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.

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 🙂


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.


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.

A few lessons from #Europcom 2013

I only managed to attend one panel at this year’s Europcom. I really like this event. The topics are always very interesting and the participants’ level of expertise is always quite high. I noticed that comms2point0, a regular invitee to this event, made a very good and comprehensive summary of both day one and day two of the conference which I invite you to read.

The panel I attended was about the reputation of the EU institutions. Public criticism of the European institutions is on the rise. What is the impact of this on support for the European Union? What tools and strategies can be developed to fight the myths and clichés, and to set up a balanced dialogue with the public?

The debate was moderated by Rob Heirbaut and the speakers were Simona Guerra from the University of Leicester; Mélanie McCluskey from the Reputation Institute in Belgium; Sjerp van der Vaart from the European Parliament Information Office in Belgium; Sixtine Bouygues, Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication at the European Commission and Antonia Mochan from the Representation of the European Commission in the UK.

In particular, there were three lessons I took from the event.

Sixtine Bouygues, Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication in DG COMM, pointed out the importance of two main factors when dealing with reputation of institutions: “transparency and accountability.” While elaborating on this issue, she noted the effort made by the European Commission to rationalise its online presence and harmonise its visual identity.

At the same time, another challenge for EU institutions is to guarantee that all information is available, accessible and visible. “Being there and providing efficient information services to the citizens should be a priority for public institutions.” Rationalisation means better spending of public money and easier access for users and these are priorities in DG Communication’s work. Web rationalisation was also the topic of our last blog post written by Robert Andrecs, the head of digital communications in the European Commission.

Antonia Mochan didn’t need PowerPoint. She got right to the point during her talk and she discussed some very important topics related to targeting.

First of all, “if you don’t know who you are talking to then it won’t matter what you say.” Knowing who you target and how your target audience communicates is absolutely crucial in addressing institutional messages.

Secondly, it is important to focus on the “big picture.” The EU has over 500 million citizens and it is indeed challenging to address them all at once in all the domains that they could be interested in. Hence, it is important to be able to think out of the box or in this case, out of the “bubble.”

In all places of institutional importance at both national and international level, it is common to get caught up in professional bubbles, such as the famous “Eurobubble” or, as mentioned by Antonia, the Westminster bubble. No matter in which institutional bubble you find yourself, communicators have to think about the concern and the means of the people they are targeting, not the means and the topics used and discussed only in their bubbles.

I hope next year’s edition will include some brilliant insights again and that I will be able to attend more panels.

Discerning the Belgian social media sphere from the Eurobubble: mission impossible?

When analyzing the social media sphere in Belgium I always find it hard to differentiate the Eurobubble from the “real” Belgian environment.
Belgium has a very active and engaged online population, with users from many segments of society. In addition to politicians and journalists, many entrepreneurs, consultants and professors active on social media.


Continue reading “Discerning the Belgian social media sphere from the Eurobubble: mission impossible?”

Interview with #RocktheUnion: raise awareness about the 2014 European Parliament elections

I recently found out about “Rock the Union” ,a project intended to raise awareness about the coming European Parliament elections 2014.

Together with a team of 5 people plus bus driver, Hans Mund the project’s manager wants to go through all 28 EU Member States in an old English Routemaster between October 14th and May 16th 2014:

Why does he do that?

  • to discuss Europe with the citizens on the local level,
  • to discuss why the European Parliament elections are important for the future of Europe,
  • to promote the idea of taking part in the elections,
  • to give the citizens a chance to send out their message to the candidates running for office in 2014.

Let’s read what Hans has to say about the project and its targets.


Tell us, how and where did it all start? 

The idea for the Rock the Union tour came up on June 9th this year. I was quite frustrated after long talks about what some of the EU institutions are going to do in order to raise awareness about the upcoming European Parliament elections. Continue reading “Interview with #RocktheUnion: raise awareness about the 2014 European Parliament elections”

Il y a… un “truc” européen

For those living, working and jogging in the realm of European public affairs, it is well known how Eurobubblers basically create their own dimension and try to differentiate themselves from the outer world (the actual Bruxellois). Everyone here in BXL is super qualified with Masters Degrees or PhDs, everyone speaks 5-6 languages (apart from the Brits and the French) and everyone has a fairly similar background around politics, economics and law etc…The profile that Lisa displays in one the episode of the Eurobubble actually sums it up quite nicely: ” Half German, half French. Born in Indonesia. Politics at Sciences Po, LSE Master, internship at the European Commission and 1 year in Bruges”

Brussels is a place where people don’t go to to live. People go to Brussels to work. People from all over Europe, and the rest of the world, would move to London, Paris, Barcelona or Rome because these are awesome places to be in and expats in this cities would do whatever job in order to stay there.

Brussels is exactly the opposite. People, especially young people, don’t move to the Belgian capital because they are in love with Art Nouveau and  mussels with fries. They move to Brussels because of work and almost always their work is related to European affairs. You go out for a beer and end up talking about the euro crisis. You go for a jog in the park and meet policy-makers talking about treaty reforms. You go play football in Parc du Cinquentanaire and you meet EC stagiares. See what happens for instance when you go to Place du Luxembourg

But how do the Bruxellois perceive this? Is Brussels’ autoctonous population affected by the bubble? Continue reading “Il y a… un “truc” européen”

The 7 profiles of Eurobubble football players

As I explained in an earlier post, futsall in the Eurobubble is a matter of life and death. Participating in a Eurobubble futsall game reaches the same level of PR skills required to attend drinks afert a Commission’s cabinet meeting. Like in every networking event, you can always identify some profiles that usually go around these ones:

The David Beckham model

Super expensive brand new Nike shoes (110€), latest FC Barcelona shirt (90€) (they all support Barcelona of course) Puma socks of their national team (30€) with Adidas lacets to keep them tight (10€) and hair holding string (price unknown/depending on the area).

The David Beckhams are those who spend as much as a PSG player in clothing (for a futsall game). They come to the game in a suit on a Sunday pretending they just had a business lunch while they actually wore it to get people to ask them “Why are you dressed like that?” For them, every accessory is fundamental: from the bag, to the  shower slippers to…SHIN GUARD??? Seriously, shin guards???

They bring girlfriends to the games cause they need somebody to look at them but unfortunately they pretty much all suck at football. Typicallly they have moderately paid jobs in leadership and business management consultancies.

The Balotellis

The pitch is booked for one hour, not two. Nevertheless, every team has its latecomers, those for whom the bus is always late, the metro is always on fire and the traffic light is always red. They always make you start playing 4 vs 5 and if you get angry at them they lift their shirts saying “Why always me?”

They gather hatred from everyone and they know that a Pepe-like tackle is about to come onto their ankles. They work for the European Associations of Whatever or the European Think Tank of Nobody Cares About it. Badly paid. Couldn’t care less about you.

The Gazzas

gazza_gascoigneThese are the best. Eurobubble football games are usually during the weekend and whether it is on a Saturday or a Sunday, you will always have someone coming to the pitch at 5.30PM smelling of Bacardi and Coke.

For early hours games, these guys are likely to come directly from St. Gery or Spirito Martini. They usually display incredible skills, dribblings, amazing passes…for about 4 and half minutes when they collapse to ground asking for a durum with Samurai sauce. They are stagiares with a bright future ahead of them in politics.

The Ibrahimovics

95% of the times, teams don’t have a goalie. In this case you either rotate the goalie or the fattest dude has to pay his toll unless he starts getting on salads. However, you always have an Ibra in the team. Somebody that doesn’t give a damn about it and, strangely, his shifts between the posts always last between 15 and 30 seconds after which they shout “Hey I’ve been in the goal for an hour!”. They tackle to the limit and push you like in a Taekwondo match.

They love politics and they are mosly MEPs assistants for some really unknown guy of the Federal European Party for Extreme Application of a Political Doctrine. Continue reading “The 7 profiles of Eurobubble football players”

Futsal in the Eurobubble: the thin line between life and death

This article was also published on The Eurobubble

I remember when I was in university how easy it was to organize a football tournament. You ask people to make teams, someone brings a ball and the winners get to troll the losers for the rest of the academic year. As simple as that.

Well, things sort of change when you play football (mostly futsal) in the Eurobubble. In the Eurobubble, 5 a side football is a matter of life and death. It’s a strict religion. It’s not just a game among friends on a Saturday afternoon. It’s something that will have a significant impact in your career and winning will open new opportunities in front of you (FALSE!!)

People get seriously mental about this tournaments. First of all, a committee (yes, a  committee) is set up for the organization. Basically, these are the Platter and Platini of the Schuman/Arts-Loi area. Then, these great masters decide the “rules and regulations” of the tournament and once these are public, there is no coming back. When I talk about rules and regulations I literally mean a document which is sent out to all teams. THIS IS NOT A JOKE. See below


When Eurobubblers talk about their futsal tournaments it sounds like they’ve played a Champions league Final. I remember a friend of mine telling me about the strategy they put up to win the touranment of an institution: “We put a tall German girl in defense. She just finished her stage but she could still play. Then, we controlled the game with our wingers. Two great Belgians accountants (one Francophone and one Flemish) with experience in policy making and we focussed our attack on an accurate Swedish forward with a PhD in European maritime transports law. So many good memories…”

The truth is that pretty much everyone in the Eurobubble really, really suck at football (including myself). The fun fact is that most of them play like they work: HR managers, are the safe defenders. The Zanetti and Puyol like. Those who always make the safest pass and never risk going forwards. Lobbysts play forward and make up a lot of stories about their skills but wouldn’t score even if a 5 year old was defending the goal. Policy officers play hard. They get the job done and don’t celebrate after scoring. It’s their job after all.

The 1 year in Brussels crisis

Coming back from holidays spent in warm, welcoming, good-food-rich exotic places, experts have remarked the fast spreading of a new disease which is promptly and dramatically afflicting a copious amount of the young neo-Bruxellois population.

The 1-year-in-Brussels disease strikes mainly young professionals employed in the third sector in both private and public sphere. The first alarming symptom results in waking up one day and thinking: “Is the human being made to sit in front of a screen for 10-12 hours a day?”. The pathology can then degenerate into depression, continuous inexplicable malcontent, weight gain, unstoppable farting, acne, intense desire for quick, unhealthy, microwave-heated meals and loss of personal hygiene.

It seems the syndrome is highly contagious and has already affected a vast majority of the under 32 population in the Schuman, Madou, Place Lux and Maelbeek area.

More updates to come…