Young BSF: Log in, reach out

The digital communication workshop, powered by the Centre for European Perspective and the U.S Department of State, provided Young BSF participants with a theoretical frame and practical advice on digital campaigns, which are the cornerstone of any successful messaging strategy.

Matthew Jacob, digital coordinator for the US State Department, started his presentation by describing his job as making sure the US embassies in the region fully embrace “what I call 21st century state craft”. Jacob pointed out that the lessons of old authorities on rhetorical theory, such as Cicero, Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, can also be applied to the digital space. Cicero defined three basic goals of communication; to change somebody’s mood, change their opinion, soul, and get them to act. Jakob’s version involves four objectives; awareness, awe, acceptance, and action. While all is in vain if no action follows, a key moment is inducing awe, which is where cognitive biases come into play and one of the best routes to communicate something to somebody is to get them inspired: “Once you inspire somebody you can pretty much get them to do anything.”

Moreover, engaging people with policy is about showing them how it affects their lifestyle, which involves the same practices used by commercial marketers. This requires a close knowledge of your target audience, what platform it uses etc., and connecting with it, which is done most effectively by mirroring the audience and creating a feedback loop of relationship building.

As to the how part, Jacob first stressed that halfhearted efforts will produce no results. He advised to be clear and direct, know exactly what your purpose is, be consistent, be ready to experiment, and curate, engage third parties.

A closer practical look on the how segment was first provided after Jacob by BBC You Tube editor Marko Zorić, who argued that it is all about visual communication these days. Reportedly one in five actions on the internet has to do with facebook and instagram, which are both very much visually-based. Zorić highlighted the importance of telling a story, with the author having to find a way to stand out, know the audience, understand the message and know how to evoke emotion. He noted it is important to have very strong knowledge of how the visual social platform one is using works, meaning for instance what quality of sound is acceptable and what video format is desired. Also crucial is to think out of the box, play around with the platform.

A strong practical contribution also came from Matthias Luefkens, the author of the Twiplomacy study. He said that a tweet is like a newspaper headline and will attract people to click if it is well written. “Always ask yourself if the tweet is interesting, he said, noting there is no need to use all the 280 characters just for the sake of it, with short tweets, for instance those containing a single word, proving extremely effective. The extra space afforded can however be used creatively visually and to engage the audience, for instance with polls. He strongly advised the use of hashtags, but no more than two, the tagging of influences, the use of emojis, and dismissed retweets as lazy, saying it is better to quote the tweet instead. Speaking of a perfect tweet, he listed: “Engage your audience with action and add a call to action…Add two hashtags…Add a link for people to read more. Add a picture and a video and tag other tweeter users if you add a picture..use emojis and add a location to the tweet.”

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