I recently wrote about the nuance between technical/legal and public interest driven dossiers in EU public affairs. In short, high-quality technical information provision is the key determinant for success on technical dossiers, while on politicised issues in which public sentiment plays a role, a successful PA programme will likely need to include more of the marketing-communications toolkit.
This same nuance affects the use of digital and social media in public affairs. On communications-driven dossiers, strategies will frequently have considerable digital components. Run-of-the-mill examples might include:
- An online-centred rebuttal programme when a public affairs goal is being hampered by a specific item of misinformation.
- Leveraging public support from a specific constituency – people who live in a certain place, work for an affected company or industry, or have a certain set of values – with the help of online tactics like petitions and social networks.
- Utilising digital storytelling techniques to raise awareness amongst diverse stakeholders in a cluttered information space.
In legal-technical public affairs activity, like tracking and analysing ramifications of policy or drafting and advising on policy-related texts, such strategies may seem irrelevant. And in all honesty they often are, at least on a large scale.
But by no stretch does that make digital channels as a whole irrelevant, as they remain viable tools across three core components of all public affairs activity:
- Intelligence tracking and analysis
While the use of data in public affairs remains rudimentary, quick wins may be found in areas such as proof point identification (e.g. what do people in a key decision-maker’s constituency think of your issue and can this be leveraged) and analysing the opinions, habits and communications preferences of targeted decision-makers active on social media.
- Message delivery
Providing policy-related information online is obviously key. Even on the most procedural of topics involving limited stakeholders, information will be sought online. Meanwhile, highly targeted digital marketing methods can help get relevant content to the narrowest of audiences.
Last but not least, if target decision-makers are engaged in social media, it presents an alternative channel for reach and influence. There are only so many meetings one can attend.
The use of digital and social as one minor cog in technical/legal-centred public affairs programme may seem unexciting and perhaps even irrelevant. Undoubtedly, the options available when campaigning to influence a wider set of influencers will appear more enticing to most communications professionals. But don’t underestimate the value that digital and social can provide in shifting the pin even on under-the-radar PA, be it through a piece of intelligence uncovered online, first-rate content, or because of reputational capital and relationships built up over time in part via social media.