Tools of ‘data diplomacy’

Using data creatively is an effective tool for making a point through social media channels, digital experts advised a packed audience of press attachés at the Goeth-Institute.

The Guardian’s data editor Alberto Nardelli told DPAAL members that they should use their access to government data and archive material in surprising ways to make a powerful point or tell a compelling story, whether it is about a big event, such as an upcoming election, or a topical political story, such as migration or climate change.

“Simply being on social media is not the end goal. You must publish with a purpose and you need to have a strategy,” he said.

Mercedes Bunz, senior lecturer at Westminster University on social media said embassies needed to be clear on the audience they were trying to reach – government officials and journalists, their community in the UK or the general public in the UK.

Knowing this is key to deciding what platform works best for the content and demographic (younger people prefer Snapchat or Instagram, whereas journalists and government officials use Twitter, while Facebook is good for engaging with your community).

The language a story should be published in is also critical and, if published in English, it may reach a much wider audience.

Analysing embassy Twitter feeds, Bunz singled out the Russian Embassy for praise for its creative use of photos and its engaging, sometimes controversial content.

“This is a very opinionated twitter feed that attracts attention. There is a risk involved but you can get a much bigger audience if it is picked up by the mainstream media,” she said, pointing to the Embassy’s wry take on a comment by Prime Minister Cameron that the Labour Party was “a threat to national security” following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

The Russian Embassy’s response was punchy and provocative: “Just imagine the UK media headlines if Russian President called a leading opposition party threat to national security?”

It got almost 12,000 retweets and a rare accolade from the Washington Post, which called the tweet “masterful”.

With journalists following ambassadors and embassies and embedding tweets directly into articles, Bunz said social media was an effective way to amplify an embassy’s voice, but it could also attract negative attention which had to be handled carefully.