Here’s an idea.
In three weeks’ time Greece will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. By 11 December, nearly 4,000 Twitter users had followed the Greek Presidency’s @gr2014eu account.
So far, the account ranks among the most effective presidency accounts of the last five years. By 4 December more than 81% of its tweets has been retweeted, on average more than 17 times. Almost two thirds of its tweets have been ‘favourited’.
The account consistently mentions other Twitter users, such as Greece’s foreign minister, Evangelos Venizelos (@EVenizelos), and the foreign ministry (@GreeceMFA). The team running the account also uses at least two hashtags per tweet, including #gr2014eu, #EU and #Greek.
However, building up a following on Twitter requires significant time and effort: so what if Greeks built on the audiences of previous presidencies by curating a common Twitter account rather than starting from scratch?
Sweden was the first country to adopt Twitter as a means to communicate the presidency’s activities. Since then, the Swedes (@se2009eu) have been followed by @be_presidency (Belgium), @hu_presidency (Hungary), @pl2011_eu (Poland), @eu2012dk (Denmark), @cy2012eu (Cyprus – account subsequently deleted), @eu2013ie (Ireland) and @EU2013LT (Lithuania).
Only Spain (2010) decided not to use Twitter, while Hungary’s Twitter activity abruptly stopped on 14 April 2011, roughly halfway through the presidency, with only 36 tweets having been sent.
Future presidencies are already preparing. Latvia set up its Twitter accounts for its 2015 EU presidency more than a year ago. The English-language @eu2015LV account is still inactive, but its Latvian-language sibling @es2015LV already has 1,290 followers.
The Irish Presidency provides the best example of using Twitter: its @eu2013ie handle has more than 10,000 followers and is the most ‘listed’ of accounts (another key measure of influence). The presidency team sent more than ten tweets per day during its term in office (the first six months of this year), with more than a third of all tweets being retweets, mainly of tweets from the Irish permanent representation in Brussels (@IrelandRepBru).
Ireland’s successor – Lithuania – has been the second most popular presidency on Twitter, with more than 4,500 followers (not surprisingly, given that uptake of Twitter has grown enormously since 2009).
Almost half of the tweets on the @EU2013LT account are retweets, mainly of the Presidency’s ‘Brussels account’ (@EU2013LTpress) and key figures such as the Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevičius (@LinkeviciusL), European Affairs Minister Vytas Leškevičius (@Leskevicius) and the country’s President, Dalia Grybauskaitė (@Grybauskaite_LT).
Unlike many of its predecessors, however, the Lithuanian account is ‘conversational’, with almost ten per cent of tweets being replies to other tweets. Generally, rotating presidencies are on ‘broadcast mode’, communicating official news and announcements and thereby struggling to find a distinctive voice and a sizable audience.
After the frenzy of a presidency, these accounts often lay dormant, lost in the Twitter wilderness. So why not try a different model that maintains followers and ensures each presidency can build on the work of its predecessors?
At the end of each presidency, the Twitter account of the outgoing presidency could be handed over – lock, stock and followers – to the incoming presidency. The Twitter handle could simply be renamed: @EU2013LT becoming @gr2014eu as we enter 2014.
Another option would be to use a generic @EU_Presidency Twitter account (we have saved the name and are happy to hand it over).
The look of the account could be adjusted to reflect the presidency’s visual identity and reflect the country’s culture, while maintaining and increasing the account’s following and influence.
The account would then be ‘curated’ for six months at a time by a different country – much like the rotation-curation model pioneered by the @Sweden account, which is curated by a different Swede each week, or Burson-Marsteller’s own @BMDigital account.
There is not always great continuity between presidencies, and the ‘trio’ concept has not been a major success.
Yet in the digital world, curation of a single account is low-cost and easy-to-manage, and would give each presidency a far more powerful communications tool.
It may even be the start of an even bigger idea: forcing better continuity between presidencies in their uncertain (and some would say anachronistic) role since the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty and the creation of a permanent President of the European Council.
Matthias Lüfkens - EMEA Digital Practice Leader , Burson-Marsteller (@luefkens)