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That was the year that was

In that contract the shape of WebCom’s annus mirabilis could already be discerned

One year ago. December 2008. I just remember being incredibly stressed out; and, remarkably, that Tibo was even more so. We were up against the deadline for signing the “online” contract with our agency, Scholz & Friends, our part of their big framework contract with the Parliament they won earlier in the year. Things didn’t have to be this tight, but there was always another quibble, another detail to be clarified, another dispute to be settled, another box to be ticked. However, we made it; the procedural issues were ironed out, the budget people gave us the nod, the financial controllers appended their seal of approval.

We maybe didn’t realise it at the time, but in that contract the shape of WebCom’s annus mirabilis could already be discerned.

Hitherto, we had had a clear, well-defined job: to publish on the “headlines” page of the Parliament’s website every day. We thought we didn’t do too badly: we had made big efforts to make the site far more attractive and varied than before. The team had upped its game, kept up a stream of great editorial ideas, absorbed some inspiring training in the secrets of good hackery (cheers Ben!). Traffic to the site was increasing steadily – we were doing OK.  But we knew it wouldn’t be enough for the big elections communication campaign coming up in 2009.

Our world did not collapse under an avalanche of obscenity and abuse from Parliament-haters, nor did political extremists hijack our comments columns

Already, at the end of 2008, we were about ready to go with a special new site for the elections. We were inordinately proud of this, not only for the result, but for the way we did it: in a small team bringing together editors (Eirini and Gaëlle), designers (Fred and Sophie) and geeks (Nicolas and Pascal). Most significantly, this site trailed a whole new departure for the Parliament online, because it included interactive features: comments, debates, polls. It had not been easy to persuade our bosses, still less our political masters, of the wisdom of letting the great unwashed loose on Parliament’s website, but 2008 was also the year when a certain US presidential candidate changed the rules of online campaigning, something which helped our cause considerably. At the same time, the site set a new tone: graphically appealing, occasionally light-hearted, not-too-earnest. It went live on 19 January 2009. Our world did not collapse under an avalanche of obscenity and abuse from Parliament-haters, nor did political extremists hijack our comments columns (well, maybe once…). So far so good.

A team that delivered the goods in 2009

However, the real revolution was still to come. The election communication campaign had to be about reaching parts of the public we don’t normally reach. A year later, it seems a completely banal statement – itself a measure of how far things have come – but we knew we had to get outside the website, and establish a presence on the internet where the people are, to talk to them there, engage them there and maybe get them to wake up to the European elections in June. As one of the Scholz guys put it at one point: we needed to “go fishing where the fishes are”. It was a message which, moreover, we found our masters, administrative and political, had thoroughly taken on board.

As I said, the seeds of all this were in the contract. Workshops on social media, the design of profiles on MySpace and Facebook, a YouTube strategy, online widgets, a Flickr page, viral videos… Ideas all in there, only needing to be made flesh. I, and others, have obsessed lengthily about all of this on this blog. It is interesting in retrospect to see the doubts we had, the sense that we were taking something of a gamble, the notion that all this could come horribly unstuck. Now it seems inevitable, but when we did it, though it was hardly avant-garde on the internet, it was still seriously radical for either an EU institution or any parliamentary institution. To this day, what we did – and are still doing – remains highly unusual in our institutional peer group.

Over a frenzied three months, March to May, we went from being purveyors of a single web platform – the headlines page – to maintaining seven or eight different platforms.  We did this knowing what we were getting into; we would never be forgiven if we barged into the social media only to fall silent once the elections were out of the way (as some suspected we would).

To this day, what we did – and are still doing – remains highly unusual in our institutional peer group

So here we are today, a year on and old hands at the social media game. And it’s true: once you’re in, that’s it, there’s no going back. The job now is to keep it going – constantly to ask what the next thing is, how to maintain the interest of those fearsome Facebook fans. And at the same time, we must not forget our core business – the website. Indeed, right now we are beginning the process of overhauling the whole thing – but I’ll leave it to Tibo to talk about that in the next post.

I could mention a whole lot of other things from this year, but let me stick to just three. First, it was the first year of this blog, our unofficial calling card in the euroblogging community (with especial thanks to avid readers and better-bloggers-than-us Julien, Jon, Kosmopolito, Cédric, Nosemonkey, Eurosocialiste, Ralf and all others who commented), and maybe beyond. Second, we also set up another special website, recently online, (Florent and Bárbara had the energy left for this one), which will cover the commissioners’ hearings next year. Third, we created a fun, embeddable widget – a Christmas eco-quiz – for MySpace (Raffaella’s baby, this), hopefully a pointer to something we will be doing more often in future.

So 2009 will be a tough act to follow: it was exciting, exhausting, genuinely creative and occasionally nerve-wracking. In the small world of WebCom it was the year of our online revolution. Now we live with the consequences. But, as they say: “you wanted the bike, now pedal”.

And now, on the last day at work before Christmas, it’s a good time to say this…

People think we fool around in videos and spend our days chatting on the web. Let them.

The team has been unbelievable this year. They have been asked to do more and more, to keep up the enthusiasm, to find new ideas every day, to work really hard. I won’t say no-one ever complained, but the team stuck together, kept up the spirit and did the biz. The outcome exceeded expectations. Most of all, the team kept its sense of fun, a feeling that even if it is tough, it is possible to enjoy your job if you’re doing something good. Maybe sometimes, from the outside, it looks like too much fun – people think we fool around in videos and spend our days chatting on the web. Let them. We know that we have something here which really works.

Thanks to everyone, and have a great Christmas. It was a year to be proud of.

And if you need reminder of all the things we do – here’s one!

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  1. Our last secret video is in Steve's last post of the Year: That was the year that was – http://bit.ly/7gGCPX

    Posted by Thibault Lesénécal | December 22, 2009, 15:43

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