Social media has transformed how we operate in times of crisis

We have asked several foreign ministries to answer some questions about their #DigitalDiplomacy. Here’s a guest post from the Foreign Ministry of Iceland.

MFAIceland Twitter


The year is 2013, it’s early spring and we at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are about to welcome Carl Bildt to Iceland. Our Foreign Minister has bought him a traditional Icelandic wool sweater and a lot of thought has gone into finding the right fit, the right colours and the right pattern. We take our wool sweaters very seriously.

But we had not given his virtual welcome as much of a thought, even though he was a diplomatic Twitter celebrity, as he was one of the first ones to truly embrace the medium when it came to dialogue between international actors. We had not stepped into the Twitterworld, keeping ourselves busy instead with keeping afloat on Iceland’s preferred social medium, Facebook. But when Bildt tweeted from the plane, saying he was looking forward to his visit to Iceland, we thought; this is the best chance we get to take off on Twitter with a bang. So off we went, without really asking anyone for permission. We were airborne! With considerable more effort put into preparing the sweater than into our invasion into Twittersphere, but hey, you only really learn by doing!

Fast forward to 2016. By now we believe we are doing a pretty good job at tweeting. Being a small state, with only about 330,000 inhabitants, we are never going to be contenders in the most followed category or the ones with the most engagement in the Twiplomacy study. That’s ok though, we’ve come to terms with our size. But that doesn’t mean that we are not playing. We just have to be creative and work with what we have. For the last few studies we have scored high when it comes to mutual connections and been in the top ten of the best-connected world leaders.

94% of our audience on Twitter is based outside Iceland and therefore our tweets are mostly in English. Twitter is therefore our preferred social media platform when we need to get our message across borders.

The ability to connect with other Ministries, Ministers and international organisations directly (and openly) is something that we, again being small and tiny and all that, welcome greatly and will continue to use in all our communication and information related work.

And it’s pretty fun, right.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened its Facebook page back in 2010 and the reason behind that still rings true today, we need to be present where the conversation is taking place. Iceland has one of the highest ratings worldwide when in comes to percentage of the population that is on Facebook. According to Gallup Iceland, the number was a whopping 89% for those 18 years and older. So, if we want to speak to our home audience, we know where to find them.

Facebook is the spine of our social media outreach in Iceland and we currently have two MFA pages, one in Icelandic and the other in English, and in addition all but one of our diplomatic missions now use Facebook as a means to connect with people, home and away. It has also proven the perfect medium to reach our diaspora and those travelling, both with routine information regarding consular services and especially in times of crisis.

Here at the mothership we welcome the opportunity to show a side to us that is different from the view people get from the traditional media, or, if I’m being honest, to finally show A side. We who live and breathe in the world of diplomacy know how clandestine our operations have been in the past. We are more than press releases, bilateral agreements and trade discussions, important as they might be. We can now, thanks to social media, show the more personal angle of what we do, the behind the curtains view and small things that we, like any other workplace, enjoy. It gives the institution a human touch, and in our experience, that agrees with our audience.

Social media has transformed how we operate in times of crisis. It is by far the most valuable tool when it comes to both locating and communicating with our citizens who find themselves in a crisis abroad, and with their loved ones at home.

Recent terrorist attacks in Brussels are a good example. A lot of Icelanders work in the European Quarter where the second bomb exploded. What usually happens in situations like that is that the mobile system crashes and it is impossible for people to reach their friends and family to let them know that they are either safe or in need of help. Before social media, we would set up call centres here in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for people that can’t reach their loved ones. We register each person that is unaccounted for and then we try to locate him or her. Now, we are looking at a very different landscape. 3G and Wi-Fi are usually working so people can let others know on social media that they are ok. And while a phone call is only between two persons, a Facebook post is there for all your friends to see.

Facebook Safety Check is a great addition and has proven very helpful in our emergency situations. But does that mean that we become irrelevant? Not at all. We still have a huge information role to play, and again, social media is your friend. Through our social media channels and those of the Minister and our Embassy in Brussels we were able to communicate to a larger audience in real time regarding emergency responses, safety measures and transportation. We saw higher numbers in engagement and reach than usually and our Embassy gained a considerable amount of followers. So people were actually coming directly to us regarding official information on what was happening in Brussels and what to do. And we were relieved that we were present, to both talk and to listen.

We are happy that we took the leap a few years back into social media world. It has given us a chance to listen, to step in a discussion, to answer and explain, everything from how to leave a country during civil unrest, to explaining why we are maintaining a diplomatic service in the first place (have you guys never heard of Skype?)

And for Carl Bildt? He’s still following us. Are you?

By Þurý Björk Björgvinsdóttir (@thurybjork), Specialist, Department for Information, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Iceland (@MFAIceland)

Reaching the world through 11 social media platforms

We have asked several foreign ministries to answer some questions about their #DigitalDiplomacy. Here’s a guest post from the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine.

MFA_Ukraine Twitter AccountWhich is/are your preferred social media channel(s) and why?

As you may know, the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine (2013-2014) began with a post on Facebook, so there is no doubt that social media is one of our most important communication tools. Currently the Ministry of Foreign affairs of Ukraine is active on 11 social media platforms. Twitter and Facebook accounts were set up in 2010, YouTube in 2012. Since the beginning of the mandate of Minister Pavlo Klimkin in 2014 our digital diplomacy has been consistently enhanced and developed. The Minister personally is highly engaged on social media and considers it as an important way of communication. He held the first ever in Ukrainian civil service Twitter-Interview, Reddit Q&A session and even meeting with his Twitter followers.

Since 2014 we have created Instagram (2014), Vkontakte (2014), Storify (2014), Google+ (2015), Vine (2015) accounts and our 3 blogs Medium, WordPress, Blogger (2015). Ukrainian diplomatic missions expanded their online activity and now nearly 90 embassies and consulates are present on Facebook and Twitter.

We love Twitter for its speed and information content. Recently we have had nearly 2,000 new followers per month with currently a total of more than 63,000, so it is definitely our most dynamic channel. On Twitter news is updated every second so we have to work 24/7 to give timely travel advice, consular help, spread political messages or inform about situation in Ukraine.

Minister Klimkin delivers the most important messages and shares his views on his own account @PavloKlimkin (176,000 followers). We also have a list of official speakers who are entitled to give comments on behalf of the Ministry. They altogether have more than 20,000 readers.

We like Facebook for a unique chance to engage with our followers: we receive the majority of questions and comments on social media via Facebook. Recently our Directorate General for Consular Service has launched its own Facebook page to provide our citizens with travel advice, consular assistance and answer questions in real time. In emergency situations we always update travel recommendations for Ukrainian citizens and publish emergency contacts of Ukrainian Embassies and MFA’s hotline.

Our key goal on social media is not only to inform about important recent developments in Ukraine, but also to interact with our readers and engage the audience. That is why we have launched a number of Facebook-oriented social media campaigns to bring the Ministry closer to people.

We take advantage of different channels to reach our target audience. That is why in 2014 we set up our account on the Russian social media network VKontakte. So in 2014 we decided to make an experiment and try to reach a Russian audience and our page has more than 33,600 followers. So here is one of the most important social media tips from the MFA of Ukraine: be inventive, don’t be afraid to try something new.

Please share an example of your best campaign/engagement on social media.

To succeed on social media – be creative, carry out insightful campaigns

Over the past two years we have launched many different campaigns. But there are some special ones:

  1. International online campaign #MyUkraineIs aimed at promoting Ukraine abroad

We asked our followers on social media to share their views and to tell what Ukraine means to them.

The website allows users to add content by themselves. Anyone may share information about Ukraine and outstanding Ukrainians online using the “Add your story” button. The best suggestions are considered by experts and if approved, added to the website to tell the world about Ukraine in an exciting way.

  1. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we have a double task: to reach both the foreign and domestic audiences. To increase engagement with the latter we started #‎BeEuropean campaign aiming to tell Ukrainians more about life, work and rest in European countries.

We invited our friends and colleagues to join this project and to ‎share stories on what surprised and impressed them the most in European countries or write about their volunteer experience, healthy lifestyle or anything else that may be a good example of #BeEuropean.

We want to change our country for the better, but changes in a state cannot occur immediately and without changes in the people’s consciousness. So as a first step, we try to change ourselves and to inspire people around us to make good small changes in daily life.

  1. One of our brightest campaigns is #SelfieWithFlag. We decided to hold it to celebrate the Day of National Flag of Ukraine (August 23). So we just published a post with the motto “Gonna travel abroad? Take Ukrainian flag!” and invited all Ukrainians and friends of Ukraine abroad to take a selfie with the Ukrainian flag near a famous tourist attraction abroad, add the hashtag #SelfieWithFlag and publish the photo on social media. We received more nearly 200 wonderful photos from all over the world and were impressed how people over the globe are ready to engage in social media campaigns.

How do you measure success on social media?

Analyze, monitor and implement

The first thing is the built-in analytics on social media accounts. And we believe it is really a good tool to understand how your audience got interested with your project, what was perceived well and what was left unnoticed. The second tool which we use during some campaigns is monitoring of media coverage. For instance, to measure the success of our #MyUkraineIs online campaign we monitor the number of publications in media as well as dynamics of visits to the website of the project and statistics of new facts about Ukraine generated by users. The third tool to measure success is to monitor how words are translated into deeds in real life:

Our two major online campaigns in support of Ukrainian citizens who are illegally detained by the Russian Federation – #LetMyPeopleGo and #FreeSavchenko – are run in cooperation with NGOs, activists, volunteers and Ukrainians abroad.

What is extremely important is that these campaigns do not stay within the scope of online platforms, they turn into real deeds and actions. It is easy to make people like a post or retweet, but it is much more difficult to make them translate their words or emotions from social media into real life. That is why when we see thousands of people around the globe going out on the streets and urging Russia to free Ukrainian political prisoners, we can estimate the real results of these social media campaigns.

More Social Media Tips from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

By Oleksii Makeiev (@Makeiev) , Political Director, Ministry of Foreign Affaires of Ukraine (@MFA_Ukraine)

Prepare to be surprised

We have asked several foreign ministries to answer some questions about their #DigitalDiplomacy. Here’s a guest post from the Foreign Ministry of Israel.

Which is/are your preferred social media channel(s) and why?

Choosing the online platforms on which we are active is based on a few variables: Firstly – Relevance to the Ministry’s target audiences – where those people are most active is where we find it most important to be present. Secondly, as resources and personnel are not unlimited, prioritization of online presence is required.

Facebook is the major platform of activity, being the most popular social network in most countries around the world. In this past year we’ve increased dramatically our use of this platform to distribute our videos, as Facebook seems to continuously provide increased exposure to video content.

A notable example of Facebook’s advantage video-wise is quite a recent one – Our video in celebration of Israel’s 68th independence day reached over 2.5 Million views in the various language versions in which it was produced, the main one, in English got over 1.3 million views within 2 weeks’ time, without any promotion being made

Isarel 60 Facts
Twitter is our fastest growing platform, and the one to which we allocate more and more attention in the last couple of years. Its’ openness and the easy access it allows to influencers in different fields and sectors – mark an opportunity we cannot miss. As a result of this increased focus, our network of Twitter channels (missions + diplomats) has grown from 130 last year to over 180 active tweeters this year, as we use different methods of intensive training and intra-organizational advocacy of its potential for the work of Israeli Embassies, Consulates and Diplomats.

The total number of followers of these accounts has grown by 50% in the last year. While most of the accounts in the network have several thousands of followers, quite a few of them already have a followership of over 50 thousand.

Additionally, we are increasingly developing our presence on Instagram, which like Twitter, allows a great community building potential and a way to access younger audiences with its open platform. Our @StateofIsrael channel showcases both original content and collaborations with guest photographers, which helps us to cope with the ongoing ‘struggle’ for creating and sharing quality content.

Please share an example of your best campaign/engagement on social media.

Social media offers an unprecedented opportunity to get increased attention, with less dependence on traditional media. That time when we used Twitter to raise attention to an official statement we found important (and somewhat unnoticed), exemplifies just that. The Prime Minister of Israel had publicly invited the chairman of the Palestinian Authority to meet. We tweeted the invitation, which did not get much media attention up until then, with a direct call which received over 1,100 retweets:

Following a reply to our tweet by the official Palestinian account that was mentioned in our original post, we used the chance to reply publicly to sharpen our message:

The result of this exchange of tweets was an increased media attention both to the Prime Minister’s invitation and to the lack of attentiveness to the proposal.

Although this chain of tweets was unfortunately not very successful in promoting peace in the Middle East so far, we feel that it did a good job in giving the Prime Minister’s invitation the enhanced exposure we believe it deserved.

Another example for the use of social media to promote a key message, was a tweet posted on National Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. The combination of a clear message, stating the root cause of this national day to people around the world who may not be familiar with it, together with a design which has an immediate effect on those exposed to it – had brought as a result an increased exposure to this message, which was retweeted over 1,000 times, more than ever before.

This example carries a learning experience for us – for how to adjust and fine-tune our message textually and visually to maximize the exposure to a message we find to be extremely important.

In addition to making use of available organic paths of distribution, we have been experimenting with new technologies for the amplification of our message. The campaign, featured in the current Twiplomacy study, is a recent example of building upon Twitter’s API to grant access for a message to a much wider audience then it could have reached regularly.

How do you measure success on social media?

While social media platforms allow us to perform effective analysis of our work, a major goal for us is to impact priming and framing of our message in traditional media outlets. The following basic principles are important in understanding and recognizing success and failure:

Measuring analytics on a regular basis is necessary and insightful: We have made it a habit to measure our activity on a regular basis, in order to see how we did, what did well and what didn’t – and try to understand why. The factors involved in success/failure of contents vary from subject and timing, through phrasing, to choice of image etc. assessing all these factors allows us to draw important conclusions for future posts.

Setting reasonable but ambitious goals in advance: Once we have a better understanding of possible reasons for success/failure, we’re ready to better assess the goals we wish to set. Cumulative experience in social media allows us to have a fair estimate of what numbers can be anticipated when addressing audience X with the subject Y and with promotion budget Z (when paid promotion budget is relevant and available).

Exposure in traditional media due to activity on social media: Beyond the expected numbers, a major goal in a campaign is to have it reach beyond the immediate circles of influence, through exposure in mainstream traditional media, which gets it a much wider distribution.

Prepare to be surprised –Having said all that, after analyzing all available data, creating ‘the best’ content and doing all we can to get it exposed all over, it should be said that sometimes things that we plan do not get the anticipated attention. On the other hand, in other times we are surprised by the success of some contents and messages we deliver, and we try to learn from these successes and failures on the go, but in the intensive, ever-changing world of social media, we know we must always be prepared to be surprised.

By Gal Rudich (@Galtweets), Head of New Media Section, Digital Diplomacy Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel (@IsraelMFA)

Social media has become the main driving force for change in diplomatic communication

We have asked several foreign ministries to answer some questions about their #DigitalDiplomacy. Here’s a guest post from the European External Action Service.

@EU_EEASCenturies-old customs and habits have been eroded in less than a decade. Think, for instance, of the proverbial neutrality of diplomatic language and how the immediacy of social media and live-streaming have re-shaped diplomacy into something far more direct than ever before.

The world is shrinking. Today, two thirds of the planet use the Internet and where there’s a challenge, there’s also an opportunity. We can now communicate directly with virtually anywhere in the world. And it’s not just about Twitter and Facebook. Other platforms like Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat have already made a breach in the diplomatic walls. Each one of them still requires a different tone, a different language to get our messages across. Each of these networks has a life of its own, but the codes and products which once distinguished different social media markets are now much more integrated across the board. Today, video hosting and photo editing features are available everywhere, not to mention the use of hashtags as one of the very basic conventions of social media engagement.

So how does the European External Action Service (EEAS) navigate the social media landscape?

Social media are a vibrant environment and it is not easy to keep pace with the constant changes going on. The social media team within the EEAS Strategic Communications Division plays a key role in following the latest trends and adapting our approach to guarantee the maximum visibility for the work of High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini and the latest news about the EU’s external action. Two years ago we started producing our own infographics, a year later our focus shifted to more images and more photos. Now videos have a prominent place on our homepages. More than ever, we need to keep adapting, to embrace change and to learn fast.

With the support of the EU Delegations around the world, the EEAS is strengthening links on social media to foster dialogue and cultivate mutual understanding between European and third countries, especially among young people. The next generation are ready to listen and engage in lively two-ways dialogues, which is vital in this most challenging of times. We need to tap into this potential. We work to promote Federica Mogherini’s work and the positive impact on the day-to-day lives of those who benefit from EU-funded projects. We aim to increase the understanding of the EU overseas and tackle the issues of disinformation and radicalisation wherever they occur.

Facebook and Twitter are still our preferred social media platforms. Their scope still justifies this, as no other platforms allow you to tap into more than 1.6 billion active users covering the full spectrum of strategic audiences we target. Secondly and more importantly, as Facebook and Twitter keep evolving rapidly to respond to the needs of their users, they offer the highest rate of engagement and the biggest diversity of content compared to other platforms.

Last January, we succeeded in communicating something historic quickly and effectively by releasing a short video-clip on Facebook and Twitter on the final implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran, which reached an audience of millions. It was by far our best post on any social media platform to date. Not just because of likes, comments and shares but also because it coincided with a truly historic diplomatic achievement: what could be more satisfying than that?

The reach of the EEAS goes far beyond the social media platforms managed from headquarters. Our goal is to beef up the social media engagement of our network of 139 Delegations and Offices around the world to leverage the full potential it holds for conveying EU messages to strategic audiences we wouldn’t otherwise reach.

Already, 56 EU Ambassadors are using Twitter in their professional capacity. From 5 in 2011, 123 EU Delegations are now active on Facebook and 82 on Twitter, with an increasing number engaging on YouTube and Instagram, wherever relevant to the local context. We are all learning together how to do better as Delegations report on their successes and share best practices. Our corpus of social media guidance is being consolidated, added to recommendations given to staff in charge of the platforms in Delegations during regional Strategic Communications seminars, which are the opportunity to hammer home core principles: know your local audience to best craft each Delegation’s social media engagement; what do they like?; what gets their attention?; which language do they speak?; what are their priorities?; what do they associate the EU with?

Whether by taking a picture with a smartphone of a sunset in their host countries or by making playful references to local pop culture, informal engagement is equally vital. Many Ambassadors and Delegations have found the right balance and tone, truly connecting with local audiences, distilling policy messaging mixed with a more personal touch. For instance, the artistic photos of the country and its people shared by the EU Ambassador to Afghanistan with the hashtag #
ee have helped increase his reach considerably, gaining sympathy from local audiences and also increasing the visibility of policy messages. By paying tribute to the local culture and shedding light on the people in the host country on Twitter, an EU Ambassador touches a very core and essential element in human communication: emotions. Notwithstanding the importance of numbers on analytics, it is engagement which is our greatest measure of success.

I am very proud of the work of my team and of our achievements on social media. Our reach is growing exponentially, the number of platforms we use is expanding and we are becoming more adept at embracing the latest trends and technologies.

In this, we have the unwavering personal support of Federica Mogherini for digital diplomacy. The EU’s chief diplomat is a true believer in the power of social networks, is herself an enthusiastic and regular Twitter user and encourages us to push forward with our work. With such support from the very top, we will be even more ambitious in developing the social media strategy of the EEAS.

By Michael Mann (@MichaelMannEU), Head of Division for Strategic Communications, European External Action Service (@eu_eeas)

@Canada paints a country portrait one tweet at a time

We have asked several foreign ministries to answer some questions about their #DigitalDiplomacy. Here’s a guest post from the Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s Foreign Ministry.

Global Affairs Canada was a late arrival to parts of the digital diplomacy game. Soon after realizing the true potential of these new and emerging platforms our Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly invested and built up a complex network spanning the globe. Our headquarters and missions abroad now collectively manage more than 500 departmental social media accounts on a dozen platforms in more than 100 countries. This rapid expansion did not go unnoticed and we are proud that a 2015 Twiplomacy study commended Canada for its powerful social-media presence.

Of our worldwide network of accounts, one in particular stands out due to its following, popularity and tone: @Canada (@AuCanada in French). Billed as Canada’s voice in the world, this channel was initially created to capture our international audiences’ interests by offering them a virtual window into everything Canadian; it would provide content that would go beyond the usual foreign policy, trade, development and consular information found on our other social media channels. In addition, @Canada would serve as a repository of high-quality content that our missions and brand ambassadors abroad could use or repurpose for their social-media accounts helping further our reach.

We carefully examined what our MFA counterparts were doing with their country-branded Twitter handles, such as @GreatBritain and @Sweden, and then devised a truly Canadian approach. Our content would fall under six broad categories:

  • Highlighting Canada’s natural beauty
  • Pointing out Canadians’ innovative ideas in various fields
  • Showcasing Canada’s cultural diversity
  • Promoting Canada as a welcoming country
  • Emphasizing Canada’s economic strengths
  • Positioning Canada as a strong, active player on the world stage

A digital-launch event held at HQ in 2014, live cast online, with foreign dignitaries in attendance helped provide visibility to the launch of the accounts, propelling the new accounts to more than 50,000 followers within the first day. Today, it stands at more than 200,000 followers and is the Government of Canada’s third-most popular social media account.

@Canada Tweet 1The preparation of the content is informed by simple guidelines: firstly, a strong focus on visuals. Almost all tweets are sent with images or video. Second, try to avoid typical MFA visuals – talking heads– opting instead for high quality, compelling visuals that are highly sharable. Third, avoid broadcasting – content that is engaging performs much better. Give the users a reason to share. Lastly, we try not to take ourselves too seriously and try to reflect the Canadian sense of humour, including the occasional stereotype to poke fun at ourselves. Case in point, the account’s first tweet: “@Canada’s now on Twitter, eh!”

To find the optimal content, it’s important to follow every trend on social media, in real time and– particularly in Canada—identify opportunities to contribute to conversations. Content is sourced from events, national holidays, historical milestones, Canadian achievements and more. In short, we try to reflect the pulse of Canadian society and publish content to bring it to worldwide audiences.

@Canada Tweet 2All major social media and digital diplomacy approaches must be refined in real time with a dedicated effort on evaluation. Performance of individual tweets is analyzed daily to determine why it worked or why it didn’t. Multiple indicators are evaluated, from publishing time, to tone, to visuals, to determine what works best for which type of tweet. Key performance indicators are examined such as popularity versus engagement. All of these measurement efforts aim to achieve a single purpose: to improve the content for users.

@Canada Tweet 7The efforts going into managing such an account have paid off. Foreign audiences learn new things about Canada every day thanks to @Canada – and the conversation is fueled by thousands of Canadians proudly participating in the conversation to help amplify the content.

This soft content approach has made @Canada an excellent digital tool for cultural and public diplomacy. Showing after all is often better than telling, especially on social media!@Canada Tweet 8

By Charles Brisebois (OttawaSeaBreeze), Director, Social Media, Global Affairs Canada (@Canada @CanadaFP @CanadaPE)