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:
has a central communication presence (dealing with communication at a global and European level)
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.
I prefer thinking about the #eurobubble (whatever that means) as a bridge between BXL and MS rather than an echo chamber #EDAS2014
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.
.@jonworth giving a great overview of online campaigning at #EDAS2014 – online to offline, personalisation (good prep for my session later!)
“Wake me up when Movember ends.” I guess this is the song of my first Movember experience. When I started, I wasn’t sure about what my contribution should be in this campaign. So, I played it easy and decided to stick to what I know best and exploit my digital campaigning skills to raise awareness about the cause. I tried my best in the 3 weeks I had at my disposal (I left on a trip to Tanzania on 21/11 where I stopped posting MoUpdates) and although I didn’t achieve what I hoped for, I got a lot of good insights for next year’s edition.
Movember is all about bringing back the moustache, having fun and doing it for a serious cause; men’s health, specifically prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health. Mo Bros commit to grow a moustache for the 30 days of Movember, and in doing so become walking and talking billboards for the cause. The moustache is Movember’s ribbon, the symbol by which MoBros and MoSistas generate conversations, awareness and raise funds for men’s health.
Quando si tratta di esprimere solidarietà, unione e fratellanza, la comunità rugbystica non si tira mai indietro neanche quando si tratta di varcare confini. I Brussels Barbarians Rugby Club, uno storico gruppo della palla ovale Belga sono diventati ambasciatori dell’Associazione Terzo Tempo con Lorenzo di Fidenza, un’ associazione senza scopo di lucro che si prefigge di svolgere atti diretti alla sensibilizzazione delle istituzioni e dei cittadini verso le tematiche di cultura dello sport, nella sua diffusione per il benessere psico-fisico degli individui, come momento aggregativo e con attenzione alle questioni della prevenzione degli infortuni.
I “Barbari” hanno portato lo striscione dell’associazione alle loro partite ed hanno organizzato una raccolta fondi per aiutare Lorenzo, un giovane fidentino rimasto infortunato gravemente mentre giocava a rugby. Durante l’infortunio Lorenzo ha riportato un bruttissimo trauma alle vertebre cervicali con conseguente, attuale, tetraplegia e dipendenza dalla ventilazione meccanica.
Questa collaborazione è iniziata quasi per caso. Venendo a sapere della storia di Lorenzo mi sono detto “Perchè non on provarci?”. Perchè non far conoscere questa realtà ad altri? In concomitanza dell’ultima partita del campionato fiammingo con i campioni di Gent, i Barbari hanno ufficializzato il loro concreto supporto per l’iniziativa per tutto il 2013. Durante l’evento, hanno dichiarato che i “Brussels Barbarians appoggiano questa nobile causa in un gesto di solidarietà nei confronti di coloro i quali credono nel rugby come attitvità sana e di aggregazione indipendentemente dalle difficoltà che un appassionato debba affrontare. Questa è una dimostrazione che il rugby non conosce limite quando si tratta di aiutare chi ha bisogno.”
I owe a lot to Belgium. I came here as an Erasmus student in 2007 at the Universiteit Antwerpen where I first discovered the culture, the customs and the issues of this country. I even wrote my thesis about the Belgian federal system and its recent history and still I believe I’m in a sort of continuous learning curve.
Some time ago after a rugby game I was chatting with my coach, a French expat who’s been living Brussels for years. We were just talking about rugby over a beer, as all rugby teams do during a “third half” after a game where you fought hard against the opponent. Suddenly, completely out of the blue, a member of the opponent team starts talking to us directly in Flemish, assuming that nobody would understand him. My coach politely said “Sorry, I don’t understand Flemish. Do you speak French?”. The guy kept on going in Flemish saying that it is not normal that teams playing in Flanders don’t speak Dutch, that it is not normal that people come to Belgium and don’t speak Dutch and that, as a Flemish, he didn’t know how to speak French. I reply to him “What would you do if you were promoted to the national league and would have to talk to French-speaking refs?” His response was “if that happens we’ll stay in the Flemish league.”
He was clearly looking for confrontation, which is NOT what you do in a rugby third half. This is not the rugby spirit, which is based on aggression, rage and physical confrontation only and exclusively during the game. After that, it’s all over and both teams are bound to celebrate the beauty of the game and the happiness they share playing the best sport in the world.
This is not Belgium either, or at least, this is not what Belgium has taught me it is. I come from a country where populism has been a predominant factor in national politics for the last 20 years. I know how this works and I know how it plays out into society. I know that some isolated comments from an individual do not make the image of an entire population but it is worrying that a huge segment of the population are victims of populist propaganda. I’m proud of those friends of mine that say “I’m Belgian” and those who believe that unity pays off more than minor bureaucratic quarrels.
I’m part of the expats community of Brussels and consequently of Belgium. I play in a rugby team with people from literally all over the world who ended up here for work, for life or for whatever other reason. We all integrate, pay our (high) taxes here and get accustomed to the state’s system as all expats do in other countries.
A version of this article was originally published in Cafébabel
Belgian rugby entered new ground last 20th October when London Saracens played Racing Metro Paris in a Heinken Cup game at the Roi Baudoin Stadium in Brussels. The game (ended 30-13 for the London-based team) was designed to spread interest in the game and enhance Belgium’s status as an emerging rugby nation. Belgium has in fact become the 10th nation to stage a Heineken Cup match, but this is the cup’s first real excursion. Before, other than games in the seven participant nations were actually short, cross-border forays by neighbouring French teams.
Prior to the game, Saracens President Edward Griffiths said that “the Belgians had always said that the best crowd would be for an English team to play a French side. The French speakers would probably support the French team and everybody else would support any team that played against the French.” But the majority of the attendees, swept along by the poundings of a lively brass band, were local, drawn heavily from the rugby community.The mayor of Brussels Freddy Thielemans is a big rugby fan and former player. He explains to The Guardian how “part of the agreement was that more than 20% of the revenue would go into Belgian rugby. It had to be something that would leave a legacy in the country.” After the event, federation president Jan Coupe added that “rugby made a shift from amateur to semi-pro and is at something of a turning point,”
Growing interest equals growing performanceRugby union in Belgium has not been popular historically, but due to its recent international successes, it is a quickly growing sport going from a couple of thousand players to 28,000 in the last 10 years. Belgium are 23rd on the IRB’s rankings, which makes them the highest-placed country not to have played in a World Cup. Nowadays, more than half of the registered players are or teenagers or even pre-teens.
Expats in the scrum
Some of the many rugby clubs in Brussels have traditionally a more international orientation. James Parker, president of the Brussels Barbarians (where Freddy Thielemans used to play) explains that some of the local teams have foreign players while their traditions are based on Belgian culture. “There is no doubt that the cultural diversity of our club makes communication very interesting.” Parker adds. “It is definitely easy to see why negotiation betweenthe EU member states must be hugely challenging.”