By Bisera Savoska

Bisera Savoska is the Founder and CEO of Savion Ray.

The pandemic caught professional communicators in the European policy arena by surprise, and we have had the difficult task of learning fast, experimenting, and adapting to be heard in this unfamiliar, suddenly more digital world.

No one has all the answers and some conclusions are best reached as a community. I spoke with more than 20 EU communication experts and secretary generals of industry associations to determine what the future of communications will look like. Through these conversations, I gathered enough insights to discern the big picture and define the 5 overarching trends that will shape EU communications in 2022, and possibly beyond.

1. Omnipresent Digital

George Orwell once wrote that Big Brother is watching, but we live in a time when we’re all watching — and being watched! Everything is put online, broadcasted, live-streamed, recorded.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digitalisation and prompted many organisations to rethink their online reputation. If you aren’t convinced by now that digital is the way forward, you’re already falling behind.

A major tech association found itself in the middle of the storm. Their policy areas expanded significantly, leaving them too much content to communicate. Technology has always been associated with magical things of sci-fi novels — flying cars and travelling in space — but it suddenly became more tangible, applicable in every aspect of our lives.

What really made a difference, though, was organisations’ ability to listen and adapt. They’re now listening a lot more to insights they gather in their communities to shape their content.

2. Hybrid-ish Events

If before the pandemic you went to events for the wine and the not-so-great catering, then you won’t like this trend. The question now is: Where should your event fall on the offline – hybrid – online spectrum? It depends on what you want to achieve with your event.

Amidst the avalanche of digital events, one large association in the food sector decided to engage with MEPs in an unconventional way. They set up a food van and used it as a stage to meet people, engage with MEPs, and spark a dialogue on the future of food. The outdoors COVID-friendly initiative was met with appreciation for being unusual, almost disruptive.

Remember: an event is a means to an end. Keep in mind your end goal and build the format from there.

3. Walk the Green Talk

Skimming through the daily news, I see as much reporting on the EU Green Deal as on “greenwashing” by companies and industries. Unfortunately, many organisations still have a long way to go before walking the green talk. Communications and awareness around sustainability are on the rise, but this needs to be accompanied by concrete steps that deliver on those promises.

A large association in the energy sector witnessed a significant uptick in the demand for electric mobility and sensed a willingness among the public to act on climate change.

It is also the case that some organisations are so busy coming up with sustainable solutions that they miss the opportunity to talk about their successes and share their experience with others.

Finding a middle ground to support climate action and communicate sustainability efforts is increasingly crucial. Take advantage of the growing awareness to really drive change and show your industry is proactive in the switch towards sustainable solutions.

4. Goodbye Influencers, Hello Thought Leaders

The one factor that makes thought leaders stand out is the authenticity of their voice. As a go-to expert in their field, thought leaders produce content based on knowledge and credibility. They share their expertise and act as a voice of the sector, which brings true value to those who engage with them.

People tend to trust other people on social media and are more likely to engage with personal accounts. A major international bank has recognised this trend and significantly invested over the years to make it easy for their senior management to engage from their personal profiles and communicate their work in a way that is credible and relatable because it is human rather than institutional.

Having an active spokesperson account helps put your organisation on the map through a different channel, which is crucial in the crowded digital space.

5. (Re)Thinking Purpose

This global emergency has reminded us of the importance of typically overlooked professions which have been essential to coping with the crisis. The public health, social and economic challenges led to the rise of purpose-driven messages, which will remain key to both internal and external communications. Organisations had to handle rapid external changes, while also acknowledging employees’ motivation and mental health.

An important energy association found that certain jobs lost relevance due to their nature; working at reception or dealing with travel bookings, for example. The association encouraged these team members to explore new initiatives and build new projects to stay motivated. As a result, a regular newsletter and a new school teaching programme came to life.

Adapting external communications is one of your top priorities, but you as a leader need to take care of your internal communications first and create a synergy between the two.

Through my research, I learned that nobody truly knows the way forward. We all experiment, fail, adapt, and learn as we go. But I’ve found that European communicators are eager to exchange experience and help each other. Seizing these five trends can lead our community to well-informed strategic decisions in the coming year.

If you’re curious to learn more about these trends, the full report is available here.