10 ideas for innovation in public affairs – fresh from Berlin

I recently attended the In2Innovation summit in Berlin, organised by Paul Holmes, one of the best-known advocates for the public relations and public affairs industry. The focus was more on PR than PA, but the cross over between the two disciplines is becoming increasingly marked, as we both focus more and more on influencers and engagers rather than consumers.

Here are my 10 takeaways:

  1. Communities are the future of influence. Political parties and campaign groups excel at building online communities to test, multiply and measure the message. Learn from them and give people a platform to engage on and a reason to engage. Choose the platform carefully, be clear about the message and watch the message spread. Be where the people you want to influence are. Remember that under 30s are a passionate bunch. Mobilise them on Snapchat – it works for serious issues too – beautifully explained at the conference by the young Swedish Social Democrats who ran chat shows on Snapchat.
  2. Negative campaigning doesn’t work. We’ve seen a lot of ‘fear campaigns’ in politics and advertising. Yet psychologists say that we’re programmed to respond to what inspires us. To get people to advocate on your behalf to their community, sell them your vision, and they’ll sell your campaign for you. Take the Scotland ‘Yes campaign’ for example – a textbook case of sticking to the vision and not getting bogged down in the (sometimes inconvenient) facts.
  3. Don’t confuse influence and reach. Lots of followers is good. A few of the right followers, being your mouthpiece, taking action and sharing your message to more of the right people, is even better.
  4. Don’t try to be the sole source of the story. Once the message is out online, you can’t control it. You can test it, shape it, measure it, provide the data and the reference points. Communities move it forward. Once it’s embedded, it’s a good time to take it to journalists to amplify it.
  5. Be a good story teller. Storytelling is the oldest way of getting a message across and our brains are programmed to retain stories. It’s not enough to be a good writer to tell a good story. Today’s storytellers are adaptable, immersed in the world around them, and understand that opportunities to tell a story are everywhere.
  6. Include a call to action. Behavioural scientists say that we are 7 times more likely to take action if we’re asked to do something. Click for an infographic, give your email address, sign a petition… Once we’ve invested that little bit of time, we’re more likely to take the next step when asked. It’s called ‘the Ikea effect’. If you have to do something yourself, it’s worth more. Involvement is important.
  7. Tell people what they can do not what they can’t do – and use humour or surprise. A picture of a drum kit with a line through it is more likely to cause people to respect a call for silence in a train carriage than an instruction to keep quiet.
  8. Social proof drives engagement. Another one from the behavioural scientists. Telling people that 99% of people share your view makes people more likely to…share your view.
  9. Where there’s cynicism about an issue, communities are your allies. By pushing out data, you can gauge opinion, develop your strategy and hone your message based on the responses you get, and the direction the community is moving in.
  10. KISS still works. Keep it simple and you won’t look stupid. Take the recent elections in the UK. The Tories stuck to 2 simple messages which were easy for people to get behind and they wouldn’t be swayed. Labour reformulated the message regularly leaving people feeling muddled. The simple messaging was massively multiplied by communities (because it was simple to do) and produced votes. Job done.

Lauren Roden

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