give them objects to engage: The most shared photos of the event were of the beautiful and delicious cupcakes, the organizers were distributing to participants. You may think this doesn’t really relate to the event, but guess what? The event’s hashtag #PICsocial trended in Belgium, Spain and Sweden. The end justifies the means and using hooks to raise visibility always pays off.

Cupcakes_European_Parliament

Kudos to the colleagues at the Parliament for organizing this. I hope the experience will be repeated in the future.

A day at FIBO – Where fitness is religion


I spent an awesome day at FIBO 2016 in Köln, the biggest fitness fair in the world.  FIBO is an incredible opportunity to get the latest info, news, products, marketing tips in the fitness industry. This fair is huuuuuuuuge. One day is just enough to get a little gist of the massive effort the organizers have put into this beautiful event.

Here are a few things I bring back from this amazing day that I got to spend with some new fantastic friends:

  • Style matters. We got to see 4 or 5 pavilions during the day. You know, in fitness, bodybuilding or lifting, there hasn’t been huge innovation in terms of training machines. If you watch some of Arnold’s videos from the 70s you’ll see that the machines in those videos are quite the same as you see in a regular gym now. But now people want style. We entered the machines and weights pavilion (can’t remember the official name) and I noticed how most people gathered around an Italian brand with super cool and flashy weights, bars, dumbells etc…I hardly believe lifting green, cherry or flashy pink disques instead of the regular black ones will affect your gains. Nevertheless, I admit that entering a colourful gym gives you a different taste, a different feeling. It might have something to do with cromotherapy but now, gyms and providers have to face this challenge. People want to be surrounded by beauty and style. Especially in that place where we look for peace, tranquillity and the possibility to toss a tough day at the office behind.
  • There’s always a new kid on the block…Goodness me. In 12 years of lifting I maybe used 3-4 supplement brands believing that kind of covered the whole market. Well, I was sooooo wrong. There’s a thousand brands out there, all endorsed by famous athletes and fitness figures. Even major brands can’t rest on their lorrels both in terms of product quality and marketing. I think it is positive to experiment with different brands and competition among brands is beneficial for the final user. To fitness enthusiasts my advice is to keep studying. Look at the different composition of each supplement brand and see the effect on you.
  • Fitness communication is mostly about lifestyle. As I discussed in previous posts, fitness is very much a matter of lifestyle rather than sports and health. This has always been the case inside bodybuilding for instance, but it is now that the spotlight is more about the way you conduct your life. Phil Heath said more than once “you can’t be a rockstar and a bodybuilder.”Fitness businesses are booming and standing out among competitors is tough. “Consumers” are now aligning themselves with sports and health brands that they feel share a like-minded perspective. See for instance the great work of Gymshark towards this strategy.

Next year I will definitely be back and hopefully I’ll manage to go to more fitness fairs. Stay tuned on my social media for updates.

marcoRecorder_FIBO
12907170_460975720773862_1514470464_n

An awesome day the Social Media Trends Summit

It was a fantastic day at the EUROVISION Social Media Trends Summit in London. I really had great fun but, most importantly, I had the chance to meet some incredible communication professionals and at the same time promote what the European Union will do at Expo Milan 2015. I’ll write about my presentation in a separate post. Not because people are just waiting impatiently to read it (I’m not that disillusioned) but because the topic I discussed deserves a separate chapter. Besides, just the selfie you see below deserves another dedicated post 🙂

The summit had the target of exploring strategies and exchange knowledge and best practice in the field of social media for public service media with the wider European Broadcasting Union network. It was an aspect of social media I hadn’t been involved in before. Hence, listening from the experience of TV and radio producers was really interesting and I hope I’ll get a chance sometimes to work in the same realm.

Social media is now an integral part of public service broadcasting. Maximizing the use of social platforms has become key to making the case for public service media as it allows us to understand our audiences better and to be more relevant to them; to increase engagement and interactivity; to empower, curate and share stories and messages; and to become the most relevant source of information for our audiences.

Bringing reporters, producers and presenters together was the ideal set to understand how radio, TV and paper need to reshape their content and their way of working by integrating social media in their overall communication plans. In particular, in the past few years, I have been witnessing the tendency, from social media professionals, to over-discern themselves, from communication managers.

Social_Media_Trends_Summit As I said in my presentation:

Conversations about social media are diverging from conversations about general communication. It’s now time to make these two converge not diverge. You notice this in the way some businesses and organizations are set out. You find the community manager in an office separated from the PR team, who hardly speak to the press officer, who doesn’t have a clue about what the webmaster is doing. Community managers in 2015 need to be at the centre of communication, not at the corner

A significant part of the conference discussed how social media is reshaping journalism. A topic that Alex Volonté took a closer look at in his blog.

The conference saw the participation of many speakers, mainly from the Scandi-Anglo-Saxon world. It seems to me that Scandinavia is a great and comfortable place to promote innovation in communication and public engagement. There’s no corruption, everybody is young, everybody loves technology and people are not afraid to speak up. It’s a pretty different working environment from their south-European counterparts where political communication hides numerous hurdles towards transparency and accessibility. Apart from reminiscing the ideal world that Scandinavia creates in my mind, I particularly enjoyed four presentations:

Cilla Benkö, Director-General, Swedish Radio, was one of the most appreciated speakers at the event, as you can see from the tweets about her. A strong, decisive and pragmatic woman that seems not to compromise to mediocrity. To cut a long story short:

Social media is not only for the young generation. We must adapt to it and use it our best

When you can tell people that you work for the X Factor and MTV, you already start with a step ahead in terms of coolness. That’s what Laura-May Coope can say. Pragmatically, Laura explained how social media isn’t just marketing, posting, replying, favouriting etc… It’s a bilateral process where you both speak and listen. Otherwise, we would just call it broadcasting. It’s two-way communication. When she’s asked how she gets her stories, she basically says that she’s “always listening to social media.” Is there any other better and richer source for content? I don’t think so

The best story of the day was not about engagement or live-tweeting strategies. It was about how the digital presence of the Eurovision Song Contest came about. Believe it or not, it was (obviously) all because of a girl. Sietse Bakker, Eurovision Song Contest Event Supervisor, a loooooooooong time ago, wanted to impress this girl he liked. How, you ask? By making a website about the Eurovision. Long story short, he gets a job offer for that. Sure, there is more to that but this happened.

This is an awesome success story and it really embraces a set of recommendations I always give to neo-graduates: “Jobs ain’t waiting for you. In this market you have to stand out of the crowd and go get those jobs by the horns.” Sietse (kind of) did that. If you have an awesome idea, smart businesses will see it. Sietse is a terrific guy (see the tweets below as a proof) and the people at EVN Social loved his approach. Plus, he manages probably the coolest cross-country TV event in Europe. I mean, how can you not like the chap?

The reason why I need to talk about Alex Trickett, Head of sports at Twitter, is because Twitter Sports created some of the coolest social media analitycs-based charts I have seen during the 2014 Football World Cup in Brazil.

Getting to the point of their strategy during big sports events, Alex share his five commandments

More videos from the event will come soon. I’ll keep you posted for any update.

Peace out.

Open your ears: social media monitoring is not all about being techy

Open your ears

It is a common misperception to think of social media as different from traditional media. I believe that the more communication technologies evolve the more we must learn to see social media as part of “all media.” However, it is true that some aspects of media monitoring require a different perspective when talking about social media and gathering intelligence.

Do you know what’s been said about you, and where?

In a previous blog post I advocated how audience segmentation (the process of dividing a broad target audience into more specific subgroups) is key to effective communication output (the way we communicate).

When I was asked to prepare a presentation on social media monitoring to gather intelligence I realized how this also applies to communication input (the way we gather information to then produce communication output).

Knowing where people are talking about you and your activities is crucial. We’re currently in an era of information overload and learning how to listen and extract the information which is useful for our communication strategy is not an easy task.

We tend to think that effective monitoring is about being techy or using the most advanced tools or the most elaborate algorithms. At the social media team in the European Commission we are often asked “How can I find influencers on topic X or Y” or “what tools can tell me exactly who to follow on a particular topic.” I’m afraid the answer is: there is no magical tool. Tools will help ease your workload but you should not forget the so-called “human touch.” No matter what monitoring platform you are using or monitoring project you’re setting up, you will always need some manual background research work.

Choose the appropriate monitoring technique

We can distinguish different types of monitoring activities on social media. These are mainly based on:

  • The amount of information that needs to be processed.
  • The duration of the event/topic at stake.

Roughly I could identify:

  • Continuous monitoring
  • One-off monitoring
  • Short-term project-based monitoring
  • Long-term project-based monitoring

Continuous monitoring

“Taking the temperature” of the social media interactions and shared content in relation to your activities is very important. Whether you do that through a corporate monitoring tool or via different platforms, every-day monitoring allows you to be reactive and keep close to the action. It is by monitoring the trends, the data and volumes of information on a daily basis that you will be able to understand when values are unusual (unusually high or unusually low) and to promptly react when needed.

One-off monitoring

This usually refers to monitoring activities which are done una tantum. They generally end with prompt reports and are used to assess the performance of specific activities. They are good to evaluate events such as conferences, debates, press briefings, campaigns etc…Was the event successful? If not, why? Can we do something to counterbalance? This type of monitoring should be used to answer these questions.

Short-term project-based monitoring

Short-term project-based monitoring can be set-up when a particular “opportunity window” opens (alteration of trend and detection of unusual values). For instance, if you are continuously monitoring discussions on social media about “finance” you will be able to notice when significant amounts of discussions suddenly start revolving around related topics like legislation, transactions fees or regulation. If any such topics is of particular concern for you, it would be interesting to follow a procedure similar to what you can see below.

Social_media_monitoring

1. After identifying the issue (i.e. huge concern on social media about upcoming financial regulation) you should measure how far the issue has expanded on social media. This can be done by measuring reach, engagement, shares and retweets, likes etc…

2. Further ad hoc monitoring will allow you to identify influencers and to be able to understand the sentiment around the topic (positive, negative, neutral)

3. After that it is recommended to make a decision on how to engage on the topic with the right stakeholders and suggest a publishing/output or rebuttal strategy.

4. Once this is done, it is necessary to reassess the situation and report it back to the people in charge who will verify if the issue is over or continues.

5. If the issue continues, go back to step 1

If you make step 5 it means that your short-term project-based monitoring becomes long-term.

Long-term monitoring project

These are monitoring projects that are on-going and for which you cannot foresee an exact end date. It’s good to keep an eye on these projects regularly on long intervals or when timely events may lead to values alteration.

Of course there are cases that require the implementation of monitoring projects that go beyond what we have presented here. Nevertheless, whatever monitoring activity you think of setting up, it is important to consider:

  • Consistency

Stick to consistent measurement and reporting techniques. This is key to providing effective benchmarking.

  • Sustainability

Organise your monitoring activities according to the resources you have at your disposal. Although it is very important to monitor your presence on social media, it also requires considerable resource investment. Try to find a sustainable balance between your workload and time spent on social media monitoring.

  • Essentiality

With the help of social media monitoring tools, either expensive custom solutions or free online platforms, you will be able to gather enormous amounts of information. Think about who you are reporting this to and stick to what really matters. Information overload is your worst enemy.

Should Instagram maintain its original engagement model?


I have been looking for a third party software in order to manager an Instagram account and plan some posts beforehand. I thought it would be easy to find but actually, apart from some apps like Instarepost or similar, there isn’t much on the market to help community management on Instagram. I contacted the company I work with to do social media monitoring and they send me an interesting reply:

At this time, uploading via the Instagram API is not possible. We got in touch with them to ask whether this would change, but we received the following reply:

“Instagram is about your life on the go – we hope to encourage photos from within the app. However, in the future we may give whitelist access to individual apps on a case by case basis. We want to fight spam & low quality photos. Once we allow uploading from other sources, it’s harder to control what comes into the Instagram ecosystem. All this being said, we’re working on ways to ensure users have a consistent and high-quality experience on our platform.”

I find it very interesting to see how Instagram sticks to their original business model without giving in to the desktop/laptop management temptation. This was for instance a decision Vine went for but it made them lose some of their uniqueness. Vine used to be a spontaneous app where really creative people would experiment and challenge their abilities within the pretty strict limitations of the app. That’s what made Vines very unique. Since they allowed uploads of basically any six seconds videos, they did make it easier for the users to be present in the Vine community but they completely killed their original engagement model. I still believe that making any six second video doesn’t mean making a Vine. But this is what almost the entire Vine community has become.

From what I read on Uplifted, Instagram are taking this very seriously. In Instagram’s continued quest to remain an exclusively mobile app, they are now penalizing users of third-party apps, such as Gramblr.  Gramblr still works great for posting pre-edited photos, but with a catch.  Instagram is now disabling hashtags on accounts that have used Gramblr in the past, sometimes even for just one photo. Businesses and individuals who wish to accumulate followers should stick to posting strictly from the sanctioned instagram app.

Latergram might just be the next big thing in social media management.  The app, which bills itself as the way to “schedule and manage your Instagram posts” promises to do just that and more. Still in beta version.

Have another alternative? I’d love to know!

To Rotate or not to rotate? A question for the EU Council Presidency on Twitter


An intersting point has been raised by Matthias Luefkens for Europe Decides about having a rotating Twitter account for the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Considering the management of these accounts, the piece does raise some interesting point. I have left my contribution in their comments section.

Cattura A problem I could already foresee with Matthias’ solution is “what to do with all tweets?”Meaning that, for instance, tweets from @gr2014EU would now look like they were made by @IT2014EU.
An EU Presidency still remains a very team-based or national-based effort. The accounts that get closed after the term do work as archives of their achievements.

What is your take on this? Share it in the comments section below or joined the conversation on Twitter.