State of the Union: how to best promote a political event

For several hours on 14 September European politics proved more popular on Twitter than Brangelina, Justin Bieber or in fact anything else. #SOTEU — the hashtag for the State of the European Union speech and debate — trended worldwide for four hours.

The State of the European Union is when the president of the European Commission comes to the European Parliament during the first plenary session of September to review what the Commission has done over the past year as well as to assess its objectives for the year to come. After the speech the president enters in a debate with MEPs.

Although the State of the European Union is an important event by providing an opportunity to shape the future direction of the EU, it was never a given that there would be interest on a global scale.

The European Parliament’s communication team prepared for months to ensure the event would get the exposure it deserved.

The challenge

Despite its importance, the State of the European Union can be a challenge to promote. Having only been agreed in 2010, the European State of the Union is not as well known as its American counterpart, which boasts a long tradition reaching back all the way to the 18th century. In addition where the US is just one country with just one language, the EU includes 28 countries with 24 official languages.

The European Parliament has always been keen to publicise the event. It’s an opportunity to take stock of what the EU is doing, to assess what it is working well and to identify what isn’t. The State of the Union is one of those moments where the EU’s direction is set out. As EU legislation affects everyone in Europe, people should have the chance to follow it.

This year it was more important than ever. The Brexit referendum, the refugee crisis, the terrorist threats and the ongoing economic problems all pose significant challenges to the EU and the State of the Union on 14 September was going to be the ideal opportunity to debate how to do this.

From the start Parliament’s communication team set out to make as many people as possible aware of the event and make it easy for them to follow it. Of course the media would be alerted and given the facilities to cover it, but in this modern age it’s also important to engage people and enable them to join the conversation.

Not only did this mean communicating in all of the EU’s official 24 languages, but also making use of the full spectrum of social media platforms available to reach everyone. LinkedIn might be a great way to reach professionals, but if you want to communicate to young people you need to make use of Snapchat and Instagram.

The campaign

As the European Parliament is the EU’s only directly-elected institution, it was keen to make it as open and transparent as possible. This was not about telling people what to think, but to invite them to join the discussion on the EU’s future and let them make up their own mind. To stress the aim of the debate “Ensuring an EU that delivers” was picked as the tagline of the communication campaign.

In the weeks leading up to the State of the Union, the Parliament released a teaser which was distributed on several platforms to raise awareness of the upcoming debate:

The day before the State of the EU, Parliament President Martin Schulz gave a live and interactive video interview on Parliament’s Facebook page.

The speech and the debate were streamed live on our Facebook page and on the Parliament’s website. In addition a dashboard was created containing live streaming as well as background information, profiles of key speakers and political groups, photos, relevant tweets and videos and much more.

There was live coverage in English on Storify with live updates, including quotes, photos and videos throughout the debate:

People were able to get live updates in their own language thanks to the different Twitter accounts. A video quote from each political leader was tweeted. After the debate the best tweets about the discussion were gathered in Twitter moments.

It was also possible to check what MEPs had to say about the State of the EU on social media using EP Newshub.

The hashtag chosen for the event was #SOTEU — short for State of the European Union — to make it easier for people to join the online conversation.

The results

#SOTEU — the hashtag for the State of the European Union — trended worldwide for four hours on 14 September. On the day itself there were 65,000 mentions, increasing to 95,000 one week after.

The teaser video had already given an indication of the interest out there. The short video had attracted nearly seven million views in the weeks running up to the speech and the debate.

The Facebook live interview with Parliament President Martin Schulz the day before had been viewed by more than 1.4 million people.

Of course the media — including newspapers, TV channels and radio stations — covered the State of the EU extensively on the day. Yet 20 million people still preferred to follow it using one of the opportunities provided by the Parliament. Some 200,000 politics aficionados even opted to watch it live on Parliament’s Facebook page or on the dashboard that had been specially created.

European Parliament

Written by

We are the European Parliament’s web team. The European Parliament is the only directly-elected EU body. Members of the Parliament represent you, the citizen.

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