Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Digital Agenda Assembly in Brussels - crowdsourcing a social media strategy for Europe

After Hamburg and the high tech extravaganza that was ISC’12, it’s back to an ICT policy-fest in Brussels this week with the kick off the Digital Agenda Assembly. The overall aim of the Digital Agenda is to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits from a digital single market based on Internet and interoperable systems. Today’s Assembly event is split into 7 different workshops, focusing on areas such as social media, data, cloud technologies, security and innovation. I’m participating in the social media strand and have been flexing my Twitter muscles all morning on #da12social. An announcement that we were trending in third place on Twitter in the UK and Germany got a round of applause from the delegates – not quite sure what to make of that! Possibly we all need to get out more.

This morning was split into two parts, one looking at social media platforms for businesses, the second on building an apps economy, with a focus on stimulating SMEs. A TechNet survey revealed in February this year that the ‘app economy’ has generated nearly 500,000 jobs in the US since 2007. A Deloitte economic impact study of Facebook estimated its value generation at 15.3 billion Euros and 232,000 jobs across the EU27. The spin off benefits of Facebook for businesses were mainly related to advertising to its 900 million users, platform effects, including building apps and in technology sales, such as smart phones.

Paul Timmers of the European Commission announced the three themes for the workshop – business, web entrepreneurship and the public sector. Prior to the event, through the online discussion forum, the community has already been hard at work developing a DA12 social media strategy. This is aimed at helping the market to expand across Europe as well as giving start-ups a leg up in visibility across the whole of Europe, and beyond. You can buy Florida oranges in Spain… but how does a Spanish company sell its products in the US using social media? By 2013, the strategists want to see social media strategies in every EU country and thousands of businesses and start-ups engaging with social media tools. Speakers included Hanns Kohler-Kruener of IT influencers, Gartner, who outlined the benefits of social media for internal business communication as well as external, and Jan Krans, Atos who told us that email isn’t work, it’s just communication (tell that to my inbox).

Aaron Martin of JRC alerted us to the fact that the so-called “digital natives”, who have grown up with this technology, are now joining the workplace and expect to bring their social media life with them. Customers also expect a personalised, one-to-one service but at the same time want companies to show respect for their data and privacy. Barriers to adoption can include the organisational culture, the regulatory environment, legacy infrastructure, lack of awareness, negative preconceptions, resource constraints and just general information overload. The last one certainly struck a chord with me as I attempted to listen to the speakers, tweet and follow the ever-expanding twitter stream, all at the same time.

Policy options for the European Parliament and Commission to consider include tapping into existing funding streams, providing interactive forums for SMEs to share social experiences and seek advice and establishing clear sources of information on existing regulations, such as cloud security and data protection (currently very different in different countries). One interesting idea is to place young, tech savvy grads in SMEs to help them with their social media strategies, hopefully leading to better employment prospects for the social media ambassadors, and an expanded business for the SMEs.

We all spent a happy half an hour brainstorming around the concrete actions that could stimulate SMEs, start-ups and large companies to leverage social media in order to create sustainable growth and new jobs. One thing for us all not to forget is that awareness still needs to be raised and SMEs need to be helped to embrace these tools.  In summary, Axel Schutze paraphrased John F Kennedy: It’s no longer a question of “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. We don’t need to ask anyone any more – let’s just get online and get on with it. Do you have expertise in social media and business. Sign up now!

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