Trainer Profile: Jon Worth
Our social media trainer Jon Worth is a former UK civil servant who taught EU policy making for the British government and now works with EU institutions and other clients to help them improve their social media strategies, web writing and online policy advocacy. He has written columns for POLITICO Europe, The Guardian and the World Economic Forum and has been blogging about EU affairs for over a decade. Jon lives in Berlin, but makes speeches, presentations and runs courses across Europe. He also teaches at the College of Europe in Bruges, the University of Maastricht and the University of St. Gallen.
Q: What led you to media training?
When I was working in the UK civil service, I had the opportunity to teach people about European Union policy making and how the EU works. I had policy skills, not training skills, but from that I learnt about training design and participative training methods. I’ve always been interested in technology and online communications and I’d been building websites and teaching people about the EU in my free time. Then those two things have kind of grown together over the years. Now I teach people about the EU and online communications.
Q: What have been the highlights of your media training career?
The highlight was working with the EU’s special representative in Bosnia. I was employed directly by the head of office, Peter Sørensen, who was a tremendous manager of his team and he knew exactly what he wanted. I often find many organisations don’t know what they need to learn and that’s always a difficulty as a trainer. You go and deliver the training course as prescribed, but you find there’s another reason why the communications aren’t working in the organisation. That’s why the Bosnian case is a good one: they knew what they wanted, where the problems were and you could see the change after delivering the training. That’s a great recipe.
Q: What factors led you to start your own blog?
My time as chair of the Young European Federalists in Brussels was coming to an end, but I still had ideas, which was one motivation. I was also interested in technology and I could build websites, so I knew in the early days of blogging how to do the technological side as well. To blog today you don’t really need that technological knowledge, but in 2005 when my blog started that knowledge helped me a lot. So that’s what started me off, and the blog is still going, 1900 blog entries and 600,000 words later and more than ten years on. Then, as now, I’m still fascinated by how politics and the EU works. That’s always been the driving force behind what I blog about.
“If you’re good and have original ideas, you can reach an audience and get things going viral.”
Q: What is one thing you’d wish your clients knew before starting a blog?
It takes time before a blog delivers results. You need to invest lots of time, energy and activity into it when initially you might not have any readers. So you need to have a plan for at least six, probably twelve months. You need resources and you need people who have a compelling story to tell. If blogging ever feels like a weight on your shoulders, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it.
Q: How do you grow a blog following using social media?
Twitter can often give you the ideas that go into a blog entry. Your blogs that you write get taken apart on Twitter, where the Twitter audience debates and discusses whether you were right or not. So the relationship goes both ways in that regard. A good blog is a place for thoughts that are a bit more structured and bit more thought through than the space you have in 140 characters. Blogging and Twitter are similar in a sense that you need to build trust with your audience in order for people to want to read your blog or to follow you on Twitter. That trust building process takes time. I tweet out links to my blog if there are Twitter users that inspired me someway to write a blog entry and I mention them on Twitter to thank them. The Twitter-blogging relationship is very, very important. If you’re good and have original ideas, you can reach an audience and get things going viral.
“My only rule of blogging is to blog about what I know – I choose my own editorial line and that gives me more security.”
Q: How do you deal with negative comments on your blog?
If the comments are not slanderous or racist, just nasty, I will leave them standing and not reply. If they are slanderous or racist they get deleted straight away. If people have a legitimate problem I try to meet them halfway and explain that the issue is a difference in ideological stance. What I’ve managed to do on my own blog is ensure that people who disagree with me at least trust that I’m honest. My only rule of blogging is to blog about what I know – I choose my own editorial line and that gives me more security with those who comment and I know I can defend the piece reasonably well. Newspapers often have difficulties if journalists have to write about things that they’re unsure about, which means people can easily pick a hole in their argument. That’s the difference with being a blogger as I see it.
Q: What are your professional plans for the future?
I’m interested in how online communication changes political communication and our political system. Doing some academic work has allowed me to deal with those issues to a greater extent. If I’m teaching European Commission officials, they want to know practically how they can use this in their job tomorrow. Students want to know what’s interesting about the topic. I’m very interested politically about borders in the European Union, because there shouldn’t be any borders in the Schengen Zone, but there are in practice. I’m trying to turn my personal experience of arguing with border guards during my travels into a more solid project. I’m already running a website called schengenwatch.eu. I’m trying to turn that into a more systematic sort of research where I can document what’s happening rather than just blogging what’s on my mind.