Using Zoom doesn’t make us ‘digital’

We’ve perhaps been a bit quick to congratulate ourselves in public affairs (and other fields no doubt). Being forced to work remotely has meant we’ve shifted meetings and events to the virtual realm. And we’ve realised it’s pretty doable and we probably should have done it more in the past.

But the self-satisfied back patting (of the virtual sort) is not entirely warranted. We’ve not magically embarked on and completed wholesale digital transformation, by any stretch. 

Embracing digital is not simply about shifting offline activity online. Meetings and events done online remain meetings and events. And arguably poorer ones, in most cases. The situation now reminds of a few years ago when lots of us thought we were ‘doing digital’ and great at social media when all we really did was use it as a replacement for print ads or direct mail. Many of us still do.

Truly embracing digital involves using online means to drastically enhance or scale up activities, not simply replace offline activity. 

In public affairs, the following three areas of digital arguably represent wholesale change far more so than doing stuff remotely:

  1. We can now do advocacy in a highly targeted and methodical manner, and at far greater scale than ever before using data and digital. In Brussels, as issues handled become more political, being able to build, demonstrate and harness support from relevant constituencies is key to success. This is done most effectively through digital. 
  2. We now have a bunch of AI-enabled methods to vastly enhance the quality of intelligence gathering and analysis. We are able to determine public sentiment and likely public responses to policy positions in single constituencies by distilling social and other data. We can also predict positions and coalitions of policy-makers positions more quickly and efficiently by analysing, for instance, past voting behaviour and public statements – at the click of a button. 
  3. Last but not least, digital platforms built specifically to manage public affairs programmes allow us to oversee issues and stakeholders in one place. Consolidated information enhances efficiencies: it saves time and reduces pointless duplication. And it can make us much better. Improved knowledge of what everyone else is up to within an organisation will invariably help raise levels towards the highest common denominator. 

Controversial perhaps, but some of us may even have regressed, convinced we’ve ticked the digital box because we’ve hosted scores of Zoom meetings and spoken on a webinar. Thinking we have is a disservice both to public affairs, which is a far broader and more complex discipline than a bunch of meetings and events, and in particular digital, which should be transforming industries like ours, not just allowing us to do the same old stuff a tad differently. 

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