April 14, 2011
While researching an entirely different topic, I found myself at this article by EurActiv.
To quote from the article, “European associations are generally lagging behind their members and stakeholders in their digital communications capability,” Ellwood and Atfield found, concluding that “a significant group” of associations are “adopting a wait-and-see strategy with social media, or are even philosophically opposed to it”.
There are, of course, many reasons to embrace social media. Clearly, I am a convert. But actually, I think that many trade associations and federations in Brussels are quite correct to not use social media. Here are my reasons why:
1. A lack of understanding and / or skills.
Lets not beat around the bush, if you visit an average Brussels trade association type website, and there are lots of them, they aren’t generally very good. They have very few pages, very few words on each page, a few thumbnail photos of the board and a contact form. Many of them are very uninspiring.
If I were to hazard a guess, I would imagine that most of them recieve under 1,000 unique visitors per month. The ones that don’t probably generate under 1,500. And many of these sites cost upwards of €5,000.
My point is that if you have proved to be unspectacular at using the Web 1.0 tools and technology, is there any reason to think that you will suddenly get Web 2.0 right?
This lack of understanding leads to…
2. Publishing poor quality content.
I have seen a great many ‘blog posts’ by Brussels based organisations. I would describe many of these as poor quality press releases. For some reason, organisations seem to think that blogging is a lower form of communication than a press release and therefore requires less effort and care.
Are you kidding???
Yes, anyone can blog. But in the Brussels environment, many of the bloggers are very smart, very well educated, very well informed and really do their best to write well. Blogging about EU affairs is very high standard.
If they knew just how few people read those coveted press releases, a change in attitude may occur.
3. Lack of commitment to joining and leading an online community.
If you don’t even bother to blog well, are you really likely to engage well in the Web 2.0 world? Social media is about engagement with readers. That means answering comments and discussing issues and persectives. It is not one-way publishing by different means.
The opportunities to reach a wide audience by using social media are well known, but the opportunity to look like an idiot by using it badly is equally real.
For those not aware of his work, Mathew’s blog covers a lot of the important ground that EU organisations should understand when using social media.
4. Building infrastructure that is not yours.
We all know that Facebook and Twitter are powerhouses online and that everyone ‘must’ be on them. They are cool.
This is true, but what happens if they change their rules? Shut your account? Run out of funding and go under? Lots of social media sites have done just that. Every now and then, not very often but occassionally, I worry about the fact that I am building my blog and presesence here. It isn’t mine after all.
In short, there are risks in building too much reliance on a communications strategy that uses another company. For an individual that makes no money (like this blog) it is not a life or death worry. For a professional organisation, it might be.
So what should trade associations etc actually do?
1. Build a real, functioning, popular website.
The foundation of most organisations online strategies really ought to be their own website. Doing some of the work to make it useful, helpful, informative and valuable to the internet will help a lot. Start with this.
2. Build, write and maintain a blog on that website.
In the Web 2.0 world everything revolves around a blog. Posts on Twitter and Facebook are often used to help publish new content on that blog. This blog should be written by someone of real influence in the organisation and it should be his or hers – not outsourced to a junior comms position.
If the name and photo of the boss is on the blog, you can be sure the quality will be good. Reputations and ego are important, even online…
It will probably require a minimum of one post per week for at least one year before there is an audience of note. Put in the hours. It is worth it but won’t happen quickly.
3. Start thinking about other social media.
Once the skills of blogging and online interraction have been learned and understood, now it might be the time to think about an organisational presence on Twitter and Facebook. At this stage, after this work, it is much less likely to go wrong and become a joke.financialguy