Of all the tools that the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has at its disposal for maintaining contact, communicating, networking and providing services, Facebook plays an important role. This is not only due to Facebook’s scope and the potential it offers for reaching a large number of people. It’s primarily due to the fact that with 131 Facebook pages in 105 countries, the ministry and its missions come into direct contact with the public and professionals.
Facebook has taught our organisation to take a different approach when it comes to communicating with our target groups. One that’s less formal, and more visual, practical and concrete. The platform and its users force us to constantly show the added value of the ministry and the mission network. It also makes us clarify why we make certain choices, what the Netherlands represents and what our work means for the Netherlands and our host countries. And it lets us show our target groups how they themselves can benefit from the services offered by our ministry. Before Facebook, this was something that we did very rarely – if at all.
Our strategy in this regard is actually very simple. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The ministry in the Hague doesn’t dictate what missions should say and do on Facebook or on other online platforms. It does, however, develop frameworks, and gives advice, keeps a record of activities, and provides encouragement. Data analyses and periodical qualitative surveys have allowed the ministry to gain good insights into each Facebook account’s engagement and reach. Benchmarks help show trends and uncover strengths and weaknesses in our online network. We know which accounts, regions and content are doing well or not so well on Facebook.
Within our broad strategic frame, our diplomatic missions decide for themselves whether or not to use social media and, if so, how they will use it. However, they must take a logical, considered approach, and follow a 10-step plan. This covers all aspects of our online presence and integrates monitoring and evaluation opportunities. This way, accounts can be further adjusted and optimised. Each mission knows how best to communicate, as well as what topics are sensitive, which socio-cultural differences need to be considered and what tone and type of message will have the best impact.
We try to treat all our online accounts as one single coherent system, and to use them as such. The power of Twitter and LinkedIn – both more interesting and effective tools for public diplomacy – is different to the opportunities and possibilities that Facebook, or Instagram offer us. The ministry doesn’t spread the same message everywhere, it takes a tailored approach that corresponds to the intended target groups and platforms being used.
The Netherlands is a country with expertise in areas such as water management, sustainability, peace and justice, high-tech industry, and design. Vlogs, live broadcasts, personal stories from diplomats, behind-the-scenes videos, photos of projects and policy results can all be shared on Facebook, allowing us to showcase our expertise in all these areas. At the same time, engaging in conversations with followers helps create an active community and network that will benefit everyone.
Our challenge is to keep looking for formulas and ways of engaging people that suit our target groups and will reach them in an organic way. This is increasingly difficult due to Facebook’s changing algorithm. If Facebook cannot contribute to specific goals, we use other platforms. But for the time being, Facebook remains a valuable platform for interaction and building strong relationships.