This month’s special interview has been possible thanks to Ms. Diana Gherghita – Mihaila, in charge with online communication in the Romanian Ministry of EU Funds. I’ve known Diana for years and have been impressed by her creative spirit and professionalism, either in interior design, journalism or PR. Now working in the newly created Ministry of EU Funds, she managed to impregnate a note of transparency, sociability and creativity to an otherwise dire institution, whose main outputs are raw figures and numbers. The Ministry is now active on Facebook, Twitter and other networks, while its young Minister seems supportive and engaged in using digital tools to promote his team’s work. Enjoy a summery interview about how one of the most important Romanian ministries chose to communicate using online media.
How did you decide to communicate online and why?
The decision to communicate online was a natural progression. I joined the Minister Eugen Teodorovici advisors’ team shortly after the Minister was appointed and the EU Funds Ministry as an institution was set up. At that time there was no one in charge with social media communication, it was something that was lacking and that was needed, given the continuous development of new media. Also, the Minister is an active and dynamic person, with an open style of communication, so digital media came natural.
What were (if any) the difficulties you encountered and how did you act on them?
The real work began once the social media accounts for both the minister and the ministry were set up (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare, Wikipedia, etc.). I had to build an identity for each one of them, based on the target audience and its specifics. The Ministry as an institution communicates differently from the minister, so the profiles have different audiences, which different sets of interests.
Gradually, our messages started to generate reactions. The firsts who commented – as it often happens – were those who had a negative perception regarding the European funds. Unfortunately, the period ahead of the ministry’s set up was marked by low performances and the general perception wasn’t favourable towards us. We had to fight with mentalities and prejudice so that the messages and the ministry’s activities be correctly understood and evaluated.
I have the advantage of working with a high performing minister who obtained record results in a moment when most felt that the 2007-2013 budget was lost. The current absorption rate increase three-fold and the pre-suspended programs have been unblocked. Even so, those who had a negative perception about European funds needed time to understand the new reality and to react accordingly. Today the number of people who are dissatisfied by the project funded from EU money is on a steady decrease.
2013 was an experimental year regarding online communication and none of the activities and projects we did were supported by any budget. The Facebook pages grew organically and the other accounts created use the basic, free version. The Ministry did not buy any ads and did not promote with money its activity in social media. The same goes for Minister Teodorovici’s social media accounts. Facebook’s new algorithm for displaying news in the feeds forced me to compensate through creativity and a clear way to present our information. I focus quite a lot on info graphics and I am constantly trying to improve the layout of the official materials I am creating for the institution and for the minister.
How does your online activity contribute to the Ministry’s general communication strategy?
Using social networks and social sharing sites (Facebok, Twitter, Linkedin, Slideshare, etc.) we aim to communicate mainly with a young and/or specialized audience. There are many who are interested in the field of European funds but don’t know where to get their information. It is them that we are trying to help, make them react and have a pro-active attitude.
From our recent analysis on the digital tools we use to communicate the activities of the ministry or of the minister (except for the website which is managed by separate team) we concluded that the number of users who appreciate our work is growing and that the information we promote is better understood.
Regarding the official web page of the Ministry for European Funds, it will go through a transformation in the near future, aimed to incorporate information from the Management Authorities which have been included since recently in the minister’s coordination.
Is there support from the leadership of the ministry regarding online communication? How important is this support?
Online communication is becoming more and more important for the European Funds Ministry. In 2013, the traffic of our ministry’s official website, as generated by social networks, increased by around 80%. This is a reality which speaks for itself!
Minister Teodorovici regularly checks his Facebook and Twitter accounts and reads the messages and comments he receives. He feels that it is very important to listen to what the beneficiaries of the European funds have to say.
”Social networks are a good way to communicate openly and directly to the beneficieries of the European funds, which people interested in this area. I appreciate any sort of message, either positive or negative, because they tell me what I must focus on going forward.
I constantly check my Facebook account. I have the app on my mobile phone and I try to respond directly or through my communication team to the requests I receive. I would like very much that the European funds field to be better understood and to see more EU funded projects implemented in Romania.
More and more people get their information online, so it is essential for public institutions to be present there as well. I support online communication because it represents an extremely rapid way to disseminate information to those who need it. And this, in turn, is essential to reach the results we all want.
Eugen Teodorovici, Minister for EU Funds
What do you think are the advantages of digital communication for your institution?
The biggest advantage is the interaction with a dynamic, generally young audience, who is constantly connected to new technologies and who searches for their information primarily online. Then there is another advantage – the fact that we are able to communicate rapidly raw information, unfiltered by the media. This way we can eliminate the subjective factor which could emerge from interpreting data.
The statistics say that more and more Romanians get their information online, using smartphones, laptops and tablets. This is a strong enough message to adapt our messages to the online environment.
On which social media networks do you communicate and why?
We mainly communicate on Facebook because the network is very popular amongst Romanian users. Twitter, the main competitor on the US social media market, does not have the same influence in Romania. However we think that trends change over time, so we are remain active on Twitter as well.
At the beginning of each month we post on Slideshare the newsletter of the EU Funds Ministry, in which we include the most important news of the past 30 days. This is basically a retrospective of what happened in prior weeks. In case you missed any of our news, you can find it on SlideShare! Over time we tried other networks such as Flickr or Pinterest, but we reached the conclusion the impact is too small so we stopped promoting content on these channels.
How do you determine the way in which the you update your digital channels?
There is a general strategy which guides me constantly. However, I created certain procedures to facilitate my communication job when it comes to events which happen on an ordinary basis. One example of this is the Minister’s Agenda, for which I created a template which is easily updatable based on the activities of the day. There are however events which generated new communication campaigns, such were the ones dedicated to Europe Day (9 May) or those dedicated to the International Children’s Day (1 June). In 2014, to mark Europe Day, I created a flyer with information about the EU, its main institutions and the events organised to mark the date in Romania. It was well received in the online environment.
To celebrate Children’s Day, we created a complex campaign which kickstarted around mid May and ended on June 30. This included a drawing, graphics and photography competition in several schools in Bucharest, a complex and fun event in Kiseleff Park – where the students who attended the competition were awarded and all the children danced, sang, met with their favourite storybook characters, followed an interactive theatre play and a magic number. The campaign also included a one month long exhibition at the Ministry’s HQ, promoting the winner entries. There will surely be other projects to follow, I already have something in mind which would link online and offline mediums.
Do you have a team dedicated to digital communication? If yes, could you tell us more about it?
Currently there is only one person who manages social media communication for both the minister and the EU Funds Ministry. Myself. However, I strongly feel that the online departments of all public institutions will continue to develop. For the EU Funds Ministry, minister Teodorovici is supportive of this direction.
Do you follow any other institutional model (from Romania or abroad) regarding online communication?
I don’t follow any particular model. Personally I am a creator not a copy. My objective from the very beginning was that each of our accounts and pages have their own identity. For instance, the Minister’s accounts are more dynamic, more colourful, connected with his personality, whereas those of the institution are more conservative (i.e. we have more standardised content – agenda, statements, EU funds absorption rate graphics etc.) This does not mean that creative content is missing.
I admire the work that my colleagues in the Government have been doing, they are a good model to follow. I also like the approach that the US President’s Communication Team uses, it is very concise and dynamic.
What are your plans for the future in what regards digital tools?
The goal of the online profiles I created is to form a community around them, a community which would display correct and pertinent opinions regarding European funds. I consider it a victory that some of those who once had negative opinions regarding the information provided on the topic are now supportive of the Minister’s initiatives. My strategy is to continue to promote the results of the institution I work for. I am a positive person so the communication strategy is reflected by my own personality as well.
Social Media CV of the Romanian EU Funds Ministry:
Social media CV of Romanian EU Funds Minister Eugen Teodorovici: