What do U2, Poland, the EU and social media have in common?

In 2009, Poland was getting ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the transition from communism and the country’s subsequent accession to the European Union.  Rafal Rudnicki and his colleagues from the European Commission’s office in Warsaw were putting together a video with archive footage from the preceding 20 years.  They just needed a great soundtrack to accompany the images.

Rafal came up with the idea of using ‘New Year’s Day’, the U2 song inspired by the Polish Solidarity movement.  His colleagues thought he was crazy and that he would never obtain the rights.  But Rafal persisted and contacted U2’s music company, Universal.  The permission to use the music (for free) signed by Bono and the other band members came through literally the day before the video was due to be launched on Youtube in June 2009.  The result is a very moving clip, which became a big hit online and was also picked up by Polish TV as well as on U2’s own website.

This experience was the start of a process that saw the Commission’s Representation in Poland making increasing use of digital media to communicate on European issues and to connect with different audiences across the country.

In 2011, as part of Poland’s preparations for the Presidency of the EU, the Representation organized a live debate connecting the University of Warsaw with five other Universities via a live video webcast that was viewed by an audience of more than 10,000 people via the Representation’s website and Facebook page.  A similar initiative was organized in 2012 to discuss issues related to the financial crisis, with an online quiz helping to generate interest before the event and to encourage people to participate.

When I spoke recently with Rafal, who worked for 15 years as a radio journalist before taking over responsibility for web communication in the Commission’s Warsaw office, he told me he thinks that social media have made it easier for an organization like the Commission to communicate effectively.  Crucially, they allow the organization to connect with audiences on platforms where they are already present.  They also offer new ways of showing that the organization is listening and prepared to engage in a two-way dialogue.

I concluded by asking Rafal what he thought we could learn from the US experience.  He immediately highlighted the “enhanced broadcast” of President Obama’s State of the Union address as a great example of how to introduce interactivity and dialogue into political communication.  It will be interesting to see what place digital media take in the communication mix for President Barroso’s forthcoming State of the Union address on 12 September.  I’m planning to take a look at this on the blog next week.

Digital presence of the European Commission Representation in Poland:

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