When President Barroso stood up to make his annual State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech to the European Parliament on 12 September, his immediate audience was the hundreds of MEPs packed into the chamber in Strasbourg.
But digital media helped to relay the messages contained in the speech to a much wider public, as well as providing a forum for feedback and debate. The communication of the 2012 State of the Union speech mobilized one of the broadest arrays of online tools seen so far for a political event of this kind at EU level.
The SOTEU was actively promoted by the Commission on Twitter, and President Barroso used the occasion to begin tweeting in his own name for the first time.
As the chart below shows, there was a significant peak of activity around the time of the speech on 12 September (the #soteu hashtag was even trending internationally for a while on the day).
There was also a live chat on Twitter with some of the Commission spokespersons on 17 September to answer questions about the speech.
If you missed it, you can get a flavour of the discussions on Twitter by looking at the summaries produced by the Commission on Storify.
Some commentators (see, for example, this post on Blogactiv) have suggested that the online discussion was mainly limited to insiders from the “Brussels bubble”. However, the map below showing the geographic distribution of #soteu tweets on the day of speech indicates that the reach was much broader.
Under the heading ‘Ask Barroso’, the Commission used its Youtube channel to offer the possibility to submit questions. How will the European Union emerge from the economic crisis? Are we better off with the Euro… or without it? Is austerity the answer… or the problem?
Google+ / Euronews
The questions submitted via the Youtube channel served as input for a debate with President Barroso hosted by Euronews on 19 September. The debate also featured live interaction with three outside guests using Google+ hangout technology. The discussion was broadcast live on Euronews TV, the Euronews website and Youtube.
There was also a Google+ hangout on the SOTEU with two of the Commission’s spokespersons earlier in the week on 17 September.
The Commission made active use of its Facebook page to promote the SOTEU and the opportunity to ask questions about the issues raised in the speech.
Images and quotes from the speech generated a good level of interaction, with the most popular posts generating more than a hundred likes, comments and shares.
What can we learn from SOTEU?
What wider lessons about political communication in the digital era can we draw from the SOTEU experience?
I put this question to Dana Manescu, who moved recently from the Council Secretariat to take over responsibility for social media in the European Commission. She stressed the importance of expressing ideas in a simple and accessible way, of being prepared to explain and being open to new ways of engaging in dialogue.
In his speech, President Barroso said:
“I would like to see the development of a European public space, where European issues are discussed and debated from a European standpoint.”
The online communication and discussions of the SOTEU show how digital media are contributing towards the development of this “European public space”.