Social media vital for new diplomacy

DPAAL President Maria Monteiro with moderator
Will Gore and panellists Maz Nadjm, Alison Daniels,
Alberto Nardelli, John-Paul Evans and Toni Cowan-Brown

Governments are “not responding quickly enough” to the phenomenon of social media which is a useful tool for modern diplomacy, Brazilian Ambassador Roberto Jaguaribe said at a joint DPAAL-London Press Club meeting.

Envoys from more than 50 missions attended the seminar, held at the Brazilian Embassy, to discuss how social media could enhance their work. “Diplomacy has ceased to be a monopoly of governments. It has become something much broader and social media is a way to facilitate this new dimension,” the Ambassador told the audience of press attachés, journalists and social media experts.

Alison Daniels, Head of Digital Engagement at the FCO, said social media was being embedded into every element of British foreign policy work, using a variety of platforms, including 230 Twitter channels (all foreign ministers and more than 80 ambassadors are Tweeting), 140 Facebook pages and other digital channels such as Youtube and tumblr.

Beyond the public diplomacy applications of social media, Daniels said it was being harnessed as policy-making tool. Social media enabled diplomats to monitor and predict developments; identify key influencers, especially in rapidly changing contexts, and consult more widely in policy formulation. In consular work, Twitter had proved popular for information campaigns, enquiries and crisis alerts.

Alberto Nardelli of Tweetminster, a social media monitoring technology company, said the online world mirrored the offline world and that embassies should take a strategic approach to how they deploy social media, through monitoring and analysing trends and being proactive in broadcasting news or reactive in rebutting inaccurate stories.

Press attachés commented that timely Tweets and blogs rebutting media reports had been far more effective in reshaping a news story and attracting wider coverage than traditional avenues such as letters to the editor.

Choosing appropriate social media channels was also important, said John Paul Evans of the US Embassy – such as Youtube for campaigns; Twitter for engagement or consular outreach; and tumblr for more detailed policy blogging. Analytical tools can help embassies measure the impact of a social media campaign and help them to design more creative, engaging and sharable content.

Toni Cowan-Brown of Burson-Marsteller urged foreign ministries to train senior diplomats to use social media channels effectively.