@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)