To tweet or not to tweet?

London’s diplomatic corps is divided over whether social networking is a useful tool for diplomacy or simply a gimmick, an

survey has revealed.

The London Conference on Cyberspace and a recent Bloggers BBQ at the Russian Embassy ignited a debate over the use of social networking as a tool of engagement. Those in favour claimed it helped to connect with citizens on cultural and consular matters, while some missions have even used it to gauge political opinion.

Detractors felt it was impossible to explain policy in 140 characters and tweeting may undermine the “authority” of a mission or open it up to negative comments.

In the

poll, just over half the respondents (51 per cent) said they felt that the use of Twitter and Facebook was helpful in public diplomacy, while 42 per cent were undecided and a further 7 per cent felt social networking was a gimmick.

Of those missions responding, half use social networking. Of the half that do not, 59 per cent said their missions had not opened a Twitter or Facebook account due to lack of resources or know-how. The remaining 41 per cent felt social networking was irrelevant to diplomacy. 

When analysing the regional composition of the respondents, EEA countries are the most enthusiastic users of social networking (47 per cent), followed by Latin America/Caribbean (24 per cent). Of the missions who felt social networking was not relevant to diplomacy, Middle Eastern Missions and Asia-Pacific seemed the least enthusiastic. None of the African missions that responded use social networking, citing lack of know-how and resources.

Size does not matter when it comes to the use of social networking. Some of the largest missions in London do not use it, while very small missions, often with large diaspora communities, have found it to be useful for consular purposes.

Of those who do use social networking, 95 per cent have had a positive experience.

The median number of embassy Twitter followers or Facebook friends is more than one thousand. Of those who use social networking, 29 per cent had fewer than 500 ‘followers’ or ‘friends’, while 71 per cent had more than 1000.