At the time of writing the EU’s European External Action Service (@EU_EEAS) was following just 4 others on Twitter – all other parts of the institutions, and not even any Commissioners or MEPs. I tweeted this, and it drew sharp reactions from @dicknieuwenhuis who works for the Commission on web comms.
Now let me be clear. I know that doing effective social media outreach in a governmental bureaucracy is not easy. I know that the EU institutions may have less staff for this than regular bureaucracies. I know this stuff takes time to learn.
But come on folks, it’s not as if Twitter is new any more! We’ve all been at it for some time now, governments included. Look at @Number10gov in the UK – 1.75 million followers, and they follow 400k people, and they even reply if you @reply them. It says very loud and clear ‘citizens, we value you, so interact with us’.
@EU_EEAS just says ‘broadcast, broadcast, broadcast’. Now we have plenty of mediums for that. They are called the mainstream media – television, radio, newspapers.
Ooh, but maybe the mainstream media doesn’t adequately cover EU matters and EU external affairs? Maybe Catherine Ashton’s statement on Tanzania is not front page news, and Twitter can fill the gap? That, I would argue, makes a decent, interactive approach to Twitter even more valuable. For there are communities of interest about all kinds of foreign policy questions on Twitter waiting to be tapped, EU nerds like me who are ready supporters of the EEAS but who are growing disillusioned by the glacial pace of progress, and MEPs and national politicians on Twitter ready to feel part of the public diplomacy efforts of the EU in some way.
So someone in the EEAS comms team needs to get Tweetdeck installed (well, if IT security allows it!) and to keep an eye on it daytimes. @EU_EEAS should be following a couple of hundred relevant people, and should be following hash tags as world issues develop, ready to step in when positions of the EU are made clear. It would not be resource intensive and it would mean – on the web at least – the EEAS could gain favour with a lot more people than it has to date.