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Social media and the EESC: How to get visibility to an unknown institution?

Do you know what the EESC, the European Economic and Social Committee, is? If yes, have you ever heard about anything it has been doing? Do you know any person working there – the President, the Secretary General etc.? Do we know about the actual influence of this advisory EU body?

Today, together with fellow editor Jon Worth, I participated in a meeting of its Communication Group (see the agenda), a group of members dealing with strategic advice on the body’s communication, plus the officials working on communication within the secretariat of the EESC.  They had invited us as experts to talk about social media issues in the context of the EESC’s efforts to gain visibility. For this advice, the EESC covered our travel costs to Brussels – although this was not without problems as you can read in Jon’s blog post on the ticket booking.

So we discussed with them the role of social media, in particular in the EU environment, and we gave a quick overview over the state of play and some lessons we have learned over the last two years with the Bloggingportal (our presentation can be downloaded as PPT) and then answered questions from the audience. The people present in the meeting today seemed very open and enthusiastic to move on the social media communication of the institution and of its members.

However, this is not a task that will be quickly done given the general lack of attention for the body. From what I hear, I still suppose that most people have never heard of the EESC, and that even within the Brussels environment very few people actually notice the work of the body that is supposed to formally represent the EU’s civil society in the institutional context of the Union.

In addition to that, I’ve been told several times by people who had heard about the EESC that when you want to do lobbying in Brussels, the EESC is not a place that you think about – whether this is true may be debated, but that’s the opinion out there. This is probably why the EESC is thinking about how to be more present on social media, something many institutions are trying these days (although only few are doing it well).

Now being quite unknown puts additional challenges to communication, in particular if even much larger and more important EU bodies are struggling with their visibility on the net and beyond (see e.g. the blogs of of the EP Web Editors or the blog of the social media team of the European Commission for examples on how this struggle is going on). But being quite unknown also gives a lot of freedom to the people with in the EESC to go out and experiment, building a new reputation online and maybe beyond.

If they are able to interact with relevant policy audiences in Brussels and in particular in the member states, using their existing networks of interest group relationships, they may be able to get more visibility and attention. Still, as with any institutional social media communication, this will heavily depend on individuals being ready to engage with the outside world, going were the discussions are instead of simply trying to create new ones where nobody is listening.

I’m looking forward seeing how the EESC deals with these challenges…

Post scriptum:

A quick Google Scholar search for scientific articles/books published since 2005 on the EESC finds over 3500 results referencing this EU body, although very few seem to deal with the body itself. Probably the most relevant recent scientific publication is the article by Martin Westlake, the current Secretary General of the EESC, on the role of the committee in the 2009 book “Lobbying in the European Union” edited by David Coen (whom I met during this event in the European Parliament)  and Jeremy Richardson (CV as PDF) and a 2008 article on “The European Social and Economic Committee after enlargment“. A search in my home university’s library finds only three publications (all in German) covering the EESC, compared to 88 references to the search term “European Parliament”.

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