Social media: big opportunity for small countries

By Anna A. Naghdalyan, Spokesperson (@Naghdalyan), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia (@MFAofArmenia)

The digital domain, namely social media, seems to be the tool that emerged to suit the needs of countries like Armenia, which, being constrained by small territory, can make the best out of the unlimited virtual space and resources. In that sense, by no means did the digital age catch Armenia by surprise as soon after the establishment of Facebook and Twitter as reputable platforms for meta-national dialogue and communication, the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly developed a targeted strategy to utilize these as well as many more tools in its cause to step up its connectedness with a wide array of agents and entities.

Facebook became the medium of choice for the general public with 62.83% of Armenians being connected to Facebook compared to only 4.88% on Twitter and less than one percent on Instagram and VKontakte. Moreover, two separate audiences developed that needed to be addressed: 1. the Armenian citizens media, and 2. the foreign media, officials, and nationals. Each group had its specific needs as well as the language of communication.

Thus, the Armenian public became the target audience for the Ministry’s network on Facebook. Figuratively speaking, the Ministry’s official page was in the centre of the strategy, with the periphery of the official representations and diplomatic missions surrounding it.

The first of the functions draws directly from this arrangement: The Facebook page of the Foreign Ministry, in addition to acting as a direct source of information for citizens and Armenian media, also selectively showcases posts by the 40 Facebook pages of the official representations and diplomatic missions.

Facebook is also a reliable source of fast bits of information for the Armenian media and Armenian citizens. The statistics of the Facebook page’s daily visits are much higher than the visits to the Ministry’s official website: social media puts a “human face” on the official information and allows to create an impression of personal approach to the inquiries of the media and citizens.

It is apparent that during and after the Velvet Revolution, social media and live broadcasts from the leadership have become the main channel of communication with the people of Armenia to provide information about ongoing reforms, explain decisions made and even response to criticism. Our Prime Minister held regular “Talk with the citizen” sessions on Facebook. The significance of this medium with regards to its explanatory function cannot be overstated, especially for a foreign political agency to ensure the clarity and predictability of the country’s foreign policy.

In foreign policy, social media provided us an additional platform to be heard and join the bigger community of digital diplomacy. However, at the same time the accessibility of Facebook and temptation of uber-informality of communication also requires additional regulations and security precautions for the official users. That is why the Ministry is amending the code of conduct of its diplomatic staff to include the clause of behaviour on social media.