The ambassador´s Facebook or the use of social networks in diplomatic relations
On February 22, 2014, at 20:42 (UTC), Enrique Peña Nieto, President of the United Mexican States, reported in his official Twitter account that one of the most wanted criminals in the world, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman had been captured. A few minutes later and in a frenetic manner, the most influential media throughout the world picked up the story, also highlighting the way in which the Head of State had made such important information public.
That is the way things work nowadays. Just like Peña Nieto, other South American leaders such as Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Fernández, Juan Manuel Santos or Michelle Bachelet use the new communication channels to maintain a direct relation with their respective societies. Why? Those are the spaces where their citizens communicate, influencers seek to condition the public opinion and the media reconversion calls for alternative ways of transmitting their messages.
Any person with an interest in establishing solid ties with the elite of a country must take into account the opportunities that the Internet offers
In this new context, any person with an interest in establishing solid ties with the elite of a country must take into account the opportunities that the Internet offers. They are a mere extension of social activity. You attend a meeting, reception or event and get to meet relevant actors for your business, exchange greetings and cards and, now, you can strengthen these links by keeping contact through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and many others.
Obviously, not all of them use the Web and those who do differ in the way they use it. A sound first step would be finding out how they use it. And to do this one must know which spaces exist, what are the differences between them and how to use take their chances in order to find the aforementioned contacts. This task calls for involvement. It is impossible to become a network expert without devoting time to see their options, make mistakes and correct them.
There are many similarities between this tool and others we have been using for centuries to interact with other people. Let us analyze the example of a cocktail party. First, we need to identify that is going to take place. Knowing the social agenda of a country is essential in order to identify the perfect occasions to contact other people. Second, we need to know who is going to attend before confirming our attendance. Third, we need to set objectives in order to not waste any opportunities. Ultimately, we need to know the social code governing this kind of meetings to take advantage of it and implement our social skills.
Experience ensures that these steps become more efficient. It does not matter how much theoretical knowledge we have, if we do not practice, we will ignore the benefits of this tool and will not attend these meetings. Something similar happens within the Internet world when we are not used to it. We think these networks are a strange thing and refuse to use it in our daily lives.
Yet the truth is, beyond any technicalities, that we need to understand the way in which we need to behave in these networks in order to make the most of it. It is a set of rules that, along with our common sense, will allow us to enter into these communities and build trust. Without any knowledge it will be difficult for us to become members and be accepted as equals and, thus, generate empathy.
Social networks are the perfect arena to “see and be seen”
However, the most common mistake takes place in a previous stage. It is confusing the end with the means. Some people think that these networks only serve an informative purpose. They check Twitter profiles as if they were newsrooms. They believe that success is merely related to the number of followers (traditionally: number of readers). Thus, they try to become opinion leaders. This would be the same as attending a reception to become the main star of the event.
Social networks are excellent to “see and be seen”. They are built to facilitate meetings and the coexistence between people who share interests, values and beliefs. Our information, our participation and our interaction are the means. The goal is to build and maintain relationships based on trust with people who could affect our project. From a diplomatic point of view, technology has created a broad range of professional solutions that the most advanced foreign ministries could not even dream of thirty years ago.
Generally, embassies as a system:
– Provide first-hand background information: essential to understand the issues that concern the society in which they have to be involved.
– Help identify leaders by community and territory: they complete the influence map that must be configured for the embassies’ mechanism to focus on their goals. Furthermore, they help us understand the position of the aforementioned leaders in the debates in which they take a stance.
– Facilitate the creation and dissemination of content: multimedia capacity and a viral dissemination structure provide them a powerful communication system. The ease with which they can link the information published by the Foreign Ministry and other embassies within the network is noteworthy.
– Evaluate the response: they evaluate the response that a specific message has caused in a clear and quick way. It is a reporting system, but it also helps enhance the communication process.
– They bring their services closer to the citizens: mobility and distance are not a problem to be next to the countrymen that need support. The best contrast for the census can be found in networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+.
More specifically, for the ambassador as representative and spokesperson they are:
– A good platform to appear in public: “to be or not to be” in the social networks is becoming the same as “to be or not to be”. The protocol of states recognizes the real value that the representation of a country implies. However, this official consideration contrasts with the personal practices of each diplomat. The good practice of most ambassadors extends the recognition scope beyond the limits of their governments.
– A means to keep in touch with the people they already know by making it public: “be and be seen”. In a world where transparency is linked to credibility, it is mandatory to make public the relations that exist and are or could be public.
– Of course, they are also designed to contact other relevant people that are otherwise out of their scope: certain politicians, thinkers, artists, journalists, professionals, civil society representatives use these networks frequently to operate and interrelate. Getting to know them and establish links with them probably is one of the objectives of the ambassador. A context where this might be possible is the one offered by many online services to support other more traditional or less visible ways.
– A help in the construction of a public profile: every piece of content that is commented, shared, disseminated or published and the mere fact of being an active network user helps contribute to the creation of an Internet profile. If it used with a clear objective and with honesty, it translates into a huge advantage to inspire confidence.
– A means to facilitate the contact between the ambassador and colleagues from all over the world and contacts in the home country: ambassadors already are part of a network. The question is how to take advantage of the new technology to make it more functional. Knowing the novelties that take place in the network fosters the sense of belonging and consolidates the concept of a team. It makes the adoption of new positions more consistent and promotes emotional intelligence. Being able to find out that someone has become a father, written a book or taken part in a popular race enriches the link beyond the professional sphere. When a team wants to influence, change the state of things, leave its mark, it must strengthen the links and distance cannot be a barrier to achieve it.
The Web as a phenomenon helps to develop the function of diplomacy; it does not modify its objectives or entail new responsibilities.
The same is applied to political leaders, who need to satisfy audiences and electoral needs or national or local public officials, subject to accountability which is more or less permanent. “See and be seen” might work as a series of channels to amplify propaganda messages, for the former, or to better show management transparency for the latter. There are no differences between a political campaign or a public administration, but additional tools to better fulfill a mission. The same applies to diplomacy.
Obviously, this is translated into more tasks, which also calls for dedicated resources to exploit their advantages. This might be more natural for politicians. The example of Argentinian president is interesting in this sense: among her multiple web assets, her personal profile includes a letter to all her political colleagues named “I wish I could answer and read all of you”. Something that, by the way, Cristina Kirchner does in a frequent and systematic manner with certain Twitter and Facebook followers as a part of her communication management.
Among diplomats, it is the schedule of the very own ambassador that now requires a new way to organize the action priorities. Once established, it should be integrated into the daily life of the delegation in a natural way. Until this is accomplished, it should be part of the main occupations, as it is new and transcendent, of the organization.
As regards the usual questions of how to achieve this, we can conclude that:
– Personality vs. corporate identity: networks connect people. In order to take advantage of the opportunities it offers, organizations must be represented by its members. This has been understood by governments, political parties, NGOs, supranational institutions, companies, etc. Embassies are no exception. Interpersonal communication must be done by signed with the name of the leader and not his position within the organization. This means that the profile of the person who currently holds the status of ambassador will be more effective than the one reading “ambassador of…”
– Ambassador changes: the issue is how to manage the change in other spheres. When a new ambassador is appointed the same process is addressed in relation to the design of the ambassador’s agenda. The newcomer must establish an official and informal contact network and must confirm and improve the confidence that many people have towards the institution. In the networks, the situation is quite similar.
– The risk of making mistakes: being part of the networks does not imply a public constant positioning on all issues. That is the responsibility of people striving to become opinion leaders in one or several communities. Reputation management on the Internet depends more on the responses to the questions of people than the content directly posted or opinions expressed by third parties. In any case, the vertigo sensation is normal. Every tweet, post or like have a meaning and can build or destroy. This risk is merely minimized by personally completing this task, by using common sense and carrying out this activity in a gradual manner.
– A single voice versus many voices: the use that an embassy, like any business or organization, might make of social networks should be part of a strategy and be in line with the general communication plan. Furthermore, since each embassy is a link in the chain of diplomatic relations of a State, its decisions should be part of a general policy in relation to this issue.
– Low profile: the ambassador should be known as a “thoughtful follower” in the networks of the relevant people with whom he wants and must keep a relation of trust. This can be achieved through several intensities of use. The ambassador does not need a particularly notorious profile.
In September 2013, the Spanish society was able to witness the appointment of the new U.S. ambassador to Spain. James Costos recorded and the embassy’s team distributed his five videos introducing himself, explaining the process through which he had been appointed, revealing his preference for Spain and even introduced his partner, designer Michael Smith. In order to do this the videos were uploaded to the official web site and made public by providing links in the press release that covered the appointment. This new way gave him considerable public notoriety and showed that the change also implied a new paradigm in diplomatic communication: direct, personal and multimedia.
[testimonial author=”Adolfo Corujo – ” avatar=”https://www.uno-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/a_corujo2-235×180.jpg” role=”Partner and Managing Director for Iberia of LLORENTE & CUENCA” link=”https://www.uno-magazine.com/staff/adolfo-corujo/” ]
Partner and Managing Director for Iberia of LLORENTE & CUENCA. He is an expert in online reputation management. During his fifteen-year’s professional experience, he has collaborated in the design and implementation of projects both for the construction and promotion of digital identity of many different multinational companies in Spain and Latin America. As regards the academic field, he has taught and made presentations about Company 2.0, Personal Brand and Online Reputation in the Complutense and Carlos III Universities, among others, and in business schools. Executive MBA in ESADE, he completed a Degree in Advertising and Public Relations and a DEA in Marketing in the Complutense University of Madrid. @adolfocorujo[/testimonial]