Sunday, April 26, 2009

How diplomats should use the social media - practical guide

Let's say you are assigned to a new diplomatic position abroad. Your responsibilities include public relations, or media, or both. What is even more important - you've decided to engage with the new world of social media which you see as a useful tool in your job.





I would like to suggest a few possible guidelines on how you can use social media. The tips Iprovide are based on my personal and work experience with the social networks. If you already have experimented with it, please see this post as an invitation for open discussion on the topic.





1. Social media is a useful tool, not an end in itself, for your proffesional puproses. Therefore, the first task is to decide who is your audience and what are its characteristics. It could be people of certain age group, it could be students, it could be your colleagues from local diplomatic corps, it could be an ethnic group, it could be anything you think is important for your country and your mission. You should be very specific when identifying the audience. At the same time, remember that the social media, because of its "internet nature", is an open sourse, and anybody can see your messages, so the potential scope of your outreach is far beyond your planning. So are the possibilities of backlash in case you add there some sensitive or incorrect materials.





2. Assign one of your local employees (or more than one - if you can afford!) who will be dealing with the social media.If you are serious about your engagement with social media, you should make sure it's updated and checked on the dayly and hourly basis. Social media is about your presense there. Keep inmind that if you are not there - somebody else's posts/blogs/pictures will be impacting the audience.



3. The next important task is to define the code of conduct in dealing with social networks. Some Ministries of Foreign Affairs already started to think on the issue, but if you don't have something written and approved, take as your pointf departure the code of conduct you apply in the real world and adopt it to the virtual one. You will see that it is all about common sense. It is obvious and goeswithout saying that as a diplomat or an employee in a diplomatic mission you should act in certain way and have some limitations - apply them accordingly in the social media environment.
Moshe Dayan, Israel's defense minister, was asked onceby a journalist what does he think on the possibility of another war. He said that as a defense minister he can answer the question. So the journalis asked what does he think as a private citizen. On that he replied: "As a private citizen I am a minister of defense". The lesson: nothing is private when you represent the government.



4. Local staff could and should be your facilitator in dealing with local audiences through the social networks. See if they are using social networks and try to engage them in spreading the word about the mission website, facebook page or blog. If you feel thay are not interested in this, at least give them the"red lines" based on code of conduct that was mentioned above. Even if at the first glanse this suggestion looks to you "non-democratic", think that there is something non-democratic in working in any organization. After all, many private companies defined policy on the use of the social media by the employees. They want employees to be there, but define rules and code of conduct. Examples: IBM, Sun Microsystems, and many others (see Larry Weber's "Marketing to the Social Web": http://www.amazon.co.uk/Marketing-Social-Web-Customer-Communities/dp/0470124172)

By the way, you can read more about this and other useful insights onusing the local staff here:
http://publicdiplomacymagazine.com/public-diplomacy-in-practice/public-diplomacy-and-local-staff-%e2%80%93-the-cornerstone-of-long-term-relationship-building/



5. Facebook could be used in many ways. First of all, open your private page, and invite your friends from your own country to join. You will see that some of them could have interesting and helpful connections in a country of your mission. When you meet local counterparts ask them if they are on facebook. If yes - ask to be their freinds. In your profile you don't have to appear blacktie, casual dress will be good enough. However - no nude or beach style photos! May be one day the standards will change, but don't try to be the first who changes them...

Second of all, Facebook should be used for opening the page for your diplomatic mission. This page will look more officially than your private page. You can create your mission's community with the help of this page. Facebook is especially useful tool because of its global outreach - it has versions in 95 languages, and is very popular in non-English speaking countries. Facebook can be used as your official website, as your own news agency, as your message will be defined by you and not by the media outlets. In order to expand your community you have to spend time, but the effort pays you back.

6. LinkedIn, however, is better for opening personal page, even though many compaines have their pages there. I think that diplomats can find interesting professional information and ties through LinkedIn. It could also be a good tool for recruitment local staff, at least in US and Canada, since this network functions as a huge Human Resourses agreggator. There are also very good groups dealing with different aspects of Public Diplomacy which I find useful and insightful. Diplomats from different countries can create there own groups. As the trend of localization in social media becomes more dominant, diplomats based in certain city can comminucate through the group they can create on LinkedIn.

7. Twitter is something so new and the people are so involved with Facebook and LinkedIn, that many are not running to this new tool of social media. The greatest advantage of Twitter is that it could function as mission's news agency. It's the best way to connect to the young generation and to the most advance audiences. By the way, it's also a good way of being updated on-line and for free - while the sourse of information could be quite valuable. For diplomats, the twitter of Hillary Clinton could be very interesting, nottomentio all the interantional agencies that started opening their twitters.

Probably I'll stop here. There is much more to add and say - but next time...

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