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)

Digital diplomacy as a team work tester

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

Spanish Social NetworkWe are just now beginning to understand the drastic changes that the digital revolution is bringing about in the way diplomacy is conceived and carried out. The first thing to change was the way we communicate. Despite the fact that digitalisation of diplomacy started only some years ago, it is sustaining permanent evolution. These ongoing changes affect the agenda, internal procedures, as well as decision making processes.

It additionally affects our use of social networks in a way that involves regular revision of strategies and decentralisation. The social media of preference is the one which better adapts to the local needs. We, as MFA civil servants, need to keep track of the advantages and disadvantages of different platforms and be able to use them for public purposes.

The first objective was to jump into digital diplomacy with a global presence, which entails giving our offices liberty to choose their preferred platform. Recently, a number of Spanish diplomats provided their first-year experiences with said platforms to contribute to a book on digital diplomacy. The comments of my colleagues at different postings were coherent: while Facebook is better to keep one’s diaspora connected to the Embassy or Consulate on a regular basis, we need Twitter as the best and most rapid way to spread information in an emergency. You will have 1,500 Retweets in approximately 20 minutes and more than 7,000 a little later if the information posted is important. As was the case with the emergency contact numbers during the recent Brussels attacks.

Twitter has proven to be the best platform for multilateral diplomacy too, but for our cultural offices, or development cooperation aid, Facebook is a very important channel to explain the projects, activities and achievements that will otherwise escape the broader audiences.

Recently we also adventured on Instagram, and developed a style handbook for all our offices abroad that are using Instagram accounts. In some regions or countries, our embassies prefer Instagram and some cases, such as the Embassy of Spain in Kuwait, solely use this platform.

We have opted to have a structured scheme based on team work. Instead of trying to encourage star ambassadors – who would draw a lot of attention – we encourage each and every embassy to develop, sustain and feed the social accounts of their choice. We wanted the whole diplomatic team to get used to digital diplomacy. This was a challenging task, and I dare say our best achievement.

Rather than pointing a campaign as our most well-known, and prior to that, I appreciate the steady growth of our accounts as a whole. It was not an easy task because instead of delegating the task of online presence to the forward looking diplomats who were on board, or hiring an expert communication team in Madrid to do the ice-breaking, Spanish diplomats were engaged as a whole, and are learning to produce local and regional impact with their own campaigns.

It was done like this because we were convinced that digital diplomacy will develop to be much more than just public diplomacy or online consular service: We see it as the beginning of a deeper transformation for MFAs, and for that we needed everyone on board. The best example of this scheme put in practice was the creation of 28 hubs for digital communication. Spanish hubs are somehow different to hubs created by other diplomatic services as Spanish hubs produce videos, pieces of information, infographics and “gifs” adapted to their specificities.

We send them the funds and they produce those pieces of visual contents locally, with results that sometimes surprise us back home in Madrid. The experience proves to be truly enriching, as a video produced in Tokio has a different music, rhythm and flavour than the one on a similar subject produced in Canberra or Montevideo. We also encourage them to talk to the other Spanish missions in the region and think of issues of common interest; and so, our hub in Western Africa may be focusing on the humanitarian situation in the region while in China, at the same time, the contents may be related to the 400 Anniversary of Cervantes and the learning of Spanish language, or while Lima is explaining to the younger audiences how to take advantage of the different scholarships available to study in Spain.

That gives us a lot of variety and flexibility, and that is, in the end, what we value most.

By Consuelo Femenía (@ConsueloFemenia), Ambassador, Special Advisor for Digital Diplomacy at the Spanish Foreign Ministry (@MAECgob @SpainMFA).

A Voice from Montenegro on Social Media

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

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


We launched our social media presence, a first for a country in the Western Balkans as far as we know, in 2011. Our preferred social media channel which I will focus on here (and the first one we started using) is Twitter, and for several reasons. First, it allows for quickly sending messages out to a large number of people. Second, it makes you focus on what is the most important, stripping away all the bureaucratic language usually found in press releases and similar ‘traditional’ ways of government communications. Third, it lets you exchange with other countries, individuals, governments, and officials, opening room for making better services, improving relations, and doing some public diplomacy. Most importantly, it allows you to listen to the people and understand their needs. And finally it is a very cheap way of communicating that offers disproportionately large benefits when compared to the investment. Initially, we launched a Twitter channel in English (@MeGovernment), as our chief aim was to communicate more information on Montenegro to international audiences, which we found was lacking. Later on, as the Twitter community in Montenegro grew, we repeatedly pushed from within and got pressure from the public to start communicating more with our domestic audiences. An OK was given in 2012 and we launched another account (@VladaCG) targeted at the domestic audience. We have around 30 thousand followers on the two channels combined and very good engagement, which gave us admirable ranking on several Twiplomacy surveys in the past (thanks, guys!).

We plan to expand our social media presence very soon, and we already took some steps in that direction (read on!). Our social media team is centred at the Government’s PR Service, and the team in other departments is expanding slowly but steadily.

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

I dare say we have been particularly successful in live-tweeting from events, which is an activity where we have the most structured approach. On several occasions, including last month, we were lucky enough to have central news broadcasts in the country launch with the messages we sent via Twitter.

The way we do it is that we try to collect as much as possible the materials pertaining to the event in advance (such as speeches, talking points, key messages, visual stuff, documents, etc.) so we can prepare some key messages in advance. After we double-check these we go to the event and follow closely for any additional messages that should be communicated. We also try to take some good photos/video and come up with some catchy messages. Tagging people and using good hashtags can also help spread the word, in addition to well-tailored messages. To do all this well, it takes knowledge of the topic, understanding of the medium and the needs of the audience, taking good imagery, and applying some common sense. That is our recipe and it has proven good most of the time for us. We have learned on the go and we believe this is the best way to do it. There are no ready-made success guidelines for everyone, but practice makes perfect (we’re yet to get there, though).

When it comes to sharing some practical lessons we learned along the way, I believe the most essential thing is to tailor good-sounding, relevant, and interesting messages, or else no one will care about what you have to say. An added bonus is if you can have something exclusive, not heard elsewhere. That really draws attention. Then hashtags are very important — they act as links and allow for related messages to be followed as a thread, which is very important in live events and campaigns. We came up with some really important ones which were even trending and some are still alive and well years after we launched them. Not to be overlooked is the fact that there are people behind the channel and Twitter allows you to show the human side. This should be done even on institutional accounts when the need calls for it, such as at times of suffering or joy. Some of our most popular tweets have been related to sporting events and expressing solidarity in times of crises.

Oh, let’s not forget the most important thing about Twitter: you must be quick or you’re not relevant. On several occasions we tweeted without necessarily going through the full cycle of approval (for some sensitive matters we must require permission) but tweeted because we believed it needed to be done quickly. A few times we almost got in trouble, but most of the time we were vindicated by our success.

How do you measure success on social media?

As anyone who does social media for governments can tell you, this is the hardest and most elusive part of the job. You keep getting those questions and you keep remaining in want of a good answer. There’s a plethora of tools that we use, but their reliability is debatable. It will still take some time for the AI to reach that level where we will be able to have solid and fully relevant measurement tools. We try to look at the feedback from our audiences and peers the most, and also the traditional media coverage, as that is still considered the most relevant in our context. We take these as indicators and combine them with our own understanding of social media trends and developments, and we spice it up with some statistics such as the number of followers, shares, etc. to make it relevant for some of our more old-fashioned colleagues.

It is important to note that there is two of us doing social media at our department (the central government PR office). And it’s more like half of me and half of the other person, as we have plenty of other tasks to do. But we are digital natives and and always staring at our phones, so it’s also fun for us. Even when we have to tweet on weekends and evenings, much to the chagrin of our families and friends.

But we got, or better say fought for, the support of our superiors and we are currently working on expanding our social media presence. I would say this is our greatest success in measuring social media success — convincing people it is something a government must do today. And we did it by trail-blazing hoping our results will speak for us. And they did. We slowly and carefully started meddling in Facebook, first as a project for a specific Government policy and we will hopefully soon launch a central Government page. We convinced quite a few ministries to launch their own Twitter channels and we help them with these almost daily. Also, in the run up to the 10th anniversary of the restoration of Montenegro’s independence on May 21, 2016 we quietly launched Instagram and Vine. There’s some fun content there, so make sure to check it out! We have been using YouTube for longer speeches and press conferences, and we will also be using Vimeo. Most of these are still in test phases, though.

We identified there is a growing interest in Government departments for social media, but also some fear and need to improve knowledge and capacities. For this reason we’ve been sitting down with our peers from countries and international organisations who have gone through similar processes before us and we’ll be taking some best practices and organising trainings and exchanges for our colleagues from the departments. We are extremely grateful to them for offering help and assistance and we strongly encourage all governments who struggle with social media to seek help and start tweeting today. At our office we firmly believe that social media is the future of media and communications.

By Stefan Vukotić (@mraristocat), Head of International Communication at the Government of Montenegro (@MeGovernment @VladaCG)

Quality over Quantity also applies in Social Media

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

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

@ThisIsFinlandThe Foreign Ministry of Finland has been present and active for quite some time on very many social media channels, both as a ministry and as Finland, under the name “ThisisFINLAND” for country branding purposes. In country branding, which is my domain, Twitter is by far the so called main channel. At the moment it is through Twitter we have the best chance of reaching also others than the “usual suspects”. The profile of Twitter being largely used by decision-makers is attractive for some purposes. Country branding is usually a bit slower paced communications, very long-term work, but Twitter is like our hectic current affairs unit and we love it for that! The ThisisFINLAND Facebook also reaches a very high number of people and they are the hardcore Finland Fans; former foreign students in Finland, second generation immigrants, education policy fans, heavy metal fans etc.

We also do some trial and error, test new channels, but still, if I would have to choose which social media channel is my personal current favourite and preferred channel, I would have to say You Tube. This is due to the younger generation presence there and the fact that we recently made a complete strategy overhaul for our YouTube channel. We decided that instead of reviving a channel, that had been dormant for some time, with promotional videos produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we would for the foreseeable future give the channel in the hands of 11 young Finnish vloggers. It really does make sense, even though it is a very scary decision to be taken by a Government agency. It is not a campaign or gimmick, those we have seen, but really a strategic choice: the faces, voices and ordinary everyday lives of Finnish youngsters from all around the country is far more better a window to Finland than any video or commercial that we could produce. I’m very excited by this!

How do you and your team manage your social media presence?

Our unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is at the same time the secretariat for the national Finland Promotion Board (FPB) and we serve our embassies with different tools so that they have an easier task to perform when telling about Finland in many different ways and setups. We work very closely with many other entities, agencies and ministries inside a “Team Finland” umbrella. The resources are not that big, after all Finland has 5.5 million inhabitants, so we really need to make the most out of good cooperation.

We have ThisisFINLAND channels in English, Russian and Chinese. The English channels we almost solely take care of in house, with very small but extremely motivated resources. The Russian speaking channels we do partly in house, partly outsourced. The Chinese channels we do partly outsourced, partly in cooperation with other agencies and partly through our representations in China.

We have a ThisisFINLAND web and social media strategy and the main thing is that improving our performance on social media as a team has been a N°1 priority for one year now. To live and breathe social media is probably the way to describe how we manage our social media presence.

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

Result wise and fun wise this would have to be Finland emojis campaign. We wanted to renew the traditional ThisisFINLAND website Christmas Calendar campaign in 2015 so that it would work better on mobile devices and social media. Thus Finland ended up as being the first country in the world to publish its own set of country themed emoji stickers. The Finland emoji collection contained 30 tongue-in-cheek emotions, which were created to explain some hard-to-describe Finnish emotions, Finnish words and customs, and they were explained/released one by one on a website in December 2015 (even though you could download the Finland emojis app immediately). The reach ended up being something like 200 million people. It is just mind-blowing to us. On May 12, 2016 we released the summer emojis, ie a new set of 17 more summer related emojis to complement the more wintery ones from December.

Video about the first batch of Finland emojis:

How do you measure success on social media?

The truth: I do hate this question. Measuring – and celebrating! – success is important but you hardly hear this question with such vigour when talking about other tools, media or things we do. I mean, of course we are interested in how many likes and retweets and shares and awards and what not something gets, but sometimes it is more important for us to reach a certain subgroup, subculture, genre fans etc. so quality over quantity also does apply in social media. It is of course also about the feedback we get from different sources, the trust we gain from other’s working with the same goals and aims. In the end, if it feels right (to many, not just me) it usually is right.

By Petra Theman (@PetraTheman), Director for Public Diplomacy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (@Ulkoministerio)