I wasn't one of those concerned by the recent ash and airspace crisis, which didn't prevent me from noticing the incredible success of Eurocontrol in the social media sphere, especially since many people whom I follow on Twitter were directly and indirectly concerned.
EU institutions apart from the the great people at the European Parliament are very hesitant to move forward in their social media efforts. One of the lucky exceptions these days seems to be EU Careers. But other EU institutions, organisations and sub-units can learn a lot from what Eurocontrol was able to do these days.
Eurocontrol is not an EU institution but a European intergovernmental organisation working on the development of a single European sky. However, it is still a European organisation that has to work with obvious problems such as multilingualism and quite different stakeholders: State and public authorities, larger and smaller businesses and now also individual citizens, all having their own communication styles, working rhythms, and information needs.
Nevertheless, in of the largest airspace crises in the history they were able to manage a huge increase in communications with just one employee - Aurelie Valtat (who has already been interviewed and profiled by El Mundo).
Just one social media communicator - the second team member was stuck in Spain due to the crisis as Aurelie told me five minutes after I asked her the question on Twitter earlier today - was able to connect both to professional organisations as well as to individual citizens with their individual problems. She transmitted both official information coming from inside Eurocontrol and from relevant national authorities but she was also quickly answering diverse questions coming directly from citizens and stakeholders on Twitter and on Facebook.
On Mashable, Shashank Nigam qualified the work of Eurocontrol as "probably the best effort [he had] seen in aviation crisis management through social media". And the BBCblog concluded that the success of Eurocontrol's communication effort came because:
- They were open to conversation
- They were quick with answers
- They had a loud & clear communication
- They were consequent in hashtags
- They sounded like a person
- They were nice in the right way
In the meantime, the Twitter account of Eurocontrol has over 7300 followers (after 300 before the crisis according to El Mundo) and the Facebook page has 3200 "Likes", a base that they will be able to use for communication when the crisis is over but also whenever a new crisis may arise.
The combination of first-hand knowledge (i.e. working within the institution) and the ability to interact with a diverse public seems to be a major asset for social media communication of institutions. It is also trust in an employee (or several) to handle the communication efforts in the name of the institution, being allowed to answer without hierarchic authorisation of every little answer and thus being able to react at the speed of social communication, not of institutional communication.
And Eurocontrol also had the ability to work only in English, relying on the linguistic capabilities of followers and translation efforts of major stakeholders and of the social web that is able to get message translated into any language when needed, as we have seen in our Bloggingportal.eu experiment recently.
EU institutions should study what Eurocontrol and Aurelie Valtat - a single qualified and talented employee - were able to do during these days, how much their image profited from the way they were handling communications in this crisis, and how much added value European public institutions can have for citizens and for other stakeholders if they employ the right social communications strategies with the right people in the right way.
Picture: © anguskirk / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0