Regardless of the pandemic, Whatsapp has made an impact on Public Affairs, activism and political communications. Some colleagues have gone so far as to call themselves a WhatsApp-lobbyists. I have been using Whatsapp for some time now also in the realm of lobbying, political communications and stakeholder management. Here is what I learned after a couple of years of Whatsapp.
It’s a numbers game
I think there is a great way to measure how influential someone is simply by checking how many telephone numbers he/she has. For all the Twitter, Facebook (does it still exist?) and TikTok hype, simply having the phone numbers of civil servants, ministers, political advisors, and MPs is the only thing that really counts. Make an effort to gather telephone numbers. Your first contact could simply be sending them a text where you introduce yourself and tell them that this is your number and that you are available if they ever need help.
Small talk – Establish a rapport
Establish a rapport by apping with people in a position of power. Don’t wait for the moment that you need them. Congratulate them on their maiden speech, their birthday, their successful appearance on TV shows. You don’t want your first app to be: Hey I desperately need this and that from you”. You can also send links to academic rapports or newspaper articles which you think they will find useful. Whatsapp is made for small talk. And small talk is the beginning of every human relationship.
Great for building coalitions
I think Whatsapp is great for stakeholder management and building coalitions. Information flows freely and it has to some extent replaced emails and meetings. Which is always a good thing. Whatsapp group can also make your group scale to groups of 50 to 100 persons which you wouldn’t be able to manage in a boardroom. Counter-intuitively I don’t set rules for the use of the Whatsapp group. I want to create a community of like-minded people that connect and bond, and there is no better way through jokes and memes. Give the Whatsapp group a kick-ass name, with an equally awesome group photo. Share vital information but also simply everything which is of mutual interest. Don’t cut people off.
Don’t dump stuff on politicians
It is very tempting to send a position paper or even a voting advice through Whatsapp. These late-ditch rallies will be ignored. Especially if you do not have a relationship with the politician. You will only irritate people by sending them long messages begging them not to vote such and such. In a similar fate; don’t send graphics, spreadsheets, or PowerPoint presentations through Whatsapp. Nobody is going to read that.
If things get heated; let someone else do the texting
If we are down the wire and we are a couple of hours before voting. Maybe you shouldn’t text the minister or the MEP, but rather have some political heavyweight do this for you. Or someone who the MEP is very close to. At the end of a hard-fought battle, the circle of influence narrows down to just a couple of persons. A minister or an MEP is not going to listen to everybody anymore. Make sure you find someone to whom he/she is actually going to listen and let them do the texting.