5 min. read
NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization. One of the world’s leading governmental organizations and well-known names. Or is it?
According to Steven Mehringer, NATO’s Head of Communication Services, “ 94% of people know NATO, but maybe 50% know what NATO does or their mission of peace and security.” In an era where its purpose and even relevance has been questioned, NATO is turning perceptions around. It’s doing with a dynamic digital-first strategy any global brand would do well to follow.
But first, the Cold War-founded institution had to discover “digital”.
Learn why NATO is relevant in under 3 minutes pic.twitter.com/nAUY9kQjMh
— NATO (@NATO) November 19, 2016
Speaking at this year’s Social Media Week in Rotterdam, Mehringer described his organization’s late-blooming relationship with social and digital media.
“Historically, NATO has run 10-15 years behind in terms of technology”, Mehringer said, echoing Former Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s comments that, “in terms of communication and video, we are in the Stone Age. NATO has no ability to gather video from the field, to show people what is happening. We are also barely on the field when it comes to the web.”
That was in 2007. Today, thanks to a digital-first strategy, more people are sharing, engaging and connecting with NATO than ever before.
NATO’s 4 rules for digital success
NATO currently has about 1.7 million followers on its chief social channels, a following achieved with these four guidelines:
1. Produce quality content and create stories
2. Speak to people in the languages they communicate
3. Engage with people
4. Don’t wait for people to come to you – go where your audience is.
On point four NATO had been making the same mistake as so many big brands. They had assumed their audience would come to them just because they are NATO.
Changing that mentality, along with securing investment in social and digital in a bureaucracy-laden institution, has been a major challenge for Mehringer. He told the Social Media Week crowd that he still encounters resistance and even backlash. “There are still people in the higher ranks that don’t understand our communication infrastructure and that they must keep developing.”
NATO’s storytelling approach to content
NATO has quickly come to grips with the power of quality content. These days they’re broadcasting events from around the world as fast as they happen. They always aim to be first out with the story, rather than adapting or fixing a message from other corners. “It is critical to be out in front, managing your message–otherwise someone else will do it for you,” advised Mehringer.
NATO is doing just that. With a digital team of only two full-timers, they constantly reach out to journalists and their own people on the ground to gather the insights and content needed. This is not an easy mission, as the infrastructure of the Communication Division is a complex one.
They also review every message going out, and are quick to adapt external content before social distribution to maintain a unified tone of voice.
They also tailor in-house content specifically to particular social channels, which they integrate into all campaigns in line with thier digital-first strategy. “Before the editorial team would create content, and the social media team had to rework it for social media. Not anymore,” adds Mehringer.
For NATO’s digital team, creating an organic connection with audiences is a priority. They are constantly looking for new ways to increase the meaningfulness of their communication. How do they do it? They started by taking a close look at what was available to them and realized they were sitting on an untapped pool of behind-the-scenes content. With their unrestricted access to military locations and war-affected zones they had the opportunity to educate audiences about their mission and get them closer to the issues that mattered.
Here too they’ve been taking advantage of the latest technologies. This includes 360-degree cameras and drones to get closer than anyone else to offer exclusive footage of often dangerous situations.