Never thought about it, did you? The people who staff a foreign embassy are oftentimes at the forefront of social change. They are influential in handling classified information, and are able to push buttons that could possibly cause an escalation of already high tensions. On the other hand, with such speedy communication, being connected to an influential embassy can be a blessing when there is a need for information to stabilize situations.
Keep in mind that those who follow embassies’ page are either citizens of the embassies’ country who are living or working in the other country or those who are interested in foreign relations between the two countries, be it cultural or diplomatic.
Here is why we think it is time that embassies should be on social media.
1. Immediately update followers on news and events
Social media is a great way to help citizens who are abroad to keep in touch with important news in their country and events that the embassy organises. Updates are instantly posted by the embassies and received by followers, instead of having to wait for the newspapers or websites to publish them. It also enables those who follow the embassy to be on the radar for cultural activities related to that country. All these updates would help your countrymen to feel closer to their home, no matter where in the world they are. Take the example of the Israel embassy in Singapore, promoting films and other updates made by their countrymen to their followers.
2. Direct connection with youth
In Southeast Asia, those who are most active on social media are urban and suburban 18 to 34 year olds. They prefer to receive news and information from social media instead of from traditional news sources. Exchanging ideas is all good and well but if the exchange is happening with citizens who have decided on their stand and are unlikely to change their opinion, you may be wasting your time. Connecting with young people who are open to new ideas on the other hand can be easier and lend to more change. Inviting youths to events through social media is a better way to alert them to the embassy’s activities, strengthening the connection between youths and the embassy. To directly engage the youths you need to know where their conversations take place, which is why, the Swedish Embassy is on both Facebook and Twitter.
3. Engaging followers in thought-provoking conversations
The power of social media is its instant and personal connection with others which is useful for leveraging a nation’s collective voice for strategic purposes. Those who are vocal could be engaged if they are in line with the embassy’s foreign policy. Alluding to the lack of freedom of press in Singapore, this post by U.S. Embassy of Singapore garnered 138 likes and 87 shares. It brought several complaints regarding the status of Singapore as a democracy.
4. Effective communication during crisis
During a crisis, social media helps keep the population updated with important news and relief help needed. Used correctly, the rest of the world will take notice and send help. In 2010 Haiti proved this when diplomats there organized a ‘digital relief’ effort that collected tens of millions of dollars in aid for the impoverished nation. It happened fast too, with little of the usual ‘red tape’ to slow it down.
5. Calm public fears
There are times when the economy of one’s country is in bad shape. Leaders have turned to Facebook or Twitter to calm their population before they start having panic attacks. Israel’s Finance Minister chose to tell his citizens of looming budget cuts that would affect their lives through Facebook so that their fears could be addressed. Here’s the post from his Facebook page, Google translated from Hebrew to English (explains the grammatical inaccuracy of the post).
6. Quick response to embassy service queries
The most common feature of an embassy is to provide consular services to nationals of the country that sent it. Another service that embassies provide is to approve visas. There are many questions surrounding the visa application that could take place on social media as people find it easier to ask questions there compared to going through the embassy’s website. This will greatly improve the relationship between the embassy and those who follow its Facebook page. See U.S. Embassy India’s Facebook popular weekly feature on Visa FAQs called ‘Visa Friday’, with more than 20 comments for every post.
We summed it up in a neat little infographic for you.