Online engagement: Brussels audiences’ five standard questions

Here are five questions which I’m invariably asked when organisations are thinking about exploring online engagement but aren’t quite sure what they’re getting themselves into. They’re not the most interesting or strategic questions, but are understandable stumbling blocks which hold organisations back and need to be answered. Here goes.

1. Won’t we get attacked by the other side? What if they say things we really don’t want anyone to hear?

Maybe, but in any case, you can moderate, so if there’s something you really don’t want to expose, you don’t have to (read a recent post about angry commenting trolls here.) Having said that, don’t moderate too much. If you remove everything that isn’t rose-tinted, what’s the point of engaging? View it as an opportunity. There are people out there who dislike you no matter what. There are others who aren’t so sure about you, but if you actually respond to their concerns, you might even win them over.

2. OK so we can moderate, but aren’t we going to get inundated by thousands of hateful attacks every day? So much so that we’ll end up spending all our time moderating?

In my experience, nobody has ever been attacked in this way (don’t flatter yourselves: people have better ways of spending their time!) I’ve heard of instances of automated responses by angry pressure groups, but have never experienced it myself. In any case, these people had your email addresses before: were you “attacked” then?

3. We’re only a small team with a small budget: do we really have the resources to do this properly?

Sure, proper online engagement is time intensive, but so are conf calls, meetings and writing reports no one reads. View it as an opportunity, not something you could do on top of all your – supposedly – far more important tasks. This might actually be the most important thing you do (although this depends on the nature of your sector or organisation.) In any case, if you plan properly, it needn’t take up too much time. Have an editorial plan in place so you organise publication properly, and give yourself a timeslot for the actual work like you would for a regular meeting or whatever else, and you will find it just becomes part of your working day.

4. How do we target people in multiple languages?

The perennial comms nightmare in Europe. It depends on the nature of the organisation in question and what you’re trying to do. If your key target audience is French-speaking but your organisation primarily operates in English, it’d be hard to recommend against trying to communicate in both languages. As a starting point, I’d certainly recommend against overstretching i.e. trying to engage in multiple languages; but to what extent this is the case really depends. Conversations shouldn’t be translated, so I wouldn’t ever translate blog posts, tweets, forum entries and the like; but I would not recommend against a mixed basket approach where a few languages are in use on the same platforms (but not more than three….) For instance, a blog could have posts in different languages, each tagged by the language in question so that a user can select to view all posts written in any given language in one list. Again though, this is complex issue and there’s no right or wrong answer apart from don’t overstretch…!

5. How do we know if engagement works? How do we measure success?

Another perennial question, and one which I’d (controversially) say is relatively easy to answer, even though ROI calculations for engagement (and comms in general) are notoriously contentious. I’m not saying that it’s easy to guarantee success or that it’s easy to define very clear ROI measurements – it’s not at all – but there are so many things you can measure in quantitative terms online, that you can develop a very substantial set of KPIs which you can follow and improve on an ongoing basis. So when the question arises, your response can be: with press releases, you get clippings; online, you get viewing numbers, behavioural and trending figures, you’ll know who said what, when and where; and you’ll know how many of your key targets viewed your content. Plus you’ll have qualitative input which you’d ordinarily have needed polling to assess because you can measure word of mouse (as opposed to traditional word of mouth…) i.e. you’ll know what people think because they may comment about it. The bottom line of the sell is this: my professional opinion is that this will work, but don’t just take my word for it; with you, the client, we’ll develop a very detailed set of KPIs which will be exact indicators of success. Given that they’re so substantial, you’ll know very clearly whether the programme is a success or not; far more clearly that any of the other communications channels you use.

Are people totally won over? No, the novelty of engagement and the “loss of control” it entails is still a big leap; but at this point people tend to be willing to take their first baby steps.


4 thoughts on “Online engagement: Brussels audiences’ five standard questions”

  1. Hello Stefen,

    I would like to thank you for your post. Is very useful for me since i am trying to convince a client that he should start to engage.

    This client represent big multinational firms and industrial organisations and lobby for them at EU institutions. I wanted to ask you, according to your experience, what kind of overal bussiness objectives do these kind of clients have when they think of starting to use social media? If possible, can you specify a bit more on some of the main KPI you use with them?

    Thanks again!


    1. Hi Manuel,

      Apologies for the delayed response!

      When the public affairs people are siloed off from marketing and sales completely, the objective tends to purely be reaching policy makers and influencers. In these cases, KPIs can be built around anything like visits from EU institutions on a site or blog (via domain tracking) and their behaviour once there (time spent on pages, for instance); to wider user behaviour (are people commenting, spreading your information for you, downloading documents etc.)

      When PA is linked to the rest of the organisation (as it should be) then sales prerogatives often enter the picture “OK we have reached 10 policy makers, but are we wasting resources which could otherwise be spent on increasing sales?” In these cases, it’s worthwhile adding a couple of relevant KPIs to the mix e.g. product/service related comments and questions that can produce leads even through PA-centred engagement; or perhaps tracking user behaviour on a site/blog e.g. they found your blog via your “PA message” but then eventually went to a product page, or requested a brochure etc.

      Short answer but hope it helps. In any case, key is really keeping them to a minimum of 5-10 absolutely essential KPIs.

      Good luck.

  2. Number 2 is my favorite, with its underlying assumption that there are all these people (tens, hundreds?)with such strong feelings about the organisation, just waiting to pour it out. If only…

    1. Absolutely – if only! Guess it’s people who work in a sector for years and have an inflated idea of its role in the world because they live that reality every day.

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