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Stephen HaleHead of Engagement, Digital Diplomacy, London
British embassies are increasingly using social media to help reach and influence local audiences around the world.
Our diplomats aren't using social media because it's cool, or because they think it will change the nature of diplomacy. They're using it because it helps them to do things that they couldn't already do.
In digital diplomacy group we provide permission, and we offer advice and coaching. But we don't do it for them. It wouldn't work if we did.
So what are they doing?
Our bloggers use their blogs differently, and for different reasons. But they are all doing it because, in their judgement, it makes them more effective in their jobs.
Many of our embassies have official Twitter channels, like our embassy in Washington. And there are channels for particular audiences, like British Abroad. Some of our staff run official personal Twitter channels, like our Ambassador to Iran, using them to ask and answer questions.
Many of our embassies are also running Facebook pages like our High Commission in Pakistan. Most have lively conversations, with embassy staff taking part by answering questions and sharing links.Some of our pages are based around particular issues, like the FCO Burma page, used most recently to gather birthday messages for Aung San Suu Kyi. Some are using Facebook more creatively. Like the Speed Sisters page, run alongside the official UK in Jerusalem channel - through these pages our team in Jerusalem are able to have meaningful conversations with over 2000 young Palestinians who were previously out of their reach.
Some of our Facebook pages are for particular communities, like the official Chevening scholarships page. And sometimes we provide more exclusive communities, like the one for our Chevening Alumni network.
Social media is sometimes about increasing our reach - half a billion Facebook users is a big potential audience. But more often it's about increasing the depth and quality of engagement with particular audiences, and learning from others.
And it's not all Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We're most impressed when our embassies identify communities or platforms that are more widely used locally, or by particular groups.
There are lists of official FCO social media channels on the FCO website:
- Foreign Office on Twitter
- Foreign Office on Facebook
- Foreign Office on YouTube
- Foreign Office bloggers
And our social media guidance is available on the digital diplomacy website:
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Have an opinion?
Target audience for this blog: people doing digital jobs in embassies and foreign ministries.
I sometimes wonder if I'm talking to the right people.
I always find it useful to compare notes with people doing innovative online work wherever they work. I think I'm fairly well networked in the UK government digital media community. And of course - if I wanted to attend them all - there are conferences every day of the week now about how big
organisations and governments might respond to the social media
But I often find that, for my work, I have most in common with people working in other foreign ministries.
In the Foreign Office, we tend to use the phrases "digital engagement" and "digital diplomacy" interchangeably. But there is something distinct about digital diplomacy. It's something to do with the nature of foreign policy, public diplomacy, and global audiences. We're using the tools of digital engagement, but within slightly different boundaries.
I met Anneli and Kadri-Mai from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs the other day and they said they would be really interested in taking part in a digital diplomacy community, if one existed.
Right now, I don't know if it does exist, except in a couple of blogs, email lists and meetings. But I'm sure there are people in digital or public diplomacy teams in MFAs and embassies around the world who would benefit from sharing experiences, and being in closer touch with each other. Maybe we could create something.
Please get in touch if you know about something that I don't, or if you have an idea, or if you're just waiting to take part in something, if only it existed.